Over 54 million Americans have been diagnosed with some type of arthritis, and the frustrating truth is that there is still no cure available. Anyone who suffers from the relentless pain, soreness, stiffness and swellings knows that it can affect every aspect of your life: sleep, work and play. The good news is that there is now more evidence that supports how changing your diet can help ease the inflammation, soothe the swelling and improve your daily life.
According to Versus Arthritis in UK, eating a balanced diet can help with:
- Weight control: being overweight increases the strain on your joints, thus even a little weight loss can help alleviate the stress on your bones
- Getting the right vitamins and minerals that your body needs to protect you from possible side effects of some arthritis medications
So what should we eat?
- A Mediterranean-style diet: this is a balanced diet focused on plenty of fish, pulses, nuts, olive oil and a rainbow assortment of fruit and vegetables.
- More omega-3 fatty acids: these essential fatty acids are found, found in abundance in oily fishes, which can help control inflammation in the body. (1)
What is the Mediterranean diet?
There is no specific definition of the Mediterranean diet, it is a way of eating based on the traditional cuisines of the countries neighbouring the Mediterranean Sea.
The main components of the diet include (9):
- Daily consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats
- Weekly intake of fish, poultry, beans and eggs
- Moderate portions of dairy products
- Limited intake of red meat
- Enjoying a glass of red wine in moderation
In research, the Mediterranean diet has been shown to have positive effects on preventing/improving heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, infections, cognition and cancer (2). Furthermore, it has also been shown that the Mediterranean diet can help with decreasing inflammation, hence reducing pain and increasing physical functions in people with arthritis (3) (4).
What should I eat?
- Eat more fruits, vegetables and seafood
- At least 7-10 servings of fruits and vegetable per day
- Fish at least twice a week (tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel, herring)
- Switch to whole grains
- Use healthy fats: avocado and olive oil instead of butter
- Reduce red meat: substitute it with fish, poultry, or beans
- Enjoy some dairy: low fat yogurt and small amounts of cheeses
- Spice it up: herbs and spices enhance flavor to decrease the need for salt
- Drink red wine in moderation, of course
Fun fact: did you know that olive oil contains a chemical called oleocanthal, which acts similarly to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen? YES! it does, olive oil can decrease the body’s inflammatory response, thus reducing pain! (10)
When it comes to fat, there is one type that you do not need to cut down on omega-3 fatty acids, which contains EPA, DHA and ALA. When it comes to arthritis, these fatty acids have been shown to inhibit inflammation, thus decreasing pain and stiffness. Furthermore, omega-3s are also beneficial for people with heart disease, as it can lower blood pressure and reduce triglycerides and decrease stroke risk (11).
What should I eat?
- Oily fish: mackerel, salmon, tuna, herring, sardines, trout
- Nuts & seeds: flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts
- Plant oils: canola, flaxseed, soybean
Can also boost your levels by taking a daily supplement
Not just delicious and nutritious, nuts are full of monounsaturated fat, which has inflammation-busting properties! Research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2011 showed that people who ate nuts had less than half the risk of dying from an inflammatory disease like rheumatoid arthritis (7).
What should I eat?
- Walnuts, almonds, pistachios, pine nuts, hazelnuts
Remember that nuts are quite calorie-dense, so a handful is plentiful!
Often touted as a superfood, research has found that broccoli has a chemical called sulforaphane which can help reduce the cartilage breakdown that occurs in arthritis. However, the research is still at an early stage, but there is no harm in piling a few more greens on your plate (8).
“Let food be thy medicine” – Hippocrates
By changing the way we eat and harnessing the incredible power of micronutrients we can fight inflammation, decrease pain and help our bodies heal.
- Gopinath, B., Buyken, A. E., Flood, V. M., Empson, M., Rochtchina, E. & Mitchell, P. (2011). Consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids, fish, and nuts and risk of inflammatory disease mortality. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 93(5), 1073-1079. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.110.009977
- Kjeldsen-Kragh, J. (2003). Mediterranean diet intervention in rheumatoid arthritis. Annals of the Rheumatic diseases, 62(2), 193-195. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/ard.62.3.193
- Mayoclinic Staff. (2019). The Mediterranean diet: a heart healthy eating plan. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801
- National Health Service UK. (2013). Could eating broccoli slow the onset of arthritis? Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/news/food-and-diet/could-eating-broccoli-slow-the-onset-of-arthritis/
- Segura-Carretero, A. & Curiel, J. A. (2018). Current disease targets for oleocanthal as promising natural therapeutic agent. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 19 (10). DOI:3390/ijms19102899
- Serra-Majem, L., Roman, B. & Estruch, R. (2006). Scientific evidence of interventions using the Mediterranean diet: a systematic review. Nutrition Reviews, 64(2), S27-S47. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2006.tb00232.x
- Simopoulos, A. R. (2002). Omega-3 fatty acids in inflammation and autoimmune diseases. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 21(6), 495-505. doi 10.1080/07315724.2002.10719248
- Skoldstam, L., Hagfors, L. & Johansson, G. (2003) An experimental study of a Mediterranean diet intervention for patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Annals of Rheumatoid Disease, 62(3), 208-214. doi: 1136/ard.62.3.208
- Versus Arthritis. (n.d). How can changing my diet help with arthritis? Retrieved from https://www.versusarthritis.org/about-arthritis/managing-symptoms/diet/
- Zivkovic, A., Telis, N., German, J. B. & Hammock, B. D. (2011). Dietary omega-3 fatty acids aid in the modulation of inflammation and metabolic health. Calif Agric (Berkeley), 65(3), 106-111. doi: 10.3733/ca.v065n03p106