A jolt of pain in your knee as you get up, soreness in your shoulder as you stretch your hand up to the bookshelf, an ache in your back as you turn to answer the door… the ‘ouch’ moments are often rude reminders to neglecting your joints and their wellbeing. While it may be a catch or a muscle-pull at times, often than not, these could well be telltale signs of one of the many forms of arthritis. Arthritis is the inflammation of one or more joints, causing pain and stiffness that can worsen with age. Symptoms include pain, swelling, reduced range of motion and stiffness.
Arthritis exists in multiple forms, each with different causes including wear and tear, infections and underlying diseases. The most common type is degenerative arthritis, also known as osteoarthritis, followed by inflammatory or rheumatoid arthritis. Symptoms may include swollen and achy joints, discomfort and pain. While there is no singular diet cure for arthritis, what you eat can have the ability to fight inflammation, strengthen bones, boost the immune system and manage the symptoms associated with arthritis. A diet rich in fruits, colourful vegetables, fish, nuts and beans but low on processed food and saturated fat, is not only great for overall health but can also help manage this arthritis.
Foods that help in managing arthritis symptoms
Fish– Some fish like salmon, sardine, mackerel are excellent sources of inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids. Consumption of omega-3s lowers the levels of two inflammatory proteins: C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6. It is recommended to take 1-2 servings of fish thrice a week. Not into fish? Just take a fish oil supplement. Studies show that taking 600 to 1,000 mg of fish oil daily eases joint stiffness, tenderness, pain and swelling.
Nuts & seeds-Nuts and seeds like walnuts, almonds, pistachios, pine nuts, flax seeds, and chia seeds are filled with inflammation-fighting monounsaturated fat. Though they’re relatively high in fat content and calories, munching on nuts help in weight loss owing to their protein, fibre and monounsaturated fats. It is recommended to have a fistful of mixed nuts and seeds every day. Keep in mind that portion control is very important.
Fruits & vegetables– Fruits and vegetables are loaded with antioxidants. These antioxidants act as a natural defence system and help the body to neutralize free radicals that can harm cells. Anthocyanins, which is the pigment found in cherries and other red and purple fruits like strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries have an anti-inflammatory effect. Fruits like oranges, kiwi, guava, grapefruit and lemon are rich in vitamin C. An optimal amount of vitamin C helps in preventing inflammatory arthritis and maintaining healthy joints. Also, intake of vitamin K-rich veggies like broccoli, spinach, lettuce, kale and cabbage dramatically reduces inflammatory markers in the blood. The darker the colour of fruits/vegetables, the more antioxidants it has. Try to include 3-4 cups of colourful veggies and 1 cup of fruit in your daily diet.
Whole grains- Whole grains like whole wheat, oats, millets, brown rice, quinoa have plenty of fibre which can help you maintain a healthy weight and keep you filled. Fibre and fibre-rich food can reduce the levels of CRP, an inflammatory indicator in the blood. Although, some people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity may need to avoid consuming whole wheat and its products, as gluten, a protein found in wheat has been linked to inflammation in such people.
Beans– Kidney beans (rajma), and small red beans are loaded with fibre and phytonutrients that help in reducing inflammation. These are also inexpensive and an excellent source of protein which helps in maintaining muscle mass. Including a cup of beans thrice a week in your diet would be beneficial.
Olive oil– Olive oil contains compounds which have properties similar to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs ( NSAID). These compounds weaken the body’s inflammatory process and reduce pain sensitivity. Make sure that you have 3-4 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil in your daily diet.
Foods arthritis patients should avoid
Trans fats-Trans fats should be avoided since they can activate or worsen swelling and are very bad for your cardiovascular health. Trans-fats are present in most processed foods such as cookies, crackers, doughnuts and fast food. On labels, they are referred to as “partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.” It is advised to avoid these.
Polyunsaturated cooking oils- Polyunsaturated oils such as corn, soybean, canola, and sunflower oil are usually used in restaurants and at home and are high in omega-6 fatty acids, but very low in omega 3s. This disproportion can lead to inflammation, and since most individuals do not get enough omega-3s to balance out these oils, arthritic symptoms can worsen. Adding flaxseed oil/olive oil/ coconut oil/walnut oil into your daily diet or having omega 3 rich sources like fish, flax seeds, walnuts, chia seeds will help in maintaining the ratio of omega-6: omega 3
Processed meat and deep-fried food– Cut down on the amount of fried and processed foods you eat, such as processed meats, red meat and ready to cook frozen meals. Include more vegetables and fruits in your diet.
Refined food and sugar-High levels of sugar in your diet lead to inflammation. Avoid sweets, candies, processed foods, baked goods made out of maida, and carbonated beverages to reduce your arthritis pain. Sugar is labelled in many ways in food. So in addition to sugar, watch out for corn syrup, fructose, sucrose, or maltose in the ingredient lists.
Dairy and dairy products– A particular type of protein in dairy may contribute to arthritis pain. For some people, this protein may irritate the tissue around their joints. However, since this evidence is conflicting, to check your body’s reaction to dairy, eliminate it for a few weeks and then reintroduce it to see how you respond.
Alcohol– Alcohol intake can increase inflammation and overall health risks. If you are looking to reduce inflammation, try cutting out alcohol altogether for 4 to 6 weeks and observe. You may notice a decline in inflammatory joint pain. You may also see that you sleep better—which in itself can help decrease chronic pain symptoms.
So, as is evident, the food we intake can help in controlling the effects of arthritis to a significant extent. The aches and pains may be indicative of the condition though it is good to pre-empt with a healthy lifestyle where the body weight is in check and along with bone care, joint strengthening also remains a focus. They say that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Let this be your cue to take that first step towards controlling arthritis with the right combination of food, exercise and wellness so that you go ‘ouch’ free for the rest of your journey.