If you struggle with arthritis, a healthy diet can be a great tool in your arsenal for combatting joint pain. Many studies have found that eating foods with anti-inflammatory properties can reduce the pain and stiffness that characterizes the disease.
Inflammation is a natural process that happens within your body to protect you by warding off infection from bacteria and viruses. However, in some diseases, including arthritis, your body’s defense system can respond with inflammation even when there is no such infection. This protective inflammatory response may trigger swelling and increase nerve pressure, causing pain.
Fortunately, thoughtful food choices can help to reduce inflammation in the body. An anti-inflammatory diet may also help you lose weight, which can further improve outcomes for patients' overall health.
Let’s take a look at the foods commonly recommended by experts as the foundation for an anti-inflammatory meal plan. All of the foods listed below contain antioxidants and/or phytochemicals (natural chemicals found in some plants) that can help reduce inflammation, and they’re all fairly easy to incorporate into a healthy lifestyle:
Focus on choosing brightly colored fruits like oranges, papayas, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, and tangerines, as they are generally the highest in antioxidants. Frozen fruits are also a good option with just as much inflammation-fighting power. Try starting your day with a blended smoothie using lots of colorful fresh or frozen fruit.
It turns out, your mom was right – you need to eat your veggies! Some of the best for combatting inflammation are cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, mushrooms, spinach, and kale. Put them into a stir-fry, chop them up for a salad, and experiment with roasting them in the oven. You might be surprised at how delicious roasted brussels sprouts can be.
Known to be rich in nutrients and antioxidants, green tea has also been found to reduce inflammation. Some dieticians recommend using tea bags rather than powdered mixes, as those are more processed.
Salmon, Tuna, and Sardines
Studies have found that foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids can decrease inflammation, and these fish are loaded with omega-3s. Fresh fish can be expensive, but canned tuna, salmon, or sardines are also good choices, and consider frozen options too, as these may also cost less.
Olive oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, as well as a component called oleocanthal, which offers anti-inflammatory properties. Mix it with balsamic vinegar and herbs to make a tangy dressing to toss on salads, or lightly coat veggies with olive oil before roasting them in the oven for a satisfying side dish.
Nuts are high in protein, low in saturated fat, and a good source of fiber. Instead of reaching for chips or crackers, try a handful of unsalted nuts for a crunchy, satisfying snack. Walnuts and almonds in particular are not only delicious and versatile but high in omega-3s. Sprinkle them on top of yogurt or a salad for added texture.
Including whole grains in your meals is easy, and important, because they include nutrients and fiber that are missing from processed grains. Choose brown rice as a bed for your stir-fry instead of white rice, and experiment with less-common but delicious options like quinoa, farro, or bulgur.
Everyone loves salsa, and with its nutritious mix of tomatoes, onions, and peppers, it’s a good idea to include it in your meals more often. Use it as a vegetable dip instead of dressing, or layer it on top of a veggie quesadilla.
Ginger, Curry, and Turmeric
These spices not only add a boost of flavor, they also contain chemicals known to have anti-inflammatory effects in the body. Seek out recipes that use grated fresh ginger, or generous amounts of turmeric, often found in Indian and Chinese-influenced dishes.
The evidence supporting the antioxidant properties of dark chocolate is mixed, but some suggest that enjoying limited quantities may be beneficial. The key is to look for chocolate with at least 70% or more cocoa content, the darker it is, the lower the sugar content will be. A half-ounce of dark chocolate makes a satisfying and sweet treat that feels like a reward for all of your nutritious food choices.
Foods to Avoid
While focusing on the above foods, it’s equally important to avoid foods that trigger inflammation. These include processed foods, prepackaged meals, red meat, foods with refined sugar (including corn syrup), soda, fried foods, refined carbohydrates (found in white bread, white pasta, and crackers), cheese and other high-fat dairy products, and foods containing trans fats (identifiable by the partially hydrogenated oils listed in their ingredients).
Finally, many studies suggest that alcohol can worsen inflammation, so cutting alcohol out altogether may be beneficial to help you reach your health goals.
Making the right food choices can help reduce inflammation, ease the symptoms of arthritis, and serve as a foundational building block for a healthy lifestyle.
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