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Arthritis Today

Healthy Grocery Shopping

Eating for health and inflammation reduction starts at the store.

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Good eating starts at your local grocery store. The decisions you make there can have a huge influence on your arthritis, and your overall health. Yet it can be daunting to evaluate aisle after aisle of enticing foods, many of which aren’t good for you. So what’s the best way to navigate the supermarket?

In general, you want to fill your cart with foods that fit a Mediterranean-style diet, says Liz Friedrich, registered dietician and nutritionist and president of Friedrich nutrition consulting in Salisbury, North Carolina. “This is not a specific diet per se, but rather a style of eating that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish, legumes and olive oil. It focuses on fresh, whole foods rather than processed foods.”

Where should you begin? “I always shop the perimeter first. Then, pick up the things you need in the middle,” suggests Kathleen Woolf, registered dietician and assistant professor of nutrition at New York University Steinhardt.

Colorful Fruits and Vegetables

“The produce section is probably the best place to start because of all the fruits and vegetables that have antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties,” Woolf says.

Pick plenty of colorful berries like strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, which are high in antioxidants. Cherries are another good choice—their juice has been shown to combat inflammation, particularly in osteoarthritis (OA).

Green, leafy vegetables such as broccoli, kale, and Brussels sprouts are more good options. These vitamin-rich foods may ward off heart disease, which is a particular risk for people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). And don’t forget avocados, which are packed with anti-inflammatory fatty acids.

If the fruits and vegetables you seek are out of season, you can buy them in the frozen section without sacrificing too much nutrition, Woolf says. Just make sure any frozen produce you buy doesn’t contain added sugar or salt.

Protein Power

Your next stop should be the seafood case. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which fight inflammation in the body.  Include one of these fish in your meals at least twice a week, Woolf suggests.

Skinless poultry is another good protein option. Just watch out for fatty red meats. “We don’t want to over-consume animal products, but it really is important that we’re getting good sources of protein,” she adds.

Dealing with Dairy

“Dairy is always a little controversial, because there are some people who believe milk products might stimulate a flare,” Woolf says. Yet dairy is also an important source of calcium and vitamin D, and bone health is essential for people with arthritis. Work with your doctor to determine which dairy products—and how much of them—are right for you, and choose low-fat sources like skim milk and yogurt.

Grain Guide

Once you’re done with the supermarket perimeter, aim your cart down the grain aisle. Make sure the grains you choose are whole—like brown rice, whole wheat bread, steel-cut oats and quinoa. Whole grains have been linked to lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP)—a marker of inflammation in the body.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell which items contain whole grains. Just because a loaf of bread is brown, doesn’t mean it necessarily contains whole wheat. “Look for breads that say 100% whole grain on the label,” Friedrich advises.

Oils and Spices

Just as important as the foods you eat is what you cook them in. “Everyone should use a variety of different oils,” Friedrich says. She suggests ones that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, like canola, soybean and olive oils.

The spice section is also worth a stop. “Ginger, curry, turmeric, and rosemary are all touted for their anti-inflammatory benefits,” she says. Although no specific dose has been evaluated for arthritis, use these spices liberally to pep up food flavors and add a dash of healthfulness in the process.

Aisles to Avoid

A few aisles are best avoided, or visited only sporadically—including the sections containing frozen dinners, boxed cookies and crackers, and high-sodium canned goods. These foods tend to be low in nutrition and full of unhealthy additives. “Foods that are high in added sugars—not the natural sugar in fruits but the added sugar—and have lots of saturated fat seem to stimulate inflammation,” Woolf says.

Packaged, processed foods can also promote weight gain, which puts added stress on joints. Furthermore, fat tissue is pro-inflammatory, which can increase heart disease risk and worsen arthritis.

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