Is there such a thing as an anti-inflammatory diet?
While there is no specific “diet” that people with arthritis or rheumatoid arthritis (RA) should follow, researchers have identified certain foods that can help control inflammation. Many of them are found in the so-called Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fish, vegetables, olive oil, whole grains, nuts and seeds, among other staples.
Studies confirm that eating foods commonly part of the Mediterranean diet can do the following:
- Lower blood pressure
- Protect against chronic conditions, ranging from cancer to stroke
- Help arthritis by curbing inflammation
- Benefit your joints as well as your heart
- Lead to weight loss, which can lessen joint pain
Here are some of the key foods from the Mediterranean diet that have proven to decrease inflammation.
- Fish such as mackerel, salmon, tuna, and herring
- Nuts & Seeds such as almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds
- Fruits such as apples, bananas, oranges, pears, strawberries, grapes, dates, figs, melons, and peaches
- Vegetables such as tomatoes, broccoli, kale, spinach, onions, cauliflower, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and cucumbers
- Healthy Fats such as extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocados and avocado oil
- Legumes such as beans, peas, lentils, pulses, peanuts, and chickpeas
- Whole Grains such as whole oats, brown rice, rye, barley, corn, buckwheat, whole wheat, whole-grain bread and pasta
- Nightshade Vegetables such as tomato, eggplant, potato (excluding sweet potato) pepper (includes hot and sweet varieties as well as spices like paprika, chili powder, cayenne, and Tabasco) pimento, and Goji berry
S.O.S. PLEASE AVOID ME! The Truth About Sugar, Oil and Salt!
While cutting down on these three ingredients sound simple, they are the major culprits behind arthritic flare-ups. Most Americans suffering from arthritis lack the knowledge to control their symptoms through nutrition. For example, the American Heart Association suggests limiting added sugars to no more than 6 teaspoons, or 100 calories, for women and 9 teaspoons, or 150 calories for men. The Mayo Clinic suggests ingesting less than 2300 mg of sodium each day — which seems like a lot — until you realize that ½ teaspoon of salt contains 1200 mg!
MyPlate, PLEASE EMBRACE ME!
In 2011, the USDA replaced its food pyramid with a new icon for healthy eating called MyPlate. It was designed to provide an easier way for people to understand and create balanced meals. The MyPlate icon shows an image of a place setting with a plate and glass. The plate is divided into food group targets (vegetables, protein, fruits, and grain). Shifting to a plate-based approach nutrition encourages people to look at what’s on their actual food plate. Half of your plate should consist of vegetables, ¼ protein and ¼ grains, along with an emphasis on water intake. Healthy fats such as nuts, seeds or avocados should be limited as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans should make up the bulk of the carbohydrates you are consuming.
Be an Experiment of One!
While it is true that there is no “one size fits all” solution to fight inflammation for those with arthritis, there are many foods that have proven to reduce flare-ups and improve symptoms.
By cutting down on added sugars, oils, and salts, and adding various foods offered in the Mediterranean diet, the greater your chance for reducing pain and enjoying more inflammation-free days.
Please Note: Always speak with a doctor or advise your clients to speak with their doctor or registered dietitian to find out about any dietary restrictions before starting a new diet.
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Christine M. Conti, BA, M.Ed, is an international fitness educator and presenter. She currently sits on the MedFit Education Advisory Board and has been nominated to be the 2020 MedFit Network Professional of the Year. She is currently writing the MedFit Network Arthritis Fitness Specialist Course and is the CEO and founder of ContiFit.com and Let’s FACE It Together™ Facial Fitness & Rehabilitation. Christine is also the co-host of Two Fit Crazies & A Microphone Podcast and the co-owner of TFC Podcast Production Co.
- “Anti-Inflammatory Diet Do’s and Don’ts.” The Arthritis Foundation. Anti-Inflammatory Diet (arthritis.org) n.d.
- Food and Nutrition Service, United States Department of Agriculture. MyPlate/ MiPlato | USDA-FNS. January 6th, 2021. https://www.fns.usda.gov/
- “How much sugar is too much.” The American Heart Association. May 23rd, 2018. How much sugar is too much? | American Heart Association
- “Sodium: How to tame your salt habit.” Find out how much sodium you really need… June 29th, 2019. Sodium: How to tame your salt habit – Mayo Clinic