Arthritis is a naturally occurring degenerative change that happens to our joints as we age. Arthritis can affect each of us differently and can be more or less pronounced based on our medical history, genetic makeup, levels of physical activity, and even our nutrition.
Pain, stiffness, and inflammation are the most common symptoms associated with arthritis. As we become more and more knowledgeable in nutrition and how foods affect our bodies, including our joints, we are learning that certain foods can actually help (or worsen) pain, inflammation, and arthritis.
Foods can help with arthritis in several ways. Most obviously, our food choices play a large role in weight management. Foods can supply healthy fats that improve joint function, provide vitamins and minerals, and decrease inflammatory responses in our bodies.
First and foremost, our weight is mostly dictated by what we eat. Being overweight or obese does place you at a higher risk of more degenerative changes, pain, and eventually joint replacement surgery. But besides the increase in stress on our joints, being overweight or obese can also lead to low-grade systemic inflammation.
Making the proper food choices can aid in weight reduction while simultaneously decreasing stress and inflammation on the joints. Unfortunately, there are so many different diets and ways of eating out there on the market. It can become confusing when trying to figure out where to start. The most important thing to first consider when trying to manage your weight is portion control and choosing healthy, nutritious, and whole foods.
Foods to first consider:
- Lean meats
- Dark, green, leafy vegetables
- Lower glycemic fruits such as berries and oranges
- Whole grains
And while choosing these healthier foods, you should also ensure you are cutting out:
- Added sugars
- High caloric drinks
- Fatty meats
- Excessive carbohydrates, especially those with a high glycemic index or are considered simple carbohydrates.
- Packaged and processed foods, watch for trans-fatty acids.
It is essential to evaluate your portion sizes, nutritional density of foods, and which foods are higher in sugar and trans-fatty acids.
We should carefully evaluate the foods we consume when trying to improve our arthritis, including fats, dense fiber, vitamins, and sugar.
Fats and Cholesterol
Saturated fats and high cholesterol contribute to inflammatory levels and cartilage degeneration throughout our entire bodies.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats have been found to reduce inflammation and thus arthritis progression. Increasing our dietary fiber intake can also help to lower cholesterol.
Examples of healthier unsaturated fats include:
- Oily fish- Trout, Salmon, Mackerel, or Sardines.
- Nuts- Almonds, pecans, macadamia nuts, or hazelnuts.
- Seeds- Pumpkin, sesame, or flax seeds.
- Omega-3 Supplements
Examples of ways to increase fiber intake include:
- Soy protein
- Brussels sprouts
Vitamins are also known to be beneficial for arthritis. A healthy, well-balanced diet usually provides adequate amounts of all of the vitamins and minerals one may need. However, if required, there are several high-quality supplements on the market.
Vitamins A, C, and E, also considered antioxidants, can delay the onset and progression of arthritic changes in our joints. Vitamin D is known to help build muscle strength and help decrease pain associated with arthritis by building up your quadriceps muscle.
Foods that are high in Vitamins A, C, and E include:
Foods that are high in Vitamin D include:
- Fatty fish
- Fortified dairy products
- Fortified orange juice
- Fortified soy milk
- Fortified cereals
- Egg yolks
Eating an excessive amount of added sugars, also known as sugars from other sources than healthy fruits and carbohydrates, can create inflammation throughout our bodies. Examples include candy bars, energy drinks, sodas, ice cream, baked goods, etc.
Instead of opting in for these types of foods, supplement with healthy food items. This includes some of the foods we previously listed above and other fruits, vegetables, nuts, and even cheese!
Some fun snack ideas include:
- Cheese, nuts, and an apple
- Nut butter and rice cakes
- Yogurt and berries
- Carrots, celery, and hummus
- Broccoli, cauliflower, and a Greek yogurt-based dip
- Trail mix with nuts and seeds
For some of us, arthritis may be inevitable. It can run in our family, and previous injuries or trauma may make us more predisposed to it. However, something as simple as the foods we choose to eat can make a large difference in feeling and moving. If you have questions about your arthritic joints and how we can help, give Dr. Morton a call!
If you are suffering from arthritis, try making some of these changes today and see how it can help your arthritis.