Diet tips to treat inflammation

There’s truth to the adage “you are what you eat.” It’s especially relevant when managing inflammation and reducing swelling in your joints. While some foods can make things worse, there are plenty of tasty anti-inflammatory foods that can ease swollen joints, finger pain, and even symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Keep reading to find out what you can put on your plate to keep you moving.

1. Good oils

If you haven’t started cooking with olive oil yet, now’s the time! It’s incomparably rich in oleic acid, an omega-9 fatty acid that helps to minimize inflammation. Ditch the vegetable oil for healthier options like olive, grapeseed, and avocado oils.

Use extra virgin olive oil in cooking and on salads and get your food working faster for you. It’s good for your heart and your brain, too.

2. Fish

Red meat has earned its bad reputation for a reason. It’s higher in cholesterol and salt, which can trigger inflammation. To get your protein, switch to fish — like salmon, snapper, tuna, cod, halibut, and bass — that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which also help to reduce inflammation.

If you’re absolutely craving a steak, opt for grass-fed beef. It’s higher in healthy omega acids. But if you’re ready for some fish, check out some of the best types of fish to eat.

3. Nuts

Between meals, try nuts. Some great choices include:

They’re also high in omega-3 fatty acids and make a great snack. Sunflower seeds also share some of these nutty benefits.

4. Fruits

You can also try replacing processed snack foods with an array of fruits like:

According to the Arthritis Foundation, the antioxidants in fresh fruits and veggies help your body fight off free radicals that can cause cellular damage.

5. Garlic

Garlic: It tastes so good we put up with the bad breath afterward. But our powerful little friend also packs a wallop in the healthy-foods department and works great for swollen joints, according to this study from 2009.

Combine garlic with the herbs listed in the next section for some delicious upgrades to your cooking. And for date night, use some mint leaves to clean up your breath. They’ll help your swelling, too.

6. Herbs

Herbs have been used for centuries to promote health and healing. Fresh herbs, like basil, thyme, and oregano are delicious choices to use in your cooking, and can be a great source of antioxidants.

A 2010 review even showed that certain herbs like curcumin and chili pepper have compounds that can fight inflammation and may reduce pain.

7. Chocolate

Thankfully, eating healthy doesn’t mean missing out on the sweet stuff. Chocolate — yes, chocolate — that’s at least 70 percent pure cocoa is the way to go.

Other desserts that are low in fats and heavy in the fruits and nuts mentioned earlier, are also great ways to keep inflammation down.

8. Tea time

Besides reducing your risk of heart disease and cancer, green tea also stages an anti-inflammatory fight inside your body, according to research.

Drink it hot or cold and add some lemon juice to perk up the tea’s flavor — and kick up the antioxidants.

9. Beans

Try swapping a meat protein for a serving of beans — about 1 cup has 15 grams of protein. They’re not only affordable, they’re also packed with fiber and phytonutrients, which help decrease inflammation.

They even have folic acid and important minerals, including:

10. Onions

Onions are full of nutritious antioxidants, and may in fact reduce:

Add them to the base of your soups, sauté them in your favorite sauce, eat them raw in a sandwich, or toss them in an easy, nutritious stir-fry to instantly reap the benefits! And in case you’re worried, follow our tips to get rid of onion breath!

11. High fiber foods

Fiber is known to lower C-reactive protein (CRP), a substance found in our blood that suggests the presence of inflammation. Foods high in fiber include:

  • whole grains
  • beans
  • vegetables and fruits

Consuming whole grains made with the entire grain kernel, such as oatmeal, bulgur, brown rice, quinoa, and whole-wheat flour ensure a higher level of nutritious fiber. But if you have a gluten allergy, whole grains made of wheat can inversely contribute drastically to your inflammation.

12. Avocado

Unlike most fruits, the avocado is rich in monounsaturated fat and high in vitamin E — two anti-inflammatory properties linked to a reduced risk of joint damage seen in early osteoarthritis.

Eating avocados regularly can also contribute to regulating cholesterol levels. Avo-awesome.

Foods to avoid

To keep inflammation at bay, avoid processed foods such as packaged meats, cookies, chips, and other snacks. These are often high in unhealthy fats, salts, and sugars, which are linked to inflammation.

Limiting your alcohol intake is also important, especially when taking certain medications. Discuss your options with your doctor, especially if you’re taking methotrexate or other medications that may have an interaction.

Simple choices make a difference

When you make your shopping list, remind yourself that fresh is best because that’s when nutrients are at their highest. And keep these healthier choices in mind when dining out, too. Skip the carne asada burrito and go for sushi: fish, ginger, and garlic all in one spot.

We all should eat healthy, but when our food can help treat swelling and inflammation, it makes even more sense to eat healthy. Coupled with other treatments and therapies, a diet rich in foods with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, could keep inflammation down so you can start living pain-free.

Q:

Do you have to be on medications?

From our Facebook community

A:

Probably. There is a direct correlation between inflammation in the joints and damage. Decreasing inflammation prevents joint deformities, disability, and lowers cardiovascular risk, in addition to preventing pain and joint stiffness. The current goal in RA management is to induce a remission, called “treat to target." Unfortunately, most of the time maintaining a long-term remission requires some medication. Uncontrolled disease activity is also associated with disease in other organs, such rheumatoid lung disease and vasculitis (inflammation in blood vessels). However, there are lifestyle changes that can lower inflammation in RA such as discontinuing cigarette smoking, increasing exercise, getting adequate sleep, stress management, and an anti-inflammatory diet.

Nancy Carteron, MD, FACRAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.