Eating Your Way to Health: The Best Diet for Arthritis
Arthritis is an umbrella term for over 200 conditions that involve inflammation of the joints and connective tissue surrounding joints. You may have heard of or even experienced one of the two most common arthritic conditions - rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
Chronic inflammatory conditions such as these can be painful, even debilitating, for those who have them. The symptoms of stiff, sore joints can vary from being only occasionally present (like, for example, in cold weather) to leaving many people struggling to keep up with the demands of regular life.
While you should see a doctor for a complete treatment plan, did you know that you can modify what you are eating to ensure you are on the best diet for keeping arthritis symptoms at bay? There is evidence that what you eat may influence your condition for better or worse. For example, if you’re feeling aches after a month of holiday parties and dinners out, it may be that extra sugar causing a flare-up with your arthritis.
An occasional cookie is ok, but if your arthritis has been more present than usual, it may be time to take a step back and see where the rest of your diet has been lacking. Are you getting enough protein? Are those sore joints craving collagen? Has your plate been missing some colors of the rainbow? Let’s take a look.
What Is The Best Diet For Arthritis?
The Mayo Clinic simply defines arthritis as “the swelling and tenderness of one or more of your joints.” And, because arthritis is an inflammatory condition, it makes sense that foods with anti-inflammatory properties may help to soothe symptoms. You also need foods that are nutrient-dense, support joint and tissue repair/strength, and that help to improve your overall energy and vitality.
The good news is that you don’t need to follow a complicated dietary routine in order to get the best diet for arthritis. In fact, we believe that a few small healthy changes can make a big difference in your day to day quality of life. And this change starts in the grocery store. By filling your cart (and your kitchen) with foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals, protein, antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, you’ll be able to give your body the support it needs to thrive.
If you still aren’t sure what those foods might be, don’t worry. We did the digging for you. Here are some great foods to add to your pantry and refrigerator if you have been diagnosed with a form of arthritis:
Remember to Consume Collagen Protein
Collagen protein is made up of amino acids, just like other protein structures, and is found in your cartilage, skin, tendons, organs, and bones. In fact, it’s a large percentage of what they are made up and helps with the elasticity and overall health of different parts of your body. Unlike other proteins, your body produces collagen naturally, with production slowing after the age of 26. What’s more, the only way you can get collagen protein is by consuming the correct animal sources - it’s not found in vegan proteins or that healthy chicken breast you just ate.
So, it’s no surprise then that, as your body uses up its natural reserves of collagen over time, symptoms of arthritis are likely to worsen. While arthritis is considered an age-related issue, age nor protein intake are the only factors. However, adding high-quality protein that includes collagen could help keep those joints feel healthy longer.
Hydrolyzed collagen is a supplement you can take to help support the connective tissues in your body, including your joints and the surrounding cartilage. While research comparing various collagen supplements is still underway, experts agree that “predigested” (aka hydrolyzed) collagen supplements may be beneficial for patients with arthritis, as they are easy to digest and utilize.
Quality supplements will provide your body with the specific amino acids it needs to reduce inflammation in your joints, and aid in injury recovery processes in your connective tissues.
How Much Protein Do I Need In My Anti-Arthritis Diet?
The Dietary Reference Intake for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram daily. To find your weight in kilograms, take your weight in pounds and divide it by 2.2. Then multiply that number by 0.8. This will tell you how much protein you should consume each day, spread out over your regular meals.
Here is the equation for calculating your protein needs:
- Weight in pounds ÷ 2.2 x 0.8 = grams of daily protein
Your body cannot absorb all of your daily protein need at once. You should divide your protein up into about 3-4 meals spread throughout your day.
If you feel that your protein needs may be different than the average person, perhaps based on your activity level or an underlying health condition, speak with your primary care physician.
Add in Other Kinds of Proteins, Too
Getting a variety of high-quality proteins is important in achieving the best, most balanced anti-arthritis diet and the key to staying full throughout the day. While you can get a portion of your daily protein from supplements, it’s beneficial for your body to extract the nutrients from whole foods, such as nuts, nut butter, chicken, eggs, tofu, soy, etc., too.
So, in addition to taking a quality collagen protein supplement like ProT Gold, put some of these foods on a regular rotation to fulfill your body’s protein needs.
- Black beans 1 cup - 15 grams
- Lentils ½ cup - 8 grams
- Tempeh 4 ounces - 20 grams
- Tofu 4 ounces - 12 grams
- Chicken 3 ounces - 28 grams
- Egg 1 large - 6 grams
- Salmon 3 ounces - 22 grams
- Soy nuts 1 ounce - 12 grams
- Pumpkin seeds 1 ounce - 9 grams
- Green yogurt 6 ounces - 18 grams
- Cottage cheese 4 ounces - 14 grams
- String cheese 1 piece - 6 grams
Determine what types of proteins are most enjoyable to you, and try to get a good variety in your arthritis diet. For the first few weeks, it might be a good idea to write down everything you eat in an app like MyFitnessPal or FatSecret and then calculate if you’re getting the recommended amount of protein. Remember, protein also helps your body in the injury recovery process and is vital to the function of every organ.
Pick out Probiotic Yogurt/Kefir as a Healthy Snack
Your gut has tons, well, technically billions, of helpful organisms in it that help your digestive system. That’s why many people take a daily probiotic pill. But did you know that it’s one of the best diet options for arthritis as well? Those probiotics help monitor your gut functions, but they also reduce pro-inflammatory bacteria in your body.
