Inflammatory arthritis is a term used to describe a group of conditions which affect your immune system. This means that your body’s defence system starts attacking your own tissues instead of germs, viruses and other foreign substances, which can cause pain, stiffness and joint damage. They’re also known as autoimmune diseases. The most common form of inflammatory arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis. These conditions are also called systemic diseases because they can affect your whole body. They can happen at any age. Inflammatory arthritis isn’t the same as osteoarthritis, which happens when the cartilage in your joint wears away.
While there is no specific “diet” that people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), should follow, researchers have identified certain foods that can help control inflammation. Many of them are found in the so-called Mediterranean diet, which emphasises fish, vegetables and olive oil, among other staples.
1. Get Fishy
Certain types of fish are rich in inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6, two inflammatory proteins in your body.
How much: At least 3 to 4 ounces, twice a week
Best sources: Salmon, tuna, sardines, anchovies and other cold-water fish
2. Eat Your Fruits and Veggies
Fruits and vegetables are packed with antioxidants, which support the immune system – the body’s natural defence system – and may help fight inflammation.
How much: At least 1½ to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of veggies per meal
Best sources: Colourful foods such as blueberries, blackberries, cherries, strawberries, spinach, kale and broccoli
3. Try a Handful of Nuts or Seeds
Nuts are full of inflammation-fighting monounsaturated fat, protein and filling fibre, too – a bonus if you’re trying to lose a few pounds.
How much: Eat 1.5 ounces of nuts daily (about a handful)
Best sources: Walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios and almonds
4. Break out the Beans
Beans have several antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. They’re a low-cost source of fibre, protein, folic acid and minerals such as magnesium, iron, zinc and potassium.
5. Pour on the Olive Oil
Olive oil contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, antioxidants and oleocanthal, a compound that can lower inflammation and pain.
How much: Two to three tablespoons per day for cooking or in salad dressings or other dishes
Best sources: Extra virgin olive oil is less refined and processed. It retains more nutrients than standard varieties
6. Peel Some Onions & Garlic
Onions are packed with beneficial antioxidants. They may also reduce inflammation, heart disease risk and LDL, or “bad” cholesterol. Try them sautéed, grilled or raw in salads, stir-fries, whole-wheat pasta dishes or sandwiches.
7. Nightshades or Not?
Nightshade vegetables – Aubergines, tomatoes, peppers and potatoes – are central to Mediterranean cuisine. Some people believe they trigger arthritis flares, but there’s limited scientific evidence to support this theory. Try cutting nightshades from your diet for two weeks to see if symptoms improve.
8. Fill up on Fibre
Fibre lowers C-reactive protein (CRP), a substance in the blood that indicates inflammation. Getting fibre from foods lowers CRP levels more than taking fibre supplements. Foods that have carotenoids, the antioxidants that give carrots, peppers and some fruits their colour, are quite good at lowering CRP.
9. Avoid Processed Food
Processed foods such as cookies, chips and other snacks can be high in unhealthy fats, which are linked with inflammation. Opt for fresh fruit instead. Canned goods – vegetables and soups – are often high in sodium, which boosts blood pressure. Look for low sodium options, or go with fresh or frozen vegetables.
10. Cut the Salt
There are conflicting reports about just how bad excess salt is for us. We know it causes fluid retention – one of many factors that can lead to high blood pressure. Also, corticosteroids, often used to treat RA, can cause the body to retain more sodium. So play it safe and hold the salt when possible.