Food as Medicine? Can What We Eat Help Ease Symptoms?

By Rebecca Gillett, MS OTR/L – Live Yes! With Arthritis Co-host

To diet or not to diet? That is ALWAYS the question. What type of diet should I eat for my arthritis? “Have you tried the Mediterranean diet or an elimination diet?” “What about paleo or keto?” If you are living with arthritis, like my co-host, Julie, and I do, you’ve been bombarded with questions like those.

So, what is it about diet and food that everyone is obsessed with? Can we rely only on diet to stop the pain and symptoms of arthritis? Every one of us reacts differently to food, just as we react differently to medications. How food affects your body is unique to you. But the reason so many of us want to turn to food as medicine is because, in so many ways, perhaps it’s something we can control to a degree. And if we find something that helps, well, it’s worth a shot.

Over the many years I have been living with several forms of arthritis, I’ve attempted various diets and eating trends — such as juicing, eliminating wheat and gluten from my diet, keto, etc. I found juicing to be more costly and enjoy eating a lot of veggies and fruit vs. drinking them, so juicing was not for me. Occasionally I will drink some green smoothies or juices because I enjoy them. And although I have an intense love of bacon, keto just didn’t work out for me because I like eating fruits, and the higher fats, healthy or not, just felt like too much for me.

Removing various foods and restricting different foods from my diet has never been sustainable. I did find eliminating wheat and gluten for a period of time improved my fatigue level and also decreased upset stomach issues. I was able to determine that limiting my intake of these types of foods made a difference. I have gone through food allergy and sensitivity testing and found no issues, but personally, I feel better when I limit the amount of wheat and gluten in my diet. So, after years of trial and error, I know what foods help or harm my arthritis symptoms. Eating mostly whole foods and less processed foods works best for my gut. Everything in moderation.

However, having access to healthier food options may not be possible for some people living with arthritis. The cost of managing our health care — from doctor visits to medications and treatments — can already be a huge financial burden. There can be barriers to being able to buy the types of foods we are told can help decrease inflammation. And if we are not familiar with them, there can be uncertainty on how to prepare or cook these foods.

But if food can truly help improve symptoms and overall health, then could it be part of preventive care and medicine? What are the types of food we should focus on incorporating into our meals every day to help tame inflammation? In this episode of the Live Yes! With Arthritis Podcast, we talk with Rita Nguyen, MD, assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who discusses how to make lifestyle changes to the way we eat versus focusing on any one specific type of diet. Dr. Nguyen talks about how food insecurity can also be a factor limiting access to healthy food options and addresses behavioral approaches to changing eating habits for people living with arthritis and other chronic diseases.

Learn how to take the first steps to changing your eating habits and lifestyle for better health. Listen to the Food as Medicine episode now.





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