Foods For Healthy Joints
Seeds and nuts are packed with healthy Omega-3 fatty acids known to fight inflammation and help reduce it in your connective tissue and joints. Omega 3s are best known for improving heart and brain health, but they also reduce inflammation from arthritis. Research from the Mediterranean Journal of Rheumatology states that omega-3 fatty acids may diminish and even prevent pain from arthritis.
Researchers discovered that omega 3 fatty acids help control the release of cytokines into the body. Cytokines are small proteins released by immune system cells that help all cells in the body communicate. Certain types of cytokines are inflammatory and can create a strong immune response. In people with arthritis, cytokines can lead to chronic inflammation in joint tissue.
Some nuts contain high amounts of magnesium, l-arginine and vitamin E, three nutrients that can regulate inflammation. Animal studies have shown that a magnesium deficiency can heighten the body’s inflammatory response. L-arginine, an amino acid that the body uses to make protein, may also work to prevent a strong inflammatory response in body cells. Vitamin E reduces inflammation by also preventing cells from releasing inflammatory cytokines.
Nuts and seeds can also reduce your risk of heart disease. Paying attention to your heart health is crucial if you have arthritis. According to the Arthritis Foundation, you are almost twice as likely to get heart disease if you have arthritis as compared to those without the illness. Chronic inflammation can damage blood vessels and cause plaque to collect in arteries. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating more nuts significantly reduced inflammation in over 5,000 participants. The nuts they tested included peanuts, peanut butter, and all tree nuts, such as almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, and pistachios.
Certain seeds also have excellent anti-inflammatory benefits. Chia seeds and flaxseed are high in alpha-linolenic acid or ALA, which is a type of omega-3 fatty acid. Research from the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry shows that ALA is a powerful anti-inflammatory nutrient that could reduce cell damage in the body. In addition, a systematic review from the journal Nutrients showed that consuming flaxseed and flaxseed oil, drastically reduces inflammatory markers in the bloodstream. Inflammatory markers are certain proteins that the body releases into the blood during inflammation.
Fruits are naturally sweet, and many offer a substantial dose of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Some have components that may help lower inflammation associated with arthritis and other serious conditions, such as heart disease and stroke.
All fruits have health benefits, but some have more disease-fighting properties than others.
- Berries are among some of the best fruits for arthritis. They are loaded with antioxidants, such ascorbic acid (a form of vitamin C) and anthocyanins and carotenoids, which give berries their deep color. These compounds also help rid the body of free radicals that promote inflammation and help prevent heart disease and certain cancers. Many fruits have powerful antioxidants that reduce inflammation in the body which helps joint pain. Blueberries have flavonoids that turn off the inflammatory response in your body.
- Pineapple contains bromelain, which is shown to relieve joint pain that comes with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
- Tomatoes have the antioxidant lycopene that helps fight inflammation.
- Tart cherries get their dark red color and many of their powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits from the flavonoid anthocyanin. Some researchers compare the anti-inflammatory properties of cherries to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Studies, which often use the concentrated juice of Montmorency cherries, have found tart cherries may relieve joint pain in people with osteoarthritis (OA) and lower the risk of flares in those with gout. In addition, recent studies suggest tart cherries may improve the quality and duration of sleep.
- Strawberries are naturally low in sugar and have more vitamin C per serving than an orange. Vitamin C can lower risk for gout, high blood pressure and cholesterol problems. Research has also shown that women who ate 16 or more strawberries a week had lower C-reactive protein (CRP), a measure of body-wide inflammation linked to arthritis flares and heart disease. As with cherries, scientists suspect it is anthocyanin, along with other phytochemicals, that give strawberries their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant health benefits. Strawberries are also a good source of folic acid, which the arthritis medication methotrexate can deplete. People taking methotrexate often need folic acid supplements to help prevent side effects, but eating strawberries is still beneficial.
- Raspberries have among the highest level of vitamin C and anthocyanin. Animal studies have shown extracts from the fruit reduce inflammation and arthritis symptoms. Other research shows that the fruit’s bioactive compounds lower system-wide inflammation and, when a regular part of the diet, help prevent numerous chronic conditions, such as heart disease, stroke and type-2 diabetes.
- Avocados have a high concentration of anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fat. Avocados are also rich in the carotenoid lutein. Unlike most fruits, avocados are a good source of vitamin E, a micronutrient with anti-inflammatory effects. Diets high in these compounds are linked to decreased risk of the joint damage seen in early OA. Studies also show eating avocados daily increases HDL cholesterol and lowers LDL cholesterol. Despite the fruit’s relatively high calorie content, research has found that regular avocado eaters tend to weigh less and have smaller waists. Their high fiber and fat content may help people control cravings.
- Watermelon Studies show that eating watermelon reduces the inflammatory marker CRP. It’s also high in the carotenoid beta-cryptoxanthin, which can reduce the risk of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). It’s also packed with lycopene, an antioxidant that may help protect against certain cancers and lower heart attack risk. One cup has about 40 percent more lycopene than raw tomatoes, the next richest raw food source. Watermelon is also ninety-two percent water, which makes it great for hydration and weight management. One cup of watermelon has about 40 calories – plus about a third of your recommended daily allowance of vitamins A and C.
