The centuries-old Mediterranean diet may be as good for the joints as it is for the heart.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) sufferers know all too well the inflammation and pain that comes with the disease. Although there's no "RA diet" that can treat the condition, some foods may help you lower inflammation in your body. And because they're good for you, these foods -- including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, and fish – may help you feel better overall.
An Age-Old RA diet
People with RA have immune systems that attack the lining of their joints. This assault causes chronic inflammation, stiffness, and pain. Research shows the Mediterranean diet's healthful components can help lower inflammation, benefiting people with the disease.
A British study looked at the impact of foods from the Mediterranean diet in women with RA. Researchers split 130 women into two groups. One group took a cooking class on Mediterranean-style eating. The other group received only written information and made no dietary changes.
Women who attended the class ate more foods that were rich in antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory substances, including fruits, vegetables, and monounsaturated fats (the kind found in olive oil). Over the next six months, they had less joint pain and morning stiffness and better overall health compared to the other group.
How can you add these foods to your plate? Here are four foods to try.
Inflammation Fighter: Fish
People with RA have higher levels of substances called cytokines that ramp up inflammation in the body. Polyunsaturated fats – especially omega-3 fatty acids – help suppress cytokines and other inflammatory chemicals.
These good fats also help decrease LDL "bad" cholesterol and triglyceride levels when used to replace saturated and trans fats in the diet. High levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (fats in the blood) promote inflammation, which is thought to play a critical role in heart disease. That's important for people with RA, who have a significantly higher risk of heart disease.
All fish have some omega-3s. But salmon, herring, sardines, and anchovies are chock full of them. Salmon provides the most, with up to 2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per 3-ounce serving. Go lightly with the heat; overcooking can destroy more than half of the omega-3s. Bake or grill fish instead of frying it to preserve healthful fat.
The American Heart Association recommends eating fish twice a week. Fish high in omega-3s are powerful anti-inflammatory foods that offer a multitude of health benefits.
Don't like fish? Other foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, canola oil, and soybeans. Or ask your doctor about omega-3 supplements derived from plants.