Web MD -- 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.
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.
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.
Nutritionists often advise people to add color to their diet. Why? The substances that give fruits and vegetables their color – flavonoids and carotenoids – are also potent antioxidants. Antioxidants are an important component of an inflammation-fighting diet. Vitamin C is another antioxidant found in many fruits and vegetables.
Fruits and veggies high in these antioxidants include blueberries, blackberries, squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, oranges, broccoli, and melons.
Choosing colorful foods – with red, orange, yellow, blue, green, and purple hues – will ensure you eat a variety of fruits and vegetables and help you have a balanced diet.
A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who ate more whole grains such as oatmeal, brown rice, and barley lowered their levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation in the body. In people with RA, CRP levels may go up during a flare, and CRP is sometimes measured to track disease activity or to see how well a person is responding to treatment.
Whole-wheat pasta and breads -- hallmarks of the Mediterranean Diet -- also contain selenium, an inflammation-fighting antioxidant. Some people with rheumatoid arthritis have lower levels of selenium levels in their blood.
Another advantage of eating whole grains instead of refined carbohydrates – such as white bread and white rice – is that whole grains may help you manage your weight better. Staying at a normal weight – or losing weight if you need to – will take pressure off painful joints.
The olive symbolizes peace in Greek mythology. And its oil seems to have a calming effect on inflammation, as well.
A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who ate the lowest amount of extra-virgin olive oil were more likely to develop RA, compared to people who ate the highest amounts. Studies show that a compound in olive oil stops the production of the chemicals that induce inflammation. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen work to lower inflammation by reducing the production of these same chemicals. Another study found that olive oil was similar to ibuprofen at reducing inflammation.
When it comes to fighting inflammation, opt for extra-virgin olive oil. Extra-virgin olive oil comes from the first pressing of the olive and contains the highest content of health-promoting nutrients.
In addition to being a crucial component of an anti-inflammation diet, healthful olive oil makes a tasty substitute for saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats are found in foods such as whole milk, butter, ice cream, and fatty red meat. Trans fats are found in many processed baked goods.