What's the Best Diet for Arthritis Sufferers?
Approximately 54.5 million adults in the United States are diagnosed with arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); the condition can impact the entire body, specifically the joints. While there are several treatments for arthritis, one of the most straight-forward and effective ways to control the disease is through your diet. "How you treat your whole body, including how you nourish and move your body, are synergistically connected and can improve your entire well-being," explains Elizabeth Shaw, M.S., R.D.N., C.P.T., nutrition expert and author of Fertility Foods Cookbook ($18.93, amazon.com). Specifically, she recommends that her arthritic clients eat an abundance of anti-inflammatory foods. "These foods enter the body and have positive effects, helping to decrease inflammation caused by free radicals, or the 'bad guys,' that naturally enter your body from the environment and further exacerbate the arthritic pain," she explains.
These foods also help control weight, a major risk factor for osteoarthritis, the type that forms from normal, or even excessive, wear and tear on your joints. "If you are overweight, you are more likely to put stress on your joints; especially weight bearing ones like your hips, knees, and ankles, areas that are quite susceptible to weight-related degeneration," says Roger E. Adams, Ph.D., personal trainer, doctor of nutrition, and owner of eatrightfitness. In fact, even losing just 10 pounds may make enough of a difference in the level of pain an arthritis sufferer is experiencing. Here's a closer look at diet tips for arthritis sufferers, according to nutrition experts.
Eat plenty of monounsaturated fats.
Not all fats are bad for you. In fact, some are beneficial—specifically the monounsaturated type, found in nuts, avocado, olive oil, and nut butters, for example. "Monounsaturated fats do not appear to trigger inflammation and may actually help control it," says Dr. Adams. "It also ensures heart health." He recommends adding a handful of walnuts or almonds into your diet, choosing avocado for some tasty, healthy fats, and using olive oil when cooking or dressing a salad.
Choose mostly fresh, unprocessed foods.
This is a good rule of thumb for anyone who's looking to ramp up their nutrition. "If you can cook most of your own food, that's the best choice," says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition and wellness expert, author of Eating in Color and creator of the FLR VIP program. "Food made at home will be lower in ingredients that cause inflammation and is healthier overall."
Eat in color.
"Colorful fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains, nuts, and seeds, contain phytochemicals, plant compounds that help reduce inflammation, as well as the risk of heart disease, stroke, some cancers, diabetes, obesity, and chronic respiratory disease," says Laregman-Roth. "Studies have shown that the bromelain enzyme in pineapple shows promise in alleviating the pain associated with osteoarthritis." Tart cherries also have been shown to reduce pain from arthritis, according to a study published in Nutrients. Shaw recommends switching up your morning glass of orange juice with a glass of unsweetened, tart cherry juice. "Not only is this filled with important nutrients, like vitamin C and A, but it also contains five times more antioxidant power than the sweet variety of cherries," she adds.
Limit AGEs (advanced glycation end products).
These products naturally occur when foods are cooked at high temperatures, such as frying, grilling, and pasteurization, but Shaw explains that they can be harmful when consumed in excess. The reason? They trigger the release of inflammatory markers that prevent the body from returning back to its normal state. "When these markers are released, they may result in arthritis or other inflammatory signs to become apparent within the body," she says. "Changing up your diet to rely on more raw foods, such as enjoying a crisp, summer salad with quinoa and garden-fresh vegetables over a grilled sirloin every now and then, will help to reduce your intake of AGEs, as well."
Avoid added sugar.
Adams always advises anyone suffering from joint pain or arthritis to avoid added sugars in their diet. "A diet high in added sugars may trigger additional inflammation," he says. "Added sugars from sugar-sweetened beverages and cereals, candy, and highly processed foods are best avoided or consumed in limited quantities; this will not only likely help arthritis symptoms but is also a simple way of making your diet healthier in general."
Cut back on trans and saturated fats.
Not all fats were created equal. Trans and saturated fats fall under the "bad" category, as both can increase inflammation in the body. Largeman-Roth recommends avoiding trans fats by cutting out deep-fried and packaged foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils. "Saturated fats are found in meat, dairy, and certain desserts, so it's smart to eat those foods in moderation," she adds.
Limit refined carbohydrates.
The USDA Dietary Guidelines suggest that half of the grains we eat should be whole grains. One reason for this, according to Laregman-Roth, is that refined carbohydrates can cause inflammation. "Some refined carbohydrate foods cause AGE (advanced glycation end products) to be formed, which trigger inflammation," she says. "Look for whole grain versions of your favorite foods by searching for ingredients like whole (or whole grain) wheat, whole oats, whole millet, and brown rice at the top of the ingredient list."