May is National Arthritis Month and Rose City Physical Therapy would like to spread the word about joint health, prevention, and treatment. Arthritis is one of the most widespread health conditions in the United States affecting one in four adults – over 54 million men and women. We’ve selected a few articles that highlight the important relationship between arthritis and your diet – including which diets can reduce arthritis inflammation and what foods to avoid.
If you are one of the 30 million in the U.S. who suffer from OA, or osteoarthritis, you probably spend a fair amount of time looking for ways to help reduce your joint pain and stiffness. Of course, an individualized rehabilitation exercise program that includes specific stretching and strengthening exercises can go a long way to help increase your mobility and improve function. You might be surprised to learn, however, that you can find some healthy solutions in your cupboard as well. In this post, we will outline some healthy dietary tips that may be able to help you with your achy joints by introducing inflammation-fighting foods into your diet.
The Vicious Cycle of Low Nutritional Value Food
The human body requires a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, along with key components such as quality proteins and healthy fats in order to function most effectively. In many cases, however, people rely on foods that offer little in the way of good nutritional value, thereby depriving their body of the fundamental building blocks it needs. For those with diets that rely heavily on refined carbohydrates such as crackers, potato chips, and white bread, along with a continual dose of sugar found in most beverages, snacks, and candies, it means their body is receiving little in the way of proper nutritional support. In fact, many seemingly innocuous foods like tomato sauce, canned beans, fruit juices, and condiments such as ketchup and relish, might not “seem that bad”, but looking at the label shows that sugar lurks within their ingredients.
Without a conscious effort and continual diligence to maintain a healthy diet, many people continue with the cycle of trying to feed their hunger with low nutritional value foods. Their body is not getting what it truly needs to function well, so it calls out for more food, leading individuals to reach for the first available food, thus continuing the cycle. Is it any wonder then that many Americans struggle with obesity, thus putting even more stress and pressure on their joints?
How to Break the Cycle
Feeding your body what it truly needs can help break the cycle of hunger, poor food choices, and weight gain, followed by increasingly achy joints. To start, read the labels of all the foods you are putting in your body. Pay particular attention to any added sugar, along with high levels of carbohydrates and/or saturated fat. You might be surprised at some of the “healthy” foods you were eating are loaded with things that offer little in the way of properly fueling your body. Focus on eating unprocessed, whole foods such as avocado or broccoli from the produce area and use spices or a little garlic to add taste appeal. If you aren’t sure what spices will make your food taste good, read the labels of some spice mixes. If they don’t add any salt, then buy the mix. Otherwise, make note of the spices they include in their mix and buy them individually. Then make your own spice mix without salt.
Supporting Joints Through Diet
Foods that offer inflammation dampening properties are of high value for osteoarthritis sufferers. Bone health is also important for individuals with OA, so a diet high in Vitamin D and calcium sources such as quality dairy choices is desirable as well. This includes no or low-fat cottage cheese and Greek yogurts, along with reduced or no fat cheeses and milk, all of which will help provide sufficient amounts of calcium and Vitamin D. Dark, leafy greens such as broccoli, chard, kale, collard greens, and spinach can help provide joints with important nutrients such as Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin D and Vitamin A. All of these foods have wonderful inflammation reducing properties.
In addition, try to reduce the amount of red meat in your diet which is loaded with saturated fat. Instead, focus more on including oily fish choices such as tuna, mackerel, salmon and sardines. If you just cannot bring yourself to try fish, then at least supplement your diet with krill or fish oil pills or flaxseed oil. For snacks, reach for nuts instead of crackers. They are loaded with nutrients and will actually feed your body, making it less likely you will continue to crave more food. Green tea is a great choice for a beverage. Instead of adding sugar for sweetness, add a little stevia instead.
The Ultimate Arthritis Diet
One of the most common questions people with any form of arthritis have is, “Is there an arthritis diet?” Or more to the point, “What can I eat to help my joints?”
The answer, fortunately, is that many foods can help. Following a diet low in processed foods and saturated fat and rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts and beans is great for your body. If this advice looks familiar, it’s because these are the principles of the so-called Mediterranean diet, which is frequently touted for its anti-aging, disease-fighting powers.
Studies confirm eating these foods can do the following:
- Lower blood pressure
- Protect against chronic conditions ranging from cancer to stroke
- Help arthritis by curbing inflammation
- Benefit your joints as well as your heart
- Lead to weight loss, which makes a huge difference in managing joint pain.
Whether you call it a Mediterranean diet, an anti-inflammatory diet or simply an arthritis diet, here’s a look at key foods to focus on – and why they’re so good for joint health.
How much: Health authorities like The American Heart Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommend three to four ounces of fish, twice a week. Arthritis experts claim more is better.
Why: Some types of fish are good sources of inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids. A study of 727 postmenopausal women, published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2004, found those who had the highest consumption of omega-3s had lower levels of two inflammatory proteins: C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6.
More recently, researchers have shown that taking fish oil supplements helps reduce joint swelling and pain, duration of morning stiffness and disease activity among people who have rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Best sources: Salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, anchovies, scallops and other cold-water fish. Hate fish? Take a supplement. Studies show that taking 600 to 1,000 mg of fish oil daily eases joint stiffness, tenderness, pain and swelling.
