Fight Flare-Ups With an Arthritis Diet
Food can’t cure arthritis, but it can make the disease less painful – or worse. Learn how to create a diet for arthritis and discover which 7 foods will ease your aching joints and help you lose weight, how much to eat, and the 3 foods that are making matters worse…
People who suffer from arthritis are familiar with the pains, cracks and pops define the condition. But small changes in your diet can yield big rewards in managing the disease.
“Food isn’t a panacea, but some can make your joints healthier,” says Leslie Bonci, R.D., director of Sports Nutrition in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh.
You may not be able to toss your Tylenol, but a diet rich in these foods can make you healthier and maybe lighter. After all, every pound you carry around your belly puts 10 pounds of pressure on your joints.
Here are 7 arthritis foods to stock up on…
Good food #1: Fatty fish (salmon, herring, sardines) or any other food with omega-3 fatty acids, such as walnuts, soy beans, flax seeds, canola oil and pumpkin seeds
Why it’s a good arthritis food: Omega-3s decrease the production of chemicals that spread inflammation, plus they inhibit enzymes that trigger it – “a dual benefit,” Bonci says.
Fatty fish also contain vitamin D, which helps prevent swelling and soreness.
When the Women’s Health Study followed 30,000 women for 11 years, researchers found that those who got less than 200 international units (IU) – about 3 ounces of sardines – of vitamin D a day from their diet were 33% more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than women who got more.
How much to eat: Add at least one gram of omega-3s a day into your arthritis diet. Four ounces of salmon, for example, has 1.5 grams of omega-3.
Another easy healthy fix: Add walnuts (2.27 grams per quarter cup) to a salad or flaxseed (two tablespoons has 3.51 grams) to your cereal.
Boost your vitamin D intake by drinking two glasses of low-fat milk (200 IUs) on days you’re not eating omega-3s. And spend 10-15 minutes a day in the sun – sunlight triggers vitamin D production in your body.
Good food #2: Extra-virgin olive oil
Why it’s a good arthritis food: Olive oil contains oleocanthal, which blocks enzymes involved in inflammation.
About 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil acts like one-tenth of a dose of ibuprofen, according to a study at the Monnell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. That may not be much, but small dietary changes add up.
“Since olive oil’s not calorie-free (one tablespoon has 119 calories), don’t douse your food with it,” Bonci warns.
How much to eat: One tablespoon a day on salads, bread or vegetables is a good amount for an optimal arthritis diet.
Good food #3: Sweet peppers, citrus fruits and other vitamin C-rich foods
Why it’s a good arthritis food: Vitamin C protects collagen, a major component of cartilage. Inadequate amounts may increase your risk for some kinds of arthritis.
A Canadian study of 1,317 men found that those who got 1,500 milligrams of vitamin C through food or supplements daily had a 45% lower risk of gout (a painful condition also known as gouty arthritis) than those who consumed less than 250 milligrams a day.
But don’t shoot for such high doses if you have osteoarthritis. Duke University researchers found that animals who took high doses of vitamin C – the equivalent of 1,500-2,500 milligrams a day in humans – over eight months suffered worse knee osteoarthritis. So moderation is key.
How much to eat: Try for 200-500 milligrams a day. An orange and a cup of broccoli will net you about 200. And focus on foods, not supplements:
“Foods that are high in vitamin C have other plant nutrients that you won’t get from a vitamin C supplement,” Bonci says.
Broccoli and cauliflower, for instance, have a chemical – indole-3-carbinol – that may protect us from certain cancers, including breast cancer.
Good food #4: Brazil nuts
Why it’s a good arthritis food: Brazil nuts contain huge amounts of selenium – 272 micrograms in just three or four nuts, compared to 63 micrograms in 3 ounces of tuna.
For example, a 2005 University of North Carolina study found that the participants with the highest levels of selenium had a 40% lower risk than those with the lowest levels.
Low selenium may also be linked to rheumatoid arthritis. The mineral helps antioxidants clear out cell-damaging free radicals, aids the regulation of the thyroid gland and may prevent cancer.
How much to eat: 55-200 micrograms a day. If you don’t like Brazil nuts or tuna, you can get 32-35 micrograms in 3.5 ounces of beef or turkey or 12 micrograms in a cup of cooked oatmeal.
Good food #5: Onions and leeks
Why it’s a good arthritis food: Onions and leeks contain quercetin, an antioxidant that may inhibit inflammatory chemicals, much like aspirin and ibuprofen do. But research is limited, Bonci says.
Worried about onion breath? Boost your intake of kale, cherry tomatoes or apples – all are high in quercetin.
How much to eat: One-half cup of a high-quercetin food a day.
Good food #6: Tart cherries
Why it’s a good arthritis food: “This wives’ tale now has science to back it up,” Bonci says.
A University of Michigan study suggests that a diet plump with tart cherries can cut inflammation in animals by 50%. And a 2009 study at Baylor Research Institute in Dallas found that 56% of patients with osteoarthritis had more than 20% improvement in pain and function after taking cherry pills for eight weeks.
The magic ingredient is anthocyanins, the pigments that give cherries – and grapes, black raspberries and eggplant – their vibrancy. They’re also powerful antioxidants that cut inflammation.
How much to eat: Half-cup of tart cherries – fresh, frozen, canned or dried – or 8 ounces of juice.
Good food #7: Green tea
Why it’s a good arthritis food: Studies show that certain antioxidant compounds in the brew lessen the incidence and severity of arthritis.
One University of Michigan study found that epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) lowers production of inflammation-causing substances in the body that cause joint damage in arthritis sufferers.
How much to drink: 3-4 cups a day. Skip the decaffeinated version, which robs the tea of some of the helpful nutrients. “Green tea won’t take all your pain away,” Bonci says, but it can help.
Foods to Avoid
Bad food #1: Shellfish, red meat (only if you have gout)
Why they hurt: Gout results from the build-up of uric acid in the blood, which forms crystals that painfully settle in the joints.
Purine, a compound that’s abundant in shellfish, meats, high-fat dairy foods and beer, converts to uric acid. These foods are no-nos for people at risk for or suffering from gout: clams, oysters, mussels, anchovies, herring, mackerel, liver, brain, kidney and sweetbreads. (But is that last one really a hardship?)
Swap them for these great arthritis foods: No more than 5-6 ounces of lean meat, poultry or fish a day. Need protein? Serve up some beans instead; they offer muscle-relaxing magnesium and bone-building calcium.
Bad food #2: Sunflower, safflower, corn and soybean oils
Why they hurt: They’re high in omega-6 fatty acids, which increase inflammation. Watch out: These oils are prevalent in U.S.-made baked goods and snacks.
Swap them for these great arthritis foods: Switch to healthy olive or nut oils.
Bad food #3: Sugar
Why it hurts: Some studies suggest that sugar may increase inflammation. Although it offers a quick energy boost, the high doesn’t last, which can be a drag for arthritis sufferers who already suffer from fatigue.
Sugar is also high in calories, which leads to weight gain and added pressure on your joints.
Swap it for this great arthritis food: An occasional sweet is fine, but most days enjoy the natural sweetness of fresh fruit instead. Aim for 2-4 half-cup servings a day.