If you’re one of the 58.5 million women and men in the United States who suffer from the joint pain and stiffness of arthritis, you’re probably looking for ways to control your disease without drugs or surgery.
Luckily, whether you have rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or one of the many other types of joint diseases that qualify as “arthritis,” lifestyle changes are helpful.
Even if you still need medications, changing the way you eat and exercise can lower your dependence on them. Key to improving your arthritis through lifestyle is finding out which foods nourish your joints and which ones help destroy them.
Kimberly Bolling, MD, a caring and knowledgeable arthritis specialist in Bowie, Maryland, helps you manage your joint pain so you can live an active and comfortable life. Here, she provides a list of foods that you should eliminate from your diet to spare your joints.
But don’t worry: We don’t just tell you what foods to avoid. We also give you a few ideas about how to replace them.
Sugar. (Almost) all of it.
We started with the worst news first: If you have arthritis, one of the absolute worst foods for your joints is sugar, in almost all of its forms.
Sugar is one of the primary causes of inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation causes your body to attack healthy tissues, including the cartilage that protects your joints.
The problem with sugar — other than being literally addictive — is that it’s present in almost any food that lines the middle aisles of the grocery store. Even foods that don’t taste sweet, including salad dressings and some mustards and tomato sauce, can abound with sugar.
To keep pro-inflammatory sugar out of your diet, you not only need to throw out your sugar canister and desserts, you have to read the labels on anything you buy. Watch out for pro-inflammatory sugars, such as:
- Cane sugar (including pure or organic cane sugar)
- Brown sugar
- Corn syrup
- High-fructose corn syrup
If you have a sweet tooth, though, you may be surprised that some low-glycemic foods can satisfy it. Roasted, baked, or boiled yams, for instance, can taste just like pumpkin pie or sweet-potato pie when whipped up with some coconut milk and spices. Just don’t add any extra sweetener!
You can also satisfy your sweet tooth with low-glycemic fruit such as berries. Or, add a natural sweetener that doesn’t affect blood sugar, such as stevia.
Transform high-sugar starches, such as potatoes and rice, into low-sugar resistant starches by cooling them before eating. Otherwise, they, too, are a no-no.
There’s a lot of skepticism about how many people are actually sensitive to gluten — a protein found in wheat and other grains. The most extreme form of gluten sensitivity is called celiac disease. But gluten is hard for almost anyone to digest and can trigger inflammation in the body.
Avoid anything made with:
- Whole wheat
You may be able to substitute gluten-free products and recipes for your favorite gluten-rich dishes, such as pasta. For instance, you might consider rice noodles instead of spaghetti.
Ideally, though, cool (and then reheat) rice noodles, potatoes, and rice to transform the glucose-spiking starches into nondigestible resistant starches. Your gut — and joints — will thank you.
Dairy from cows
Even if you’re not lactose intolerant, you should avoid all milk and dairy products from cows. Most dairy is high in alpha S1 casein, a protein that causes inflammation. You might, however, be able to limit yourself to milk from Jersey cows, which have a less inflammatory type of casein called alpha S2.
Try ghee as a substitute for butter, because all of its milk proteins have been removed. You might also enjoy cheese and yogurt from sheep and goats, which have low levels of alpha S1 and contain primarily alpha S2.
Processed foods and seed oils
Unfortunately, almost all of the “convenience” foods you find on store shelves and in drive-ins aren’t at all convenient for your health. You save time in cooking and cleanup, but you may lose it to doctor’s visits and disability. The following all cause inflammation, which worsens joint destruction and pain:
- Fried foods
- Pasteurized foods
- Trans fats
- Hydrogenated fats
- Corn and vegetable and seed oils
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Meat grilled at high temperatures
- Processed meats
- Other processed foods
- Food additives
If you need fast, easy foods that you can grab and go, look to whole foods instead. Stock up on:
- Canned salmon
- Chicken breast
- Lettuce wraps
- Small amounts of nuts and seeds
- Fresh berries
- Roasted sweet potatoes
Talk to Dr. Bolling about your daily needs, and she’ll help you find substitutions that work for your preferences and lifestyle. Phone our Bowie, Maryland, office today at 301-352-0090 or request an appointment online to set up an arthritis consultation today.