Inflammation is one of the key contributors to pain. In arthritis, the inflammation can bring on debilitating joint pain and so making small changes by increasing your intake of anti-inflammatory foods in your diet is often a great place to start when implementing joint-friendly diet.
Below are 8 of the best anti-inflammatory foods:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
The rich, golden Mediterranean oil that has been studied for decades is best known for its protective effects against inflammation, and age-related diseases thanks to its natural composition. The beneficial effects of EVOO have been linked to its fatty acid composition, which is very rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA), moderate saturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) & bioactive compounds. Many studies have demonstrated that EVOO is not only able to reduce inflammatory markers that are often elevated in arthritis, but it may be able to help improve arthritic symptoms. Oleocanthal, which is a newly discovered compound contained in EVOO which has shown to possesses similar anti-inflammatory properties to ibuprofen.
Nutrition Tip: Extra virgin olive oil in comparison to regular olive oil contains much higher concentrations of polyphenols due to being less refined. It also has a much smoother, fruitier and peppery taste.
What fish should you be eating? Think SMASH – Sardines Mackerel Anchovies Salmon and Herring. Oily, Fatty fish, not only make for a delicious meal, did you know they are packed full of omega 3’s and calcium? Omega 3’s. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are essential fatty acids which have the ability to inhibit inflammation. Omega-3s interfere with immune cells called leukocytes and cytokines, which are both key players in the body’s inflammatory response. When your joints swell, stiffness, and become warm to touch, often that is a key sign of inflammation and so increasing the fish in your diet might just be able to help. If you have low bone density, something you might be told to do is watch your calcium intake, to counter the risk of developing osteoporosis. By eating small, bony fish, you bet you are able to make sure you are getting both your calcium and omega 3’s in.
Cooking Tip: Aim for 3-4 serves per week. Enhance the flavor of fish by marinating it or using flavorful seasonings. A simple marinade of lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and herbs can add a burst of freshness. Alternatively, try using spice rubs, herbs, or citrus zest to season the fish before cooking. These additions can elevate the taste and make the fish more appealing.
Walnuts, Cashews, Almonds, Peanuts, Brazil Nuts. These humble nuts are packed with many bioactive compounds, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and fibre. Some studies show that people who eat a diet high in these nutrients tend to have lower levels of some inflammation-causing molecules and higher levels of anti-inflammatory proteins compared with those who consumed less. They are so easy to crush up and easily added to breakfast cereals, yoghurts, toast, salads, curries and stir fries to elevate the taste, texture and nutritional profile of a dish. Since they are so small, compact and full of nutrition they also make for great snacks throughout the day.
Nutrition Tip: 30g/day is recommended for the health benefits. The Vitamin E in nuts may also protect against fatty liver disease.
Just like nuts, seeds are also packed with similar nutrients. Flaxseed is one of the richest plant-based sources of omega 6 and contain something called lignans, which are powerful anti-oxidants. Some studies have shown not only can they help reduce oxidative stress in the body and attenuate pain associated with inflammation, they may be able to help control cholesterol levels thereby reducing the risk of a CVD event.
Nutrition Tip: If you enjoy crunchier foods and snacks, seeds can easily be added to any dish. By crushing your seeds, you can make them more digestible and better absorbed.
Berries, offer a substantial dose of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. More specifically they are loaded with vitamin C. Why vitamin C is important for arthritis, is that it plays a key role in the anti-oxidant defense system which can protect against oxidative tissue damage in the joint capsule.
Nutrition Tip: Try mixing berries in your yoghurt with nuts, seeds, and honey. The taste and texture of the berries can not only make this more delicious but more filling as well. Aim for 2-3 handfuls a day.
Herbs & Spices
Herbs and spices have been used for thousands of years in traditional medicines, they have also been used for thousands of years in traditional cooking to add flavor and enhance the deliciousness of a meal. Turmeric (Curcumin), garlic and ginger, have not only shown they are able to reduce the chemicals in your body that play a role in inflammation, some studies have suggested they could also ease pain in a similar way to aspirin.
Nutrition Tip: Steeping herbs in a warm liquid like soup, broth or sautéing in the pan can increase the antioxidant capacity of your dish!
Of course all your fresh fruit and vegetables are going to be packed with vitamins, minerals and nutrients which are going to confer a large array of health benefits. The reason we give a special shout out to Tomato’s, really comes down to their beautiful red pigment that comes from carotenoids (lycopene). Lycopene’s benefits are attributed its ability to modulate pathways responsible for the induction of inflammatory mediators, as well as the main inflammatory pathway we see in Rheumatoid Arthritis
Nutrition Tip: Raw tomato is rich in vitamin C, cooked tomato with extra virgin olive oil contains 2x higher amount of lycopene!
Leafy greens & Green Vegetables
Leafy greens are high in vitamins A, C, and K, which are all essential for healthy bones and joints. They also contain antioxidants, which can help reduce inflammation. Free radicals, in addition to damaging cells, have been linked to the causes of RA and inflammation. Since there is plenty of evidence to suggest leafy greens and green vegetables, particularly the cruciferous ones, are packed with the nutrients that are able to scavenge and neutralize these free radicals, increasing your intake of green vegetables might just be an effective way to combat arthritic related inflammation. In a 2013 mouse study published, a compound known as sulforaphane which is found in green cruciferous vegetables contain, demonstrated it was able to slow cartilage damage in joints due to osteoarthritis. Although mice very different to humans, but it is still a promising bit of research that can keep us watching this space.
Nutrition Tip: Green Leafy vegetables are rich in a powerful antioxidant called Glutathione. Some research suggests it may be useful for mitigating the oxidative stress in the cartilage.
Although a lot of the research we have is very mixed and we can’t say these foods will reduce pain and slow down disease activity, a lot of our research suggests that what we eat can have either a positive or negative effect on arthritic symptoms. Many strong, high quality studies suggest a Mediterranean style diet, loaded with plants and healthy fats can help with reducing inflammation and protect against weight gain, fracture risk and disability. So why not take a risk, and try to improve your symptoms with a big delicious piece of fish and extra virgin olive oil!
By Mary Zagotsis, Health Educator, Arthritis NSW
Zagotsis, M. (2023, June 29). 8 foods to keep your joints healthy: Arthritis NSW. Arthritis New South Wales. https://www.arthritisnsw.org.au/8-foods-to-keep-your-joints-healthy/