An anti-inflammatory diet can reduce chronic pain caused by osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as other types of inflammatory arthritis such as psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.
One example of an anti-inflammatory diet is the popular Mediterranean diet. The anti-inflammatory diet does not recommend eating processed foods and encourages eating vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, and foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, such as wild salmon and anchovies preserved in oil.
In addition to potentially reducing chronic pain in arthritis, anti-inflammatory diets tend to promote long-term health.
How can certain foods suppress inflammation in arthritis?
While inflammation is important for the human immune system, it also underlies most types of arthritis pain. In addition, as people age, their metabolism changes and they are more prone to inflammation, even when they are not ill or injured. Some foods can alleviate or exacerbate this unnecessary inflammation.
To understand how foods can suppress the inflammation of arthritis or, conversely, lead to inflammation, it is important to understand what free radicals, oxidative stress, and antioxidants are.
Free radical. Free radicals (sometimes called reactive oxygen species) are negatively charged atoms or molecules. By their very nature, free radicals look for other atoms or positively charged molecules to bind with (oxidation). The creation of free radicals is part of the body’s normal metabolism, but too many free radicals can be promoted by certain behavioral factors, including Smoking or eating certain foods.
Oxidative stress. The body naturally neutralizes and processes some free radicals, but too many free radicals can overwhelm the body’s system and create an imbalance. This imbalance is called oxidative stress.
Inflammation. Oxidative stress is associated with chronic inflammation. Many experts suspect that oxidative stress begins with a biochemical cascade that promotes inflammation and can eventually lead to related degenerative diseases such as arthritis.
Antioxidants. Free radicals can be captured and neutralized by antioxidants. Antioxidants can come from the body or be consumed as food or anti-inflammatory drugs.
An anti-inflammatory diet reduces or eliminates foods suspected of causing oxidative stress, and encourages the consumption of foods rich in antioxidants.
What are anti-inflammatory products?
The goal of an anti-inflammatory diet for arthritis is to reduce unnecessary joint inflammation and degeneration and pain.
Inflammatory foods to avoid
According to many experts, some foods seem to promote inflammation, and they should be avoided.
Processed foods such as commercial baked goods, as well as many prepared meals.
Refined grain products, such as white bread and white flour.
Refined sugar and refined sugar products such as candy and soda.
Certain oils, including corn, safflower, soy, and peanut butter.
Dry roasted nuts and beer nuts.
Grocery stores are filled with processed foods and sugary drinks — too many to list here, so this list is just a guideline. People are advised to read food labels and avoid foods that contain ingredients such as refined sugar, corn syrup, refined flour, and corn oils.
Fish that live in cold water, such as tuna, salmon, mackerel, sardines, perch and anchovies.
Fresh and (without additives) frozen fruits, including apples, apricots, bananas, berries, melon, grapes, kiwi, oranges, papaya, pineapple and avocado.
Some oils, including linseed and olive oils.
Nuts, including almonds, walnuts, and macadamia nuts.
Green vegetables such as spinach, cauliflower, Swiss chard and broccoli.
Other vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, celery, onions and sweet potatoes.
Some spices, including ginger and turmeric.
Green tea and water, especially mineral water.
Whole grains, including wheat, rice, barley, buckwheat, wheat, millet, and oats.
Flaxseeds, Chia seeds and tofu.
Fish, vegetable oils, walnuts, flax seeds, Flaxseed oil, Chia seeds, and leafy vegetables are particularly high in omega-3 fatty acids. Evidence shows that a diet that includes omega-3 fatty acids can lead to a moderate reduction in symptoms in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
Just because food is not included in the above list, it does not mean that it cannot be part of an anti-inflammatory diet. There are many varieties of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, nuts, beans, and low-fat fish, so people can take advantage of this variety to enjoy a delicious and varied diet.
Anti-inflammatory diet — controversial products
Some foods that are usually considered part of a healthy diet can cause inflammation in some people. Common examples of these products are nightshade plants, dairy products, and wheat and gluten.
Eggplants, peppers, white potatoes, and tomatoes are collectively called “nightshade” plants. These plants contain a chemical called solanine, which some people believe contributes to inflammation in arthritis.
The arthritis Foundation does not support the position that Solanum plants cause inflammation of arthritis, but does recognize that some people may be sensitive to certain vegetables.
Over the years, researchers have found that dairy products are associated with many benefits, such as reducing the risk of gout, in men, and slowing the progression of osteoarthritis in women. Low fat content in yogurt, cheese, and milk can be particularly beneficial. However, in some people, dairy products can cause inflammation that affects the joints.
Like dairy products, whole wheat products can be part of a healthy diet. However, a protein found in wheat called gluten is associated with inflammation and joint pain in some people.
People with allergies or gluten sensitivity should not eat wheat, barley, or bulgur. They should also avoid oats that are not labeled gluten-free. (Oats are naturally gluten-free, but many oat crops are grown in rotation with wheat and barley crops and are therefore contaminated).
Food allergies and sensitivities vary from person to person. Some individuals may need to work with a doctor or dietitian to find the optimal, adapted anti-inflammatory diet.