Instead of taking a daily pill, you can reap the benefits by adding probiotic-rich yogurt and kefir to your diet, populating your gut with health-boosting microbiota. A healthy gut is so central to your general health that you may notice an overall boost in quality of life!
Add Berries to Salads, Smoothies and More
Fruits are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatories. But they also have two new nutrients you may not have heard of: quercetin and rutin. As we learn more about the body, we’re learning that these are game-changers for your health.
Better yet? Pilot studies have found multiple direct links to the consumption of fruits and the reduction of arthritis symptoms. Scientists have conducted studies by giving rats with arthritis both quercetin and rutin supplements and have also upped their consumption of pomegranates, seeing a reduction in arthritis symptoms in both situations.
The best, most antioxidant-packed fruits to reach for are strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and grapes. Plus, fruits also contain large amounts of fiber which keep your digestive system moving well and improve bowel movements.
Look for Dark, Leafy Greens and Vegetables
Dark leafy greens, like spinach and kale, are also packed with inflammation-battling antioxidants, like kaempferol. Which is one nutrient that may particularly be helpful for people with Rheumatoid Arthritis. The verdict about direct links to arthritis symptoms is still out, but there’s no denying that we should all be eating our greens.
So start swapping out your iceberg lettuce for more nutrient-dense option. Even if you don’t enjoy salad, there are a lot of ways to throw extra greens into your diet. Soups, stir-fries, smoothies, and baked dinners can have dark greens added for texture, flavor, and some great benefits.
Try to have a serving of vegetables and greens in every meal.
Don’t Forget to Take Cod Liver/Fish Oil
Studies recommend cod liver oil as being a good option for those with Rheumatoid Arthritis, targeting symptoms such as morning stiffness and painful and swollen joints. So, the best diet for arthritis would have plenty of inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids, which is naturally found in fish.
Similar to collagen protein, it can be difficult to get the same amount of omegas (or the right omegas) form other sources. But, it may not be as hard as you think to get the omega-3 your joints crave. Eating fish 1-2 times per week can help to boost your intake of these nutrients. Another great way to get the benefits of fish is through quality fish oil supplements.
Cook with Ginger and Turmeric
Turmeric and ginger are two trending superfoods right now. And they are commonly used in ayurvedic/Chinese medicine for treating a variety of ailments, including, you guessed it, inflammation. Due to recent studies and findings, Western health/medicine has also begun to utilize the powerful anti-inflammatory/antioxidant activity of these spices in teas, as cooking spices and even in daily capsules.
In a study of 247 people suffering from osteoarthritis-caused knee pain, participants were asked to take ginger extract. After just 6 weeks, 63% of them reported a reduction in pain while standing and after walking short distances. Both ginger and turmeric may help reduce inflammation and are really easy (and delicious!) to add to your cooking routine.
Does The Best Diet For Arthritis Exclude Any Foods?
When you are suffering from arthritis symptoms, it is important to support your body with mostly nutrient-dense foods. This means the majority of your diet should be fruits and vegetables, leafy greens, whole grains, and protein such as collagen peptide protein.
Other foods that are highly processed, sugary, fried, high-fat, and refined will not provide the nutrition you need to thrive. In some cases, they may even be the reason your symptoms are showing up and/or be aggravating the inflammation.
Highly Processed Foods
Processed snacks often contain copious amounts of trans fats, salt, hydrogenated oils, preservatives, and artificial colors and flavors. They are mostly “empty calories” that fill you up but don’t offer much nutritional value.
Omega-6 Fatty Acids
As you can see, we recommended Omega-3, but we advise against an overload of Omega-6. It’s important to read the labels!
While your body needs a balance of inflammatory and anti-inflammatory fatty acids, if you are suffering from arthritis, it is better to avoid fatty acids that trigger inflammation. These include corn, peanut, and sunflower oils as well as red meat. Try to eat these only in small doses, and not every day.
Refined sugar triggers the release of cytokines - a protein that causes inflammation. By now, you know that inflammation is what causes those arthritis aches. And the best arthritis diet is full of anti-inflammatory foods. Unfortunately, refined sugar isn’t one of those foods.
Refined sugars are found in processed foods, pastries, chocolate, candy, soda, etc. Cut back on these and try to satisfy your sweet tooth with fruit, honey, monk fruit, coconut sugar, dates and other natural forms of sugar instead.
While quality olive oil may help alleviate some of your arthritis symptoms, most fried foods are made in a large quantity of low-quality oil. This means that your favorite fried foods contain trans fats and advanced glycation end products (AGEs) that are known to stimulate inflammation.
Instead of fried chicken or other fried products, try air frying, baking with a little bit of olive oil brushed on or rolling your food in whole-grain bread crumbs before popping them in the oven.
Whether you are suffering from arthritis pain or just looking to keep your joints happy and healthy for longer, creating the right anti-arthritis diet may seem intimidating at first.But, as you can see, a lot of the best suggestions are just small swap outs and delicious additions to what you are already eating. You’ll want to eat 3-4 smaller meals a day that contain a balance of vegetables, leafy greens, fruits, protein, and whole grains. Add some supplements, like collagen protein and probiotics and you’ll have a balanced diet that promotes healthy joints and more.