Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician who gave us the Hippocratic Oath, is often quoted as saying, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” While it’s debatable whether he ever said this, that doesn’t make it any less true. Certain foods are known to either help or exacerbate arthritis. Here are some of the best foods to reduce inflammation, as well as the biggest inflammatory offenders:
Foods to Reduce Inflammation:
Turmeric is a bright yellow, earthy, slightly bitter spice found abundantly in Indian cuisine. It’s also marketed as a supplement for healthy joints. Cell culture and animal studies have demonstrated that curcumin, one of the compounds in turmeric, may have a therapeutic role against arthritis, pancreatitis, certain intestinal diseases, and other inflammatory conditions. Using it is easy: You can either take it in supplement form or add more of it to your diet. It works best when combined with black pepper since compounds in pepper increase the bioavailability of turmeric.
These dark berries pack a lot of antioxidants into a small package. This is largely because of their color — the same compounds that give them that luscious purple-black hue act to fight oxidative damage and inflammation within the body. Dark-colored berries like blackberries and blueberries also contain quercetin, a flavonoid that fights inflammation.
Fish like salmon and mackerel contain lots of omega 3 fatty acids. While it’s important to get all omega fatty acids in the right balance, most people’s diets are high in omega 6, which can promote inflammation. While it’s important to reduce your intake of omega 6, consuming more fatty fish can help bring your intake of omega 3 into balance. For best results, avoid frying them — fried foods can increase inflammation, and offset many of the benefits.
Have you ever eaten raw pineapple, and felt it tingle in your mouth? This is courtesy of a cocktail of enzymes that help digest protein, like bromelain. Bromelain can help modulate the immune system, which is helpful in conditions like arthritis that cause the body to attack itself. It’s also high in potassium and vitamin C, which can help control swelling.
Leafy Green Vegetables
Everybody knows they should be eating more leafy greens, but here’s a compelling reason for why: They’re packed full of antioxidants. Vitamins A and C fight free radicals and can help limit inflammation. (They also contain vitamin K, which is essential for healthy blood clotting.) Bok choy is a distinguished member of this list, too — it contains more than 70 different antioxidant compounds. It’s okay if you’re not a fan of salads, too. You can sauté them, juice them, or blend them into smoothies (perhaps with blackberries and some of the other foods on this list). Just be aware that heat will damage some of the vitamin C content.
Foods that are dark in color contain lots of plant pigments, and, as was said about blackberries, these plant pigments act as antioxidants within the body. Beets, with their rich, jewel-like reddish-purple color, are loaded with them. One particular pigment, betalin, is an excellent anti-inflammatory. These root vegetables are also high in magnesium and potassium, which can help reduce inflammation and relax muscles.
Foods That Worsen Inflammation:
Sugar isn’t bad. It’s a quick source of energy and is in some of the world’s healthiest foods — including blackberries, pineapple, and beets. The problem is added sugar. Just like the omega fatty acid balance described above, it’s important to have the right balance of nutrients in your diet. When you consume foods with added sugar, then you’re ingesting more sugar than you should. Over time, this has been shown to lead to chronic inflammation. Try to limit consumption to less than 25 grams per day. Check the labels of foods like crackers, bread, and sauce — many of them sneak in extra sugar.
Omega 6 Fatty Acids
Your body needs some omega 6 fatty acids, but most people consume too much. They’re found in foods like oils (especially corn, peanut, sunflower seed, and safflower seed) and mayonnaise. Eating a diet high in these oils causes an imbalance in omega fatty acids and a constant state of inflammation. Instead, try using olive, avocado, walnut, or flaxseed oils, which are higher in omega 3s.
Refined grains are grains that have had their outer coatings stripped away, leaving just the starchy inner contents intact. This means that they’ve lost most of their vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Since this starchy inner portion is intended to act as food for a developing plant embryo, it’s probably not surprising that it’s designed to break down easily — which means that your body responds to it in pretty much the same way it does sugar. Switch from refined grains to whole-grain foods, which provoke less of an inflammatory response. For best results, do more of your own baking. You’ll be able to control exactly how much sugar and whole grains go into the final product and have the freedom to choose anti-inflammatory oils over the cheap, high omega 6 oils used in most packaged foods.
If you have an inflammatory condition like arthritis, making adjustments to your diet can bring some relief. While it’s not likely to cure you, it may help you live more comfortably and reduce the need for medication. If you’re concerned about the way your diet may be impacting your joints, talk to your physician or dietician about which anti-inflammatory foods are best for you.