- Grapes Both white and darker-colored varieties of grapes are a great source of beneficial antioxidants and other polyphenols. Fresh red and black grapes also contain resveratrol, the heart-healthy compound found in red wine that contributes to cardiovascular health by improving the function of blood vessels. Resveratrol is also a potent anti-inflammatory. Studies show this bioactive compound acts on the same cellular targets as NSAIDs. Researchers are studying its potential for improving symptoms of OA, as well as for other chronic diseases linked to aging.
Here’s a guide to some of the vegetables that help keep inflammation low:
- Dark Green Leafy and Cruiferous Vegetables Energy production and other metabolic processes in the body produce harmful byproducts called free radicals. Not only do free radicals damage cells, but they also have been linked to inflammation. Green, leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, kale, Swiss chard and bok choy are packed with antioxidants like vitamins A, C and K, which protect cells from free-radical damage. These foods are also high in bone-preserving calcium.
Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables (Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy and cauliflower) all have a natural compound called sulforaphane. Research on mice shows sulforaphane blocks the inflammatory process and might slow cartilage damage. And there’s some evidence diets high in cruciferous vegetables could prevent Rheumatoid Arthritis from developing in the first place.
- Sweet Potatoes, Carrots, Red Peppers and Squash These brightly orange and red-hued vegetables get their distinctive color from carotenoids like beta-cryptoxanthin. Plant pigments also supply sweet potatoes, carrots, squash and red peppers with antioxidants. Some research suggests eating more foods rich in beta-cryptoxanthin could reduce your risk of developing inflammation.
- Red and Green Peppers Peppers, no matter what their color or whether they’re mild or hot, are a good source of vitamin C, which preserves bone, and may protect cartilage cells. Getting less than the recommended 75 mg vitamin C for women and 90 mg for men daily may increase risk for osteoarthritis of the knee. Just a half-cup of red bell pepper gives you a full day’s supply.
- Onions, Garlic, Leeks and Shallots These vegetables are all members of the allium family, which are rich in a type of antioxidant called quercetin. Researchers are investigating quercetin’s potential ability to relieve inflammation. Alliums also contain a compound called diallyl disulphine, which may reduce the enzymes that damage cartilage.
- Olives Though technically a fruit and not found in the produce aisle, olives and olive oil can be potent inflammation fighters. Extra-virgin olive oil contains the compound oleocanthal, a natural anti-inflammatory agent that has properties similar to the ibuprofen.
Pinto beans, chickpeas, black beans, soybeans, and lentils all include anthocyanins, a flavonoid that helps reduce inflammation in your body. Beans and lentils also provide a great source of essential minerals, fiber, and protein.
Oils such as peanut oil, vegetable oil, and sunflower oil can increase inflammation levels. Olive oil, however, is an excellent substitute for salad dressings or cooking. It’s a healthy fat and packed with inflammation-fighting Omega-3s.
Dark chocolate is delicious and great for joint paint because cocoa contains antioxidants that counteract inflammation. The key is to choose chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa and to indulge in moderation.
Along with knowing which foods to add to your diet for healthier joints, it’s also vital to know what to avoid. Certain foods can increase inflammation in your body and joint pain. Inflammatory foods you should limit or steer clear of include:
- Processed foods
- Fried foods
- Oils high in Omega-6 fatty acids or saturated fats
- Sugar and refined carbohydrates
How to Buy
Buy fresh produce at your co-op, preferably fresh and locally grown and always organic.
Buy organic seeds and nuts in bulk either at your local co-op or online at nuts.com.
Buy beans in bulk or in cans. When buying canned beans, look for those with no or less sodium. The salt added during cooking adds up.
Hu chocolate is Paleo, Vegan, Organic, with no dairy, no soy, no emulsifiers, no soy lecithin, no gluten, no refined sugar, no cane sugar, and no sugar alcohols. And, it is delicious!
How to Store
Seeds, nuts, legumes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and onions can be stored on your counter or pantry out of sunlight.
Greens and fruits should be stored in your refrigerator.
How to Cook
Almost as important as which vegetables you choose is how you cook them. Steaming is preferable to boiling because it preserves the nutrients in the vegetables. Don’t use a lot of water, because vitamins and antioxidants might leach out in the water. Also, don’t overcook them. Keep vegetables a little bit al dente to hold in the vitamins and minerals.
Eat fruit as fresh as possible. Overripe fruits may be still good to eat or easily convert into smoothie, juice or used as an ingredient such as in banana bread. Eating an over-ripe fruit such as a banana does not mean that you are putting more sugars into your body as the total amount of carbohydrates in the fruit does not increase after harvesting.
1/4 of a cup of seeds or nuts is a serving. For nut butters and seed spreads, it is two tablespoons.