You Are What You Eat

You Are What You Eat

We have all heard or been told at one point “you are what you eat.” A healthy well-balanced diet is important for all of us, but did you know as an arthritis or autoimmune patient that this saying is particularly apt? The importance of the medication and therapeutics prescribed for patients by their doctors can not be over stated. Patients however can contribute to their own well being by looking closer to home. A number of scientific studies have confirmed that diet can alter chronic pain levels associated with numerous forms of arthritis including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.

Inflammation is a significant factor when looking at pain induced by arthritis. Inflammation is not always negative and does play an essential role in a functioning immune system. In chronic conditions, or simply as part of the aging process, the immune system can be unbalanced, with unnecessary inflammation occurring. What is becoming evident is that what we put into our bodies, including our food can be a facilitator of excessive inflammation.

Making A Positive Change

So which elements of our diet are crucial when addressing its impact on inflammation? There are three main areas by which diet can contribute to either increased or decreased levels of inflammation – free radicals, oxidative stress and antioxidants. Free radicals are negatively charged molecules. Seeking to balance this negative charge, these molecules look to bind with positively charged molecules in the oxidation process. As with most things the problem is not with free radicals themselves (they are formed as part of a body’s normal metabolic processes), but rather if an imbalance occurs. Too many free radicals can be present due to behaviours such as smoking or by the consumption of certain foods. The body can neutralize or process a certain number of free radicals but if there is an excessive amount it will lead to oxidative stress. This can in lead to cellular and tissue damage, a biochemical cascade in induced resulting in inflammation. Damage by free radicals can be limited by antioxidants, these are substances which terminate the chain reactions induced by free radicals.

An anti-inflammatory diet looks to reduce or eliminate certain foods which are suspected of increasing oxidative stress whilst simultaneously increasing the consumption of foods rich in antioxidants.

Portrait of beautiful smiling nutritionist looking at camera and showing healthy vegetables in the consultation.

Food for Thought

Foods thought to promote inflammation and oxidative stress include processed foods, red meat, refined grains (white bread and pasta), refined sugar (candy and soda), fried foods, certain oils as well as dry roasted products such as nuts. This list is by no means exhaustive but gives an idea of the foods to avoid, many of which are heavily promoted in our modern society.

On the other hand, there are a number of foods which appear to have anti-inflammatory properties. Foods that fall into this category are highly recommended and include cold water fish (tuna, salmon etc), fresh and frozen fruits (from apples and avocados to peaches and pineapple), certain oils (olive and flaxseed), raw nuts, leafy green vegetables (spinach and broccoli), a variety of vegetables, spices (ginger and turmeric), green tea, water and whole grains.

D is for Delicious not Deprived

An anti-inflammatory diet is not a diet of depravation but rather one which allows for a large variety of foods from many different food groups. Often it is a case of replacing certain foods with choices more suited to an individual’s health needs, such as switching from white bread to seeded brown bread. Diet is extremely personal; it needs to take into account existing food sensitivities or allergies and there is no one size fits all eating planning. These guidelines can be applied in different ways that will best suit individuals. A patient’s main health care physician and nutritionist can greatly assist a patient in determining a diet that will promote reduced inflammation and overall health. It is by no means a replacement for the therapies prescribed by doctors but rather and adjunct, a way in which to maximise the benefits from these. It is important to realise that a dietary change is not a quick fix solution, it’s a lifestyle adjustment. Effects are likely not to be immediate, effects may be gradual and it can be helpful for patients to keep a food journal whilst also tracking their symptoms. This will give good insight into improvements experienced as well as which foods are particularly useful for that individual.

More data is required in order to fully understand what benefits an anti-inflammatory diet might have, but as is the case with all of us, a balanced diet is crucial to give your body the nutrients it requires to function optimally and this is of greater importance for those with a chronic condition. Numerous websites offer exciting tasty recipes using anti-inflammatory ingredients. There is no need to deprive your taste buds of delicious food while following this approach. So why not start experimenting with new flavours and food, and perhaps reduce your oxidative stress in the process?  

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Article Author
Arthritis National Research Foundation

The Arthritis National Research Foundation's mission is to provide initial research funding to brilliant, investigative scientists with new ideas to cure arthritis and related autoimmune diseases. Writing articles about the patients affected and the science being done to find a cure shows why we need to come together to #CureArthritis!

1 Comment
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    Brenda Anderson
    Posted at 23:14h, 08 September Reply

    I agree with that.

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