The foods you consume can have a direct effect on your arthritis pain and symptoms. Inflammation, which plays a major role in the pathogenesis of arthritis, is often influenced by a person’s diet.
Although it may seem like many tasty foods are to be avoided, a few simple modifications to your diet can go a long way. For example, choose whole wheat bread instead of white bread, and use olive oil instead of corn oil. Anti-inflammatory foods include green leafy vegetables as well as coloured vegetables.
The best way to identify foods that trigger inflammation is by following an elimination diet. This begins by eating foods that rarely cause inflammation, known as baseline foods. Baseline foods include foods like leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes and quinoa. After a few weeks, other foods are added one by one methodically. This makes it easy to identify what foods cause arthritis pain.
Foods to avoid because they trigger inflammation of joints include:
- Fried and processed food: Fried meat and prepared frozen food can be a trigger for arthritis. Baked goods, prepackaged meals and snacks are all better avoided. These items contain trans fats that are added to help preserve them. Trans fats trigger inflammation and are present in foods labeled as containing partially hydrogenated oils. Reducing such foods in your diet can reduce inflammation and actually boost the body’s defense mechanisms. Fried meat as well as other fried foods like doughnuts and french fries have to be avoided.
- Omega-6 fatty acids: Omega-6 fatty acids are present in corn, safflower, sunflower, peanut and soy oils. These are healthy only in small amounts. In excess, they can trigger inflammatory chemicals.
- AGEs: Advanced Glycosylation End-products or AGEs are toxins that appear when food is heated, pasteurized, grilled or fried. These trigger inflammation and cause protein damage. Reducing food cooked at high temperatures can reduce blood AGE levels.
- Sugars: High amounts of sugars can increase levels of AGEs. Foods containing refined sugar such as pastries, candy, chocolates, soda and even fruit juices also trigger the release of substances in the body known as cytokines which play an important role in inflammation. Other ingredients to watch out for include corn syrup, sucrose, fructose or maltose. Sugar alternatives such as aspartame and sucralose are considered by many people who have been told to avoid sugars. However, some people are sensitive to these substances, which can lead to an inflammatory response from the body. These alternatives are found in diet sodas, sugar-free candy, low-fat yogurt and gum.
- Refined carbohydrates: Refined carbohydrates, also known as refined grains cause a spike in blood glucose levels, which in turn increases inflammation within the body. White flour products, such as white bread, pasta, crackers all contain refined carbohydrates. People who are gluten sensitive may have joint pains and inflammation in consuming wheat products.
- Red meat: Meat, especially red meat, is high in saturated fats, which can trigger inflammation and increase cholesterol levels. Meat, particularly when grilled, broiled, roasted, or fried contains high levels of AGEs.
- Dairy products: The protein in milk and dairy products can irritate the tissue around joints.
Mayonnaise, margarine, cream cheese, butter and cheese contain a huge amount of both saturated fats and Advanced Glycation End-products (AGEs). These products are inflammation triggers and should be consumed minimally. However, some fermented dairy products, such as greek yogurt, have been found to be anti-inflammatory in people who do not have sensitivity towards cow’s milk.
- Consuming eggs regularly can lead to an increased amount of swelling and joint pain. The yolks contain arachidonic acid which triggers inflammation in the body. Eggs also contain saturated fat which can also induce joint pain
- Alcohol and tobacco: Experts have said that drinking too much alcohol can lead to increased inflammation and other health risks. Cutting alcohol altogether for 4 to 6 weeks may show benefits by reducing arthritis pain. This may also help you sleep better, which itself will help relieve your symptoms. Drinking alcohol also puts you at risk of developing gout. Tobacco consumption increases the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
- Salt and preservatives: Excess amounts of salt can lead to joint inflammation.
- Foods that aggravate symptoms of gout: Purine-rich foods such as red wine, meats and seafood can lead to building of the break-down product of purine, uric acid. This accumulates in the joints leading to gout.
Anti-inflammatory foods to include in your diet
Chemical compounds naturally found in many fruits, vegetables and some meats, seem to have anti-inflammatory properties. Anti-inflammatory foods such as these below, are strongly recommended:
- Fresh fruits such as apples, apricots, berries, kiwi, oranges, pineapple, avocados, grapes and bananas
- Certain oils such as flaxseed oil and olive oil.
- Nuts including almonds and walnuts
- Dark green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli
- Spices like ginger, garlic and turmeric.
- Green tea, dark chocolate and mineral water are also anti-inflammatory.
- Vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, onions and sweet potatoes.
- Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and trout are rich in Vitamin D & Omega 3 fatty acids, which have known to have potent anti-inflammatory effects.
- Flaxseeds, Chia seeds and tofu
- Whole grains including barley, millet, oats, quinoa and wheat.
Dr. Jayavardhan Y B | Consultant – Orthopaedics | Narayana Multispeciality Hospital, Mysore