Inflammation is a natural immune response from our bodies to infection or injury. It’s your body’s way of telling white blood cells to gather in that area and repair your body. However, inflammation can do more harm than good if the immune response lasts too long (chronic inflammation) or begins to attack healthy cells (autoimmune disease).
Such is the case for certain types of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, gout, psoriatic arthritis, and lupus. Luckily, you have many treatment options to help manage your symptoms. And as you can probably tell by the title of this article, managing your diet is actually a major factor in reducing arthritis symptoms like inflammation and joint pain.
Think of it this way: Diet plays a major role in preventing conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Reducing the intake of red meats, salts, and saturated fats can prevent plaque build-up in your heart, while limiting your sugar intake can prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.
You have similar options for your arthritis pain. The key is to pick foods that contain chemicals known to reduce inflammation in our bodies. Here are the 13 best foods to help with that.
1. Nightshade Vegetables
When you hear the word nightshade, the first thing that comes to mind is probably that it’s poisonous. However, you’re probably thinking of one single variety of nightshade, the atropa belladonna, which has historically been used as a narcotic and hallucinogen. And while yes — that is one species of nightshade — the friendly potato is a product of nightshade, too.
In reality, there are more than 2,000 species in the nightshade or solanaceae family, and several of them can be found in your grocery store’s produce section. These include:
- Bell peppers
- Chili peppers
These vegetables are loaded with nutrition. One bell pepper contains approximately three times as much vitamin C than an orange. Another nightshade, the humble tomato, contains lycopene, a carotenoid shown to be associated with a decreased risk for chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease.
Some information reports that these vegetables enhance inflammation since they do contain trace amounts of solanine, which has proinflammatory properties in some people. However, there has been no scientific research showing such a reaction.
Eat your vegetables. It’s a good thing.
2. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Speaking of good things, olive oil contains lots of benefits for your arthritis. One of those is omega-3 fatty acids, which has shown to reduce inflammation and improve joint pain. Besides omega-3 and omega-6s, olive oil is also rich in vitamins E and K, antioxidants, and oleocanthal, all of which share similar properties with ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
The best and only kind of olive oil to buy is extra virgin olive oil. Not only is extra virgin the least refined and considered the healthiest kind, but it just tastes the best.
3. Cruciferous Vegetables
Besides being rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, cruciferous vegetables contain a compound called sulforaphane, which has been associated with decreased inflammation. Common cruciferous vegetables include:
- Bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
Whether you believe a head of cauliflower can reduce the inflammation in your knees, you can’t deny that these vegetables are good for you in general — not just because you have arthritis.
4. Dark Leafy Greens
The same can be said for dark leafy greens, which include:
- Collard greens
- Mustard greens
- Swiss chard
These vegetables hardly need an explanation as to why they’re good for you. In terms of arthritis, dark green, leafy vegetables are high in vitamins K, A, and C, as well as antioxidants and polyphenols, a chemical that protects the body from inflammation.
Coffee also contains high levels of polyphenols. Not only are polyphenols known to decrease inflammation, but some studies show they also help with digestion and weight management. Who knew that drinking your morning coffee could help relieve some of your arthritis symptoms?
6. Green Tea
Another polyphenol-rich beverage, green tea also has anti-inflammatory effects. Even more, it contains epigallocatechin-3-gallate, a special type of polyphenol that may inhibit the activation of inflammation in the body in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
Nuts contain high amounts of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, both of which are healthy fats (not saturated fats). They can also reduce the risk of diseases, such as cardiovascular disease. Moreover, they contain those anti-inflammatory omega-3s you’re looking for.
Like olive oil, the type of nuts you choose is important. Go for raw, unsalted nuts to minimize your salt intake, as too much salt may result in even more inflammation if not properly managed. Also, because nuts are high in calories, this is one food you should watch your proportions.
- Macadamia nuts
- Pine nuts
8. Fatty Fish
Fatty, oily fish are loaded with omega-3s as well as a host of other vitamins and minerals, which you may not get if you just take fish oil (i.e. a common alternative to fatty fish). We recommend you eat fish at least once a week, but you should choose types that are relatively low in mercury, such as:
- Skipjack and tongol tuna
9. Fruits & Berries
The key here is to look for fruits with high levels of antioxidants, carotenoids and vitamins. In other words: Eat a bunch of berries. Not only are they high in vitamin C, but they also have many other antioxidants and carotenoids that can protect you against free radicals. These fruits are easily available at your local grocery store:
In several studies, ginger has shown to have similar anti-inflammatory properties to COX-2 inhibitors, a class of NSAIDs that includes ibuprofen. If you go this route, ginger oils and ginger extract have the most anti-inflammatory effects.
11. Turmeric & Curcumin
Turmeric is the spice that gives Indian yellow curries their beautiful yellow hue. This bright color is due to the chemical curcumin, a powerful antioxidant that has shown to block 5-LOX and COX-2, both of which are pro-inflammatory enzymes.
But the twist is that turmeric only offers a tiny fraction of that active ingredient. Thus, while there’s nothing wrong with eating more yellow curry, you should instead take curcumin extract, which is a more potent dose of the active ingredient in turmeric.
If you have C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, it could be an indication of rheumatoid arthritis. Beans could help lower CRP levels in the body as well as provide you with antioxidants, phytochemicals and fiber. Good sources of these include:
- Pinto beans
- Red beans
- Kidney beans
13. Chia Seeds & Flaxseed
Perhaps the ultimate sleeper foods on this list, chia seeds and flaxseed both contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), one of the three types of omega-3s. The best thing is they’re so easy to incorporate into your diet.
Chia seeds can go in your granola, smoothie, yogurt — even in a glass of water. These tiny, crunchy seeds are so versatile, you can put them in anything, and they’ll taste good. It’s such an easy way to get your omega-3s!
Flaxseed is best consumed via flaxseed oil. It has shown to have the highest amount of ALA, and you can simply put a few drops in your smoothie or bowl of yogurt in the morning. You could also stir it into pancake batter or drop it into your coffee.
The sky’s the limit for where you can add these two items.
Now, that was a lot of information and a lot of food.
It’s important to remember that symptom relief for arthritis is a journey — not a destination. There’s no silver bullet to solve your condition, no one magic solution. Instead, taking a bunch of small steps like incorporating these foods into your diet can go a long way in terms of relieving your symptoms.
Finally, before you start chugging olive oil and stocking up on tuna tins, you should consult with your arthritis specialist and/or your doctor before taking any new dietary supplements to make sure they align with your specific condition.