Inflammation is at the heart of most arthritis pain, particularly pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis and other forms of autoimmune arthritis. Luckily, there are ways you can combat inflammation, including exercising, taking medications, and following an anti-inflammatory diet.
Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants are considered helpful in fighting inflammation, including:
1. Dark, leafy greens
Vegetables like kale, spinach, and swiss chard pack a high antioxidant punch. If you aren’t a big fan of traditional salads, try blending spinach and kale into fruit smoothies; adding bok choy and shredded cabbage to a stir-fry; or sautéing swiss chard with a little butter and dill weed.
2. Colorful fruits
Intense colors are a sign that fruit contains lots of fiber and antioxidants.1 Look for dark blues and purples (like blackberries, plums, or grapes) and bright reds, oranges, and yellows (like apples, papaya, or pineapple).
3. Ginger and turmeric
Not only do ginger and turmeric contain anti-inflammatory properties2-6 they also add color and flavor to dishes. If you don’t like the flavor of turmeric, you can take a curcumin supplement. Curcumin is the chemical compound that gives turmeric its anti-inflammatory properties.
Walnuts, almonds, and many other nuts may help reduce inflammation and heart disease.7 Most nuts are high in “healthy” fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) as well as omega-3 fatty acids and fiber. Remember that plain nuts (typically labeled as “raw”) are great, but nuts that have added oil, including many peanut products, may not as beneficial.
5. Green Tea
Research suggests green tea is high in antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties.8,9 Keep in mind that while the research is encouraging, it is limited—for example, two studies10,11 that found green tea decreased arthritis pain were done on animals rather than humans.
6. Chia seeds and flaxseeds
Chia and flaxseeds are both high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are proven inflammation fighters.7 You can add a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds or chia seeds to cereal, oatmeal, or yogurt, baked goods, or smoothies.
7. Fatty fish
Fish such as sardines, salmon, and tuna are chock full of omega-3 fatty acids and considered to be anti-inflammatory. One large study12 of middle-aged and elderly women found that those who consistently ate one or more servings of fish each week were 29% less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, caused by joint tissue inflammation.
If you don’t like the taste of fish, you can try taking fish oil supplements. A product with at least 2:1 EPA to DHA ratio of omega-3 fatty acids is often recommended.13
Black beans, lentils, and other members of the legume family are high in fiber and rich in antioxidants that help decrease inflammation.14-16 They also are a good way to get protein in your diet without consuming red meats, which are associated with increased inflammation.17,18
Keep in mind that each body is different. For example, berries are considered anti-inflammatory, but if you have an allergy to them or they don’t make you feel good, stop eating them. You can also try to reduce your arthritis symptoms by avoiding foods and drinks that trigger inflammation in the body, such as fried foods and sugary soda.
It’s a good idea to discuss with your doctor or dietitian before you change your diet or start taking supplements.