Dietary practices have a major impact on arthritis. In fact, if you eat the typical American diet, it could be making your arthritis worse. Among the offenders are saturated fats (which occur in cooking oils and fried foods), white flour and sugar, red meat, chemical additives, yeast, and milk and dairy products. These foods can increase inflammation, invoke allergies, and interfere with hormone production, cellular integrity, and the function and mobility of the joints.
Changing the way you eat will change the way you feel. The right foods can keep you free of stiff joints, swelling, and fatigue while also promoting longevity and overall health. Choose to eat right by eliminating problematic foods and increasing your daily intake of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
What we call the "Arthritis Diet" is primarily a vegetarian, whole foods diet consisting of fruits and vegetables, raw seeds and nuts and their butters, fermented bean products, fish, and grains -- all considered "arthritis-friendly" foods. These foods are high in dietary fiber, which helps move food and wastes through the digestive tract before they have a chance to form toxic substances. Many degenerative illnesses, including arthritis, are related to a diet low in fiber.
Whole (unprocessed) foods are rich in the nutrients needed to fight destructive free radicals, promote skin and tissue health, repair bones, muscles, and tendons, and promote regularity. In addition, being more nutrient-dense, whole foods are more filling and decrease the likelihood of overeating and subsequent weight gain; losing weight and reducing the stress on weight-bearing joints are crucial steps to recovering from arthritis. Whole foods also put less overall stress on the body, because they are more easily digested and contain fewer toxic substances than processed foods.
Dietary fats are an important consideration for anyone with arthritis. The wrong kind of fats can increase inflammation in joints, while the "good" fats will help keep inflammation in check. As a percentage of calories, most vegetables contain less than 10% fat and most grains contain 16%-20% fat. By comparison, whole milk and cheeses contain 74% fat (even low-fat milk contains 38% fat on a percentage-of-calories basis). Most animal foods contain large quantities of fat, mostly saturated fats, which raise levels of inflammatory compounds in the body and increase arthritic symptoms.
Commercially produced, corn-fed meat and dairy products and shellfish are also high in arachidonic acid which is converted by the body into powerful pro-inflammatory compounds. Arachidonic acid is a fatty acid found primarily in animal foods such as meat, poultry, and dairy products, and to a lesser extent in fish and vegetables. When the diet is abundant with arachidonic acids, these are stored in cell membranes: an enzyme transforms these stored acids into chemical messengers called prostaglandins and leukotrienes with instigate inflammation.
Whole foods, however, are typically high in healthy fats, including the essential fatty acids, which research has proven help decrease inflammation and improve the health of people with rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and osteoarthritis.
Arthritis sufferers commonly have a high level of acidity (a urine pH that is lower than 6.3), which increases the potential for developing inflammatory conditions. The term pH represents a scale for the relative acidity or alkalinity of a solution. Acidity is measured as a pH of 0.1 to 6.9. alkalinity is 7.1 to 14, and neutral pH is 7.0. The numbers refer to how many hydrogen atoms are present compared to an ideal or standard solution. Normally, blood is slightly alkaline, at 7.35 to 7.45; urine pH can range from 4.8 to 8.0, but is usually somewhat acidic, with a normal reading between 5.0 and 6.0.
Acidity can be decreased by reducing your intake of acid-forming foods and increasing intake of alkaline-forming foods in the diet. The most acid-forming foods are sugar, alcohol, vinegar, coffee, meat, and dairy products. Foods known to increase the alkalinity of the body include all vegetables (except tomatoes), aloe vera, and green foods, such as chlorella, barley grass, wheat grass, chlorophyll, parsley, and alfalfa. As a general rule of thumb, the greener the vegetable, the more it will help increase alkalinity in the body.
Tips to Ease the Shift to Healthier Foods
1. Begin by changing one meal a day to healthful eating. This makes shopping and cooking more manageable while you adjust to the new lifestyle. Maintain this for about a month until you tackle the next meal. Within three months, your habits will be transformed.
2. Stop buying snack foods such as sodas, chips, and cookies. Substitute trail mix, popcorn, and herb teas as an interim step.
3. Cook large quantities of main dish recipes so there will be leftovers for lunch or the next day's dinner. Avoid freezing foods as this process may kill important nutrients.
4. Do not insist that children or other family members eat your diet. Simply serve an increasing number of healthful choices with each meal. This, combined with weaning them from sugar and refined flour products, will produce a hunger for good food.
5. When dining at other people's homes, eat lightly, focus on what you can have, and pass up the allergenic foods. Avoid debates about diet. Soon your improved health may prompt a great deal of positive interest in your diet.
6. Choose restaurants where there are healthful choices. Ask if the chef will modify a dish (skip the cream sauce, for example) to make it fit your new diet. If that is not possible, you can eat beforehand at home and just sip a beverage while enjoying the social contact. Be positive, keep the focus off your diet, and, above all, do not be self-righteous.
Arthritis: An Alternative Medicine Definitive Guide
by Ellen Kamhi, Eugene Zampieron, and Burton Goldberg.
Reprinted with permission from the publisher, AlternativeMedicine.com Books, Tiburon, CA, USA. ©1999.
Click here for more info or to order this book. (Updated and expanded edition published by Celestial Arts.)
About The Authors
Ellen Kamhi, Ph.D., RN., H.N.C. is certified in reflexology, Bach flower remedies, herbology, darkfield microscopy, and indigenous medicines. Eugene Zampieron, N.D., A.H.G. is a licensed naturopathic physician, professional herbalist, and medical botanist specializing in the non-toxic treatment of autoimmune and rheumatological disorders, especially arthritis and fibromyalgia. Along with Ellen Kamhi, he has written The Natural Medicine Chest. He is co-executive with Dr. Kamhi of EcoTours for Cures.
Burton Goldberg, Ph.D., Hon., has published Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide, a 1100-page reference book, hailed as "the bible of alternative medicine". For information, go to www.alternativemedicine.com.