Whole grain, legumes, olives, olive oil, fatty fish, fruits, vegetables, turmeric, herbs, and green tea have been shown to improve the pain and swelling associated with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) by about 50 percent. Some even proclaim complete remission.
Let's take a closer look at the science behind this!
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What Exactly Is a Mediterranean Diet?
This diet form, formulated in the 1960s, is inspired by the eating habits of people who live in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean sea: Greece, Italy, France, Spain, Turkey, the Balkans, the Middle East, North Africa, and Portugal.
The diet includes lots of whole grains, olive oil, fruits, vegetables, fatty fish, cheese, yogurt, and moderate wine consumption. The American Diabetes Association recommends the Mediterranean diet as a healthy dietary pattern that may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. In fact, the Mediterranean diet is one of the three healthy diets recommended in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (1).
How Does A Mediterranean Diet Alleviate RA Symptoms?
Rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive autoimmune disease that manifests itself as severely swollen and painful joints. Essentially, your immune system attacks itself, resulting in inflammation, swelling, and pain.
Studies show that the Mediterranean diet could effectively reduce around 28 joint problems relating to rheumatoid arthritis. It also helps increase functional capacities in people living with RA (2). Research also shows that the Mediterranean diet lowers inflammation and improves circulation. This diet also prevents progression to RA by reducing cartilage destruction.
Foods to Ease RA-Related Inflammation
The Mediterranean diet encourages you to eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean protein, and heart-healthy fats. Healthy fats come from fatty fish, seafood, olives, olive oil, avocadoes, nuts, and seeds.
Fruits are very high in vitamin A and C. These are inflammation-fighting antioxidants that are beneficial to people who have RA.
Fruits also contain natural pigments such as carotenoids, anthocyanins, catechin, and resveratrol which are strong antioxidants. They improve RA by working directly on the T cells. They also inhibit the secretion of enzymes such as lysozyme and beta-glucuronidase that reduces inflammatory reaction.
Vegetables, especially broccoli, Brussel sprouts, spinach, sweet potato, and cabbage, are packed with antioxidants that fend off free radicals that trigger inflammation and damage cells.
Olives and Olive Oil
Virgin olive oils are rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids that are known to reduce inflammation. The high phenolic compounds have strong anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
These are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have a modulatory effect on joint swelling in those with RA. They reduce inflammation and improve the symptoms of RA.
Legumes and Beans
Legumes and beans are packed with fiber and phytonutrients that help control CRP (C-reactive protein) levels. This helps to reduce inflammation and the complications related to it.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are a very good source of essential fatty acids that help reduce inflammation. They are a good source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. In addition, the alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) found in them is a form of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
Essential nutrients such as magnesium, L-arginine, and vitamin E in nuts can also keep inflammation under control. They also help in the release of anti-inflammatory molecules called specialized pro-resolving mediators (SPMs), which help stop inflammation.
The probiotics found in Greek yogurt help decrease inflammation and give respite to RA.
Often, people with RA have low levels of selenium in their bodies. Whole grains can replenish this mineral that keeps your bone and joints healthy. They also contain fibers and nutrients that relieve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
Important whole grains include oats, wheat, bulgur, barley, amaranth, quinoa, brown rice, and millet.
Herbs and Spices
Certain spices and herbs can help decrease RA-related inflammation. These include ginger, thyme, turmeric, cinnamon, garlic, black pepper, and oregano, which contain polyphenols that have strong anti-inflammatory properties.
» Want to incorporate more fish into your diet? Try these high-protein meals pescatarians love.
Foods To Avoid When Trying to Ease RA Inflammation
It is equally important to avoid foods that may aggravate or worsen inflammation. These include the following.
People with RA have proteins in their bodies called anti-citrullinated protein antibodies (ACPA) that cause inflammation. Sugar has been known to trigger more ACPA synthesis, which can make RA worse.
Saturated fats worsen RA symptoms by increasing inflammation. They do so by increasing the absorption of lipopolysaccharides, which are inflammatory molecules.
These are packed with sugar, refined grains, preservatives, and many additives that are known to worsen the symptoms of RA.
Oils such as corn, safflower, sunflower, and other vegetable oils contain high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation by triggering the release of pro-inflammatory chemicals.
The saturated fat and nitrite in red meat increase inflammation and can aggravate RA symptoms. Red meat increases interleukin-6, C- reactive protein, and homocysteine, which can also cause inflammation.
Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. In people with celiac disease, wheat allergies, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), gluten can cause severe inflammation and other complications that worsen RA symptoms.
Consuming trans fats is linked to high levels of inflammatory markers, the C-reactive proteins. They are often used in processed foods to increase their shelf life.
» Learn more: 10 Steps to Get Started on a Gluten-Free Diet
The Mediterranean Diet Helps Ease RA-Related Inflammation
There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but it can be managed using the right strategy. Even though the damage that has already happened can’t be reversed, consuming anti-inflammatory foods and avoiding foods that increase inflammation can prevent further damage while relieving some of the symptoms.
The Mediterranean diet is great for reducing inflammation and improving symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
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