Keeping excess pounds at bay and eating the right foods are critical to keeping joint pain in check. But not all weight-loss plans are effective and not every diet is a good choice for someone with arthritis. We asked three dietitians for the skinny on five headline-grabbing plans.
This plan recommends eating like a “caveman,” so anything that could be hunted or gathered is fair game. Anything else is on the chopping block.
Pros: The paleo diet prohibits processed foods while pushing nuts, seeds, fruits and veggies. Meats are free-range and grass-fed, and fish are wild.
Cons: The paleo diet doesn’t limit meats and it doesn’t include certain food groups, including dairy, a good source of bone-healthy calcium, and nutrient- and fiber-rich whole grains, says registered dietitian Mira Ilic at Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.
Bottom line: Too much meat or too many of the wrong kinds can make this diet high in saturated fat, which promotes inflammation, says registered dietitian Rebecca Solomon, director of clinical nutrition at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York City. It may also be difficult to stick with, because the diet is limited.
Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats are mainstays in this classic diet.
Pros: It’s composed of foods with beneficial components. Olive oil, for example, contains oleocanthol, which has anti-inflammatory properties. Fruits, veggies and whole grains are good sources of antioxidants and fiber. Fatty fish, including salmon, sardines and mackerel, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Cons: Eating fresh foods requires frequent shopping and preparation.
Bottom line: The Mediterranean diet is a good choice that emphasizes nutrient-rich, fresh foods without added fats, sugars and other processed products. Frozen produce can also be used, says registered dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix, author of Read It Before You Eat It (Plume, 2010).
Nothing is off limits, but this diet stresses eating plant-based foods while including meat only occasionally.
Pros: As in the Mediterranean diet, the staples are rich in antioxidants and fiber, both of which help keep inflammation in check. Flexitarians are big on nuts, with their inflammation-fighting monounsaturated fat, protein and filling fiber.
Cons: Flexitarian plans don’t limit processed foods, so depending on your choices, the diet could be high in sodium, trans fats and other unhealthy compounds, says Ilic.
Bottom line: Flexitarian eating can be healthful and nutritionally sound if it’s carefully planned to include essential nutrients, says Taub-Dix.
DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)
This diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat sources of protein.
Pros: Proven to lower blood pressure in just 14 days, the DASH diet emphasizes eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy and less red meat, sweets and sodium.
Cons: You have to pay attention to labels, says Ilic. If food comes out of a package or off a menu, chances are, it’s not DASH-friendly.
Bottom line: This is a healthy diet for anyone – not just people with arthritis or hypertension. In fact, it’s the hands-down winner among registered dietitians and leading health authorities.
The point of this diet is to avoid gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley.
Pros: For an estimated 3 million Americans who have celiac disease, eating gluten-free is critical, says Solomon. There is some evidence to suggest that a gluten-free, vegan diet may help people with arthritis by boosting inflammation-fighting antibodies.
Cons: It’s not a low-calorie or low-fat diet, and gluten-free foods aren’t generally fortified with B vitamins and minerals like iron, so they might not deliver enough of those nutrients. Gluten-free foods tend to be lower in fiber than their wheat-containing counterparts, and fiber helps fight inflammation, says Ilic.
Bottom line: Some people report that cutting out gluten helps their arthritis symptoms, but it doesn’t work for everyone. This diet could exacerbate other ailments or contribute to iron or folate deficiencies that could lead to anemia or heart disease. Discuss it with your doctor before trying it.
With new diets making headlines every day, it can be hard to determine which plans might ease achy joints and which might exacerbate arthritis symptoms. Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help fight inflammation, but no diet can cure arthritis, says Ilic. Here are five ways to spot the fads and pick legitimate plans.
- Don’t nix entire food groups. If they require loading up on one “super food” or only a few foods, they’re not likely to be nutritionally balanced. “Whenever you eliminate entire categories of foods, you could miss out on necessary nutrients,” says Ilic.
- Avoid diets that promise fast results. Healthy eating is a lifestyle, not a month-long endeavor.
- Steer clear of strict diets. Diets that are difficult to follow and tough to stick with may provide short-term results but usually don’t last long-term.
- Be aware of food sensitivities. Some people with arthritis may see an improvement in their symptoms if they cut out gluten, animal products or other foods, says Ilic. If you want to try it, eliminate the suspects for a few weeks, then add them back, one food at a time, and assess your symptoms.
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