Osteoarthritis and Your Diet: Solutions and Recipes to Slow Progression and Ease Pain
June 5, 2013
Natalia Hancock, R.D., discusses how certain foods and recipes can help alleviate the symptoms of osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a disease related to the breakdown of cartilage at the joints, affecting over 27 million Americans. Causes include:
- Being overweight or obese, as excess weight applies extra stress to joints. Excess body fat can also increase inflammation
- Family history of the disease
- Repetitive or overuse of joint(s)
- Previously injured joints, which increase risk of osteoarthritis
- Age and gender: your risk for osteoarthritis increases with age, and women are more likely to suffer than men
While there is no way to reverse the breakdown or loss of cartilage, there are certain treatments and lifestyle adjustments -- namely diet and exercise -- that can slow progression, improve joint function and reduce pain and inflammation.
One of the best ways to slow progression of OA and reduce pain is weight loss through a healthy eating plan that includes foods known to protect and strengthen joints while decreasing inflammation. Overweight people can develop accelerated osteoarthritis, especially in the weight-bearing joint regions like hips and knees. Additionally, excess body fat can contribute toward the production of hormones and bodily chemicals that increase inflammation.
The best way for an OA sufferer to lose weight through diet would be to cut back on calories by removing highly-processed, calorie-dense junk foods and swapping them for lower-calorie, more nutritionally-dense foods. Be sure to choose meals that are full of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean and varied proteins, fatty fish, nuts and seeds, whole intact grains and legumes.
Cooking with olive oil (which contains oleocanthal) can help prevent inflammation (the swelling that pushes against sensitive nerve endings). Use it in place of butter and other fats, rather than just adding it to your diet, to avoid the extra calories.
If you eat an appropriate portion (check here for calorie needs) of these foods to lose weight, the weight loss experienced coupled with the benefits you may reap from the nutrient-dense foods could greatly decrease pain and slow progression of OA.
Antioxidants are found mainly in fruits and vegetables and help protect and strengthen our cells. They also reduce inflammation that can cause pain. Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Clinical Rheumatology has shown that certain antioxidants can help prevent arthritis, slow progression and ease or relieve pain. Besides antioxidants, fruits and vegetables are teeming with vitamins, minerals and fiber and are lower in calories. They are crucial for healthy eating or a calorie reduction plan.
- Load up on antioxidants with our popular recipe for South American Quinoa Salad.
Omega-3 fatty acids -- found naturally in fatty fish, walnuts, chia and flax seeds and some plant oils -- can relieve joint pain and morning stiffness because they suppress the production of cytokines and the enzymes that break down cartilage. Several studies have shown that people with an intake high in omega-3s were able to reduce the dose of anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Boost your omega-3 intake with this nutritious Berry Smoothie recipe.
Vitamin C is required for the synthesis of collagen and the building of connective tissue, which is important for joint health. Those who have diets lacking in vitamin C are at an increased risk for OA. Women should aim to have more than 75mg and men more than 90mg of vitamin C per day. Any diet that includes several servings of varied fruits and vegetables per day likely overdelivers this amount.
- To increase the amount of vitamin C in your diet, try this healthy and delicious recipe for Citrus Salad.
Turmeric and ginger
The spices ginger and turmeric can naturally suppress inflammatory chemicals in the body. Turmeric has a subtle floral flavor and therefore can easily be added to soups, stews, rice dishes and even smoothies. It is best when purchased fresh or dried and ground or grated at home. It is a spice often used in curry blends.
Ginger can be used abundantly as it works in both sweet and savory dishes. Use fresh ginger in stir-fry dishes, soups, curry dishes, marinades, fruit salads, vinaigrettes and smoothies. Ground ginger can also be used in seasoning fruit for pies and tarts and also in muffins, quick breads and spice cakes.
- To incorporate more ginger and turmeric into your diet, try this low-calorie Punjabi Cabbage recipe.
Try to avoid high cooking temperatures and cooking methods. Foods (especially meats) that have been grilled, broiled, deep-fried or have a lot of charring should be limited or avoided. The high temperatures can produce unhealthy compounds that can cause inflammation. Many processed foods also undergo high cooking temperatures and should be avoided.
Are you one of the 27 million Americans who suffer from osteoarthritis? Let us know your tips for alleviating symptoms in the comments section below.
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