Anti-Inflammatory Diet May Help Arthritis

Foods to Eat and Foods to Avoid

Dr. Weil anti-inflammatory-food-pyramid
Permission: Dr. Weil

Controlling inflammation is essential if you have arthritis or another inflammatory disease. There are several ways to reduce inflammation. A combination of anti-inflammatory treatment and lifestyle change may be necessary. As an example, a combination of medication and diet may be more effective than either alone.

Following an anti-inflammatory diet has become increasingly popular. Basically, an anti-inflammatory diet focuses on foods to avoid that increase inflammation and foods to include in your diet that reduces inflammation. The term "diet" tends to make you think of short-term weight loss diets, but that is not the purpose of an anti-inflammatory diet. While you may lose a bit of weight just from eating healthy, the purpose of an anti-inflammatory diet is to reduce inflammation.

Theories of an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

One proponent of an anti-inflammatory diet is Barry Sears, author of "The Zone Diet" and research papers. Other forms of this way of eating are the Mediterranean diet and that proposed by Andrew Weil. These diets emphasize fruits and vegetables that are rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals. They seek a better balance of omega-3 fatty acids (preferred) and omega-6 fatty acids (to be reduced). An anti-inflammatory diet may also emphasize whole grains and eliminating processed foods, in part to even out blood sugar and insulin response.

The Arthritis Foundation says there is no specific diet that someone with rheumatoid arthritis should follow, but the basics of a Mediterranean-style diet suggests foods that have could help control inflammation.

There is a lack of high-quality research into whether these anti-inflammatory diets reduce inflammation. Most of the research has been done on individual components of the diet rather than holistic studies and those that pair a control group with a test group. The good news is that most aspects of this diet correspond with healthy eating patterns as outlined in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

Anti-Inflammatory Foods to Eat

Here is one variation of what to eat on an anti-inflammatory diet.

  • Fruits—fresh or frozen (three to four servings per day): Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, peaches, nectarines, oranges, grapefruit, red grapes, plums, pomegranates, blackberries, cherries, apples, and pears are excellent choices for fruit because they are antioxidant-rich foods and high in anthocyanidins.
  • Vegetables—raw or cooked (four to five servings per day): Dark leafy greens, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cauliflower, carrots, beets, onions, peas, squash, and raw salad greens are among the better choices for vegetables. Beta-carotene-rich foods are excellent choices too, including sweet potato, carrots, kale, butternut squash, turnip greens, pumpkin, mustard greens, cantaloupe, sweet red pepper, and apricot, and spinach. Foods rich in beta-cryptoxanthin should be included, such as winter squash, persimmons, papaya, tangerine, red peppers, and corn.
  • Beans and legumes (one to two servings per day): Good choices include Anasazi, adzuki, black, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, and lentils.
  • Pasta (two to three servings per week): Organic pasta, rice noodles, bean thread noodles, whole wheat and buckwheat noodles are good choices.
  • Whole and cracked grains (three to five servings per day): Brown rice, basmati rice, wild rice, buckwheat, barley, groats, quinoa, and steel-cut oats are suggested.
  • Healthy fats (five to seven servings per day): Nuts (particularly walnuts), avocados, seeds, omega-3 fats in cold water fish, and whole soy foods are good choices. Use extra virgin olive oil to cook.
  • Fish and seafood (two to six servings per week): Salmon, herring, sardines, and black cod are suggested.
  • Whole soy foods (one to two servings per day): Tofu, tempeh, soymilk, edamame (immature soybeans in the pod), and soy nuts are good selections.
  • Cooked Asian mushrooms: Unlimited quantities are allowed.
  • Spices: Use turmeric, curry powder, ginger, garlic, chili peppers, basil, cinnamon, rosemary, and thyme.
  • Selenium-rich foods - Brazil nuts, tuna, crab, oysters, tilapia, cod, shrimp, lean beef, turkey, wheat germ, whole grains.
  • Tea (two to four cups per day): White, green, and oolong are best. Also, drink abundant water throughout the day.
  • High-quality multivitamin and supplements: A multivitamin, vitamin D, and fish oil, may be used.
  • Red wine: Drink one to two glasses per day maximum. Discuss this with your doctor.
  • Sweets rarely: Best options include dried fruit (unsweetened), dark chocolate, or fruit sorbet.

Foods to Avoid

Cut down on processed foods and fast food. Avoid a high-fat diet (trans fat, saturated fat). Avoid simple refined carbohydrates. Omega-3 fatty acids, as mentioned, are healthy fats. Omega-6 fatty acids should be cut back in your diet.

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