Ben Franklin was right when he said: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” We agree, so our orthopaedic specialists encourage patients to adopt dietary and exercise habits that support strong bones and joints.
Your everyday routine can have a big impact on the health and longevity of your joints. For example, choosing foods that build bone density, strengthen connective tissue and reduce inflammation can help you prevent injuries and preserve your joints for a long, active life.
We often see patients who are curious about making lifestyle changes to reduce joint pain. Yet our orthopaedic doctors recognize that it’s hard to change everything at once. Therefore, taking a look at your diet is a great place to start.
Here’s our take on 10 foods that may help reduce pain and increase mobility in the joints:
1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids / Fish Oils
Cold-water fish are a terrific source of Omega-3s fatty acids, which are essential nutrients for human health. These important nutrients are also sometimes referred to as polyunsaturated fatty acids. Not only are they proven to reduce inflammatory proteins in the body, but they also improve brain function and lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses.
Omega-3 can be found in cold-water fish such as tuna, salmon, trout, halibut and sardines. Taking a daily fish oil supplement is another way to absorb Omega-3s.
2. Nuts and Seeds
There’s good news for the vegans and vegetarians among us. Omega-3s can also be found in a variety of nuts and seeds. A small daily portion of walnuts, almonds, flax seeds, chia seeds or pine nuts can help reduce inflammation in the joints and connective tissue.
3. Brassica Vegetables
What are those, you might ask. Also known as cruciferous vegetables, brassicas are commonly associated with the mustard and cabbage family. Leafy greens like mustard greens, arugula, kale and purple cabbage are in the brassica family. Several other popular (and tasty!) vegetables make the list, including broccoli, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts.
This particular subset of the vegetable population has been known to block an enzyme that causes swelling in the joints. Plus, they’re chocked full of fiber, vitamins and nutrients for overall health and well-being.
4. Colorful Fruits
Fruits sometimes get a bad rap because of their high sugar content, but many are excellent antioxidants. Just like with vegetables, certain fruits are more effective than others in reducing inflammation in the body.
We’re particularly partial to blueberries, which are high in anthocyanins – one of the most powerful flavonoids. These help “turn off” inflammatory responses in the body.
Apples are another fiber-rich, anti-inflammatory fruit, and they deliver added benefits for gut health.
Pineapple is also on our short list for its bromelain content, a nutrient that has shown to reduce joint pain caused by osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. However, most of the bromelain is found in the stem and core of the pineapple, so blend the core into a smoothie to get the maximum benefit.
And finally, tomatoes (yes, they’re a fruit). Tomatoes contain the powerful antioxidant, lycopene. Cooked tomatoes are even more lycopene-rich than uncooked ones. Be sure to consume the skin to get the greatest benefit.
5. Olive Oil
Toss out your vegetable oil, sunflower oil and peanut oil – all of which can increase inflammation. Instead, opt for a few tablespoons of olive oil for cooking and making salad dressings. Better yet, go with the extra virgin variety that is less processed. Often associated with a Mediterranean diet, olive oil is an unsaturated “healthy” fat. And guess what … it’s another source of Omega-3!
6. Lentils and Beans
Beans and lentils are known for their health benefits. They’re an excellent source of protein, fiber and essential minerals. They also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Black beans, lentils, chickpeas, pinto beans and soybeans are all great sources of anthocyanins – that magical flavonoid that reduces inflammation.
7. Garlic and Root Vegetables
Garlic, onions, ginger and turmeric have anti-inflammatory properties. Various studies have shown that these pungent root vegetables can be useful in treating symptoms of arthritis and other joint pain. Incorporate these vegetables into meals for added flavor. Plus, they’re all available in a supplement.
8. Whole Grains
Research suggests that proteins found in refined grains (such as white bread, white rice and regular pasta) may trigger an inflammatory response in the body. However, high-fiber whole grains help produce fatty acids that are thought to counteract inflammation. Therefore, stick with the whole grains.
The Arthritis Foundation provides a detailed list of grains that are recommended for arthritis suffers – including whole wheat, whole oats, barley and rye. For more information, see Best Grains for Arthritis.
9. Bone Broth
Glucosamine, chondroitin and amino acids are well documented to help maintain healthy joints, while calcium is essential for bone density. Bone broth contains all of these. The gelatin-like substance that comes from cooking bones mimics collagen that occurs naturally in our joints, tendons and ligaments. Whether or not bone broth can actually stimulate regrowth of cartilage is a fiercely debated topic in the medical filed. But taken regularly as an oral supplement, it has been known to reduce joint pain and increase function for people with arthritis.
Bone broth can be consumed as a hot broth or used in recipes as a cooking base or sauce. Get tips on bone broth preparation from these dietitians.
10. Dark Chocolate
Now we’re talking! Indeed, chocolate has anti-inflammatory properties. Cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, contains antioxidants that can counteract genetic predisposition to insulin resistance and inflammation. The higher the percentage of cocoa in the chocolate, the higher its anti-inflammatory effect.
But remember, chocolate can be high in sugar and fat, so enjoy it in moderation. If you’re going to indulge, choose chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa.
So there you have it – our 10 picks for foods that help reduce joint pain and inflammation. Of course, there are some DON’Ts when it comes to eating for joint health. Pay careful attention to the effects of foods that can be linked to inflammation:
- Limit refined grains like pasta, rice and white bread.
- Keep salt to a minimum. Salt causes fluid retention, which is associated with tissue swelling. Additionally, the Arthritis Foundation reports that limiting salt intake can reduce calcium loss, thereby reducing osteoporosis and fracture risk.
- Steer clear of processed foods whenever possible.
Stay tuned to our blog for more prevention tips from Cary Orthopaedics, a top orthopaedic practice in the Triangle.