Nuts & Seeds
How much: Eat 1.5 ounces of nuts daily (one ounce is about one handful).
Why: “Multiple studies confirm the role of nuts in an anti-inflammatory diet,” explains José M. Ordovás, PhD, director of nutrition and genomics at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston.
A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2011 found that over a 15-year period, men and women who consumed the most nuts had a 51 percent lower risk of dying from an inflammatory disease (like RA) compared with those who ate the fewest nuts. Another study, published in the journal Circulation in 2001 found that subjects with lower levels of vitamin B6 – found in most nuts – had higher levels of inflammatory markers.
More good news: Nuts are jam-packed with inflammation-fighting monounsaturated fat. And though they’re relatively high in fat and calories, studies show noshing on nuts promotes weight loss because their protein, fiber and monounsaturated fats are satiating. “Just keep in mind that more is not always better,” says Ordovás.
Best sources: Walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios and almonds.
Fruits & Veggies
How much: Aim for nine or more servings daily (one serving = 1 cup of most veggies or fruit or 2 cups raw leafy greens).
Why: Fruits and vegetables are loaded with antioxidants. These potent chemicals act as the body’s natural defense system, helping to neutralize unstable molecules called free radicals that can damage cells.
Research has shown that anthocyanins found in cherries and other red and purple fruits like strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries have an anti-inflammatory effect.
Citrus fruits – like oranges, grapefruits and limes – are rich in vitamin C. Research shows getting the right amount of that vitamin aids in preventing inflammatory arthritis and maintaining healthy joints.
Other research suggests eating vitamin K-rich veggies like broccoli, spinach, lettuce, kale and cabbage dramatically reduces inflammatory markers in the blood.
Best sources: Colorful fruits and veggies – the darker or more brilliant the color, the more antioxidants it has. Good ones include blueberries, cherries, spinach, kale and broccoli.
How much: Two to three tablespoons daily
Why: Olive oil is loaded with heart-healthy fats, as well as oleocanthal, which has properties similar to nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs. “This compound inhibits activity of COX enzymes, with a pharmacological action similar to ibuprofen,” says Ordovás. Inhibiting these enzymes dampens the body’s inflammatory processes and reduces pain sensitivity.
Best sources: Extra virgin olive oil goes through less refining and processing, so it retains more nutrients than standard varieties. And it’s not the only oil with health benefits. Avocado and safflower oils have shown cholesterol-lowering properties while walnut oil has 10 times the omega-3s that olive oil has.
How much: About one cup, twice a week (or more)
Why: Beans are loaded with fiber and phytonutrients, which help lower CRP, an indicator of inflammation found in the blood. At high levels, CRP could indicate anything from an infection to RA. In a study published in The Journal of Food Composition and Analysis in 2012, scientists analyzed the nutrient content of 10 common bean varieties and identified a host of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds.
Beans are also an excellent and inexpensive source of protein, with about 15 grams per cup, which is important for muscle health.
Best sources: Small red beans, red kidney beans and pinto beans rank among the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s top four antioxidant-containing foods (wild blueberries being in the number 2 spot).
How much: Eat a total of 6 ounces of grains per day; at least 3 of which should come from whole grains. One ounce of whole grain would be equal to ½ cup cooked brown rice or 1 slice of whole-wheat bread.
Why: Whole grains contain plenty of filling fiber – which can help you maintain a healthy weight. Some studies have also shown that fiber and fiber-rich foods can lower blood levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein.
Best sources: Eat foods made with the entire grain kernel, like whole-wheat flour, oatmeal, bulgur, brown rice, quinoa. Some people may need to be careful about which whole grains they eat. Gluten – a protein found in wheat and other grains – has been linked to inflammation for some people.”
Should You Avoid Nightshades?
Nightshade vegetables, including eggplant, tomatoes, red bell peppers and potatoes, are disease-fighting powerhouses that boast maximum nutrition for minimal calories.
They also contain solanine, a chemical that has been branded the culprit in arthritis pain. There’s no scientific evidence to suggest that nightshades trigger arthritis flares. In fact, some experts believe these vegetables contain a potent nutrient mix that helps inhibit arthritis pain.
However, many people do report significant symptom relief when they avoid nightshade vegetables. So doctors say, if you notice that your arthritis pain flares after eating them, do a test and try eliminating all nightshade vegetables from your diet for a few weeks to see if it makes a difference.
By focusing on foods that can potentially reduce arthritis inflammation, you may find your cravings are reduced because you are finally feeding your body what it needs. In turn, you may find yourself losing some weight thus reducing stress on your joints. By searching online for “inflammation reducing recipes” or “foods for osteoarthritis”, you can open yourself up to an entirely new way of eating that is healthy and delicious.
Rose City Physical Therapy is publishing a series of articles for National Arthritis Month. Be sure to check back next week to learn how physical therapy can reduce joint pain and inflammation from arthritis. Contact Rose City Physical Therapy today if you’d like to know more about how physical therapy can reduce joint pain and improve motor function.