Best Nuts and Seeds for Arthritis
Nuts and seeds come in small packages but can deliver big health benefits
Whether you snack on a handful, slip them into a stir-fry or sprinkle them on a salad, nuts and seeds are versatile additions to your diet and cooking repertoire. Most also offer a variety of health benefits for people with arthritis.
Many nuts and seeds are a good source of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which lower cholesterol and reduce the heart disease risks that are high in people with certain types of arthritis. They also are a good source of protein and antioxidant vitamins and minerals. In addition, says Marisa Moore, an Atlanta-based registered dietitian-nutritionist, some nuts and seeds are high in alpha linoleic acid (ALA), a type of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid.
Some nuts are rich in magnesium, l-arginine and vitamin E, which may play a role in keeping inflammation under control. Studies have shown that people who eat a diet high in these nutrients tend to have lower levels of some inflammation-causing molecules that circulate in the bloodstream and higher levels of the anti-inflammatory protein adiponectin compared with those who consumed less.
Ideally, you should reach for raw, unsalted nuts, says Moore. “However, if a little seasoning is going to help you swap nuts for buttery crackers, potato chips or other less healthy treats, it’s fine to grab some lightly salted nuts – unless you’re on a low sodium diet.” She cautions that all nuts and seeds are high in calories, so you can’t eat them mindlessly. One serving a day (about an ounce of nuts or 1 to 2 tablespoons of seeds) is all you need.
Here are nut and seed selections that Moore and the research say deliver the most health benefits.
With their high ALA content, walnuts head the nut pack in omega-3 content, and researchers studying their effects have found they lower C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and arthritis. Eating walnuts regularly can lower cholesterol, relax blood vessels to lessen stress on the heart, and reduce blood pressure.
Tips: Walnuts have a hefty texture that makes them a good centerpiece in meatless dishes. They can be pricey so Moore likes to combine them with other healthy foods. Try a simple stir-fry of broccoli, walnuts and chopped garlic with a few squeezes of lemon juice.
Technically a legume, peanuts are the “nut” with the most protein (about 7 grams per 1-ounce serving). “They’re also cheaper than most nuts, so for people with arthritis trying to managing their weight, for example, they make a filling, inexpensive snack,” says Moore. Peanuts are also a good source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and research shows adding them to your diet can help lower “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and reduce heart disease risk. Peanuts deliver about 12% of your daily magnesium requirement, and may help keep blood sugar under control.
Tips: Use peanut butter in a creamy sauce for vegetables, pasta or chicken. Blend 1/3 cup smooth peanut butter, 1/3 cup of water or broth, 2 tablespoons each fresh lime juice and soy sauce and a dash of cayenne to taste. Look for peanut butters that list only one or two ingredients: peanuts or peanuts and salt.
Because almonds contain more fiber than most nuts, they’re a good choice for weight management, says Moore. “You’ll be more satisfied for longer, and you also get some cholesterol-reducing benefits from the healthy fats. They are also a good source of antioxidant vitamin E,” she says. Research suggests the monounsaturated fats from an almond-rich diet lower some markers of inflammation, including CRP.
Tips: Mix slivered almonds into rice and vegetable dishes to add crunch and subtle flavor. “Almonds also make a great snack – try pairing with apples and fresh cherries for a great complementary taste,” she says.
Snack on pistachios to help with weight loss. “Dealing with the shell slows down consumption, which is good for people with arthritis trying to lose a few pounds to take pressure off joints,” she says. Pistachios can also help lower LDL cholesterol and are high in potassium and antioxidants, including vitamins A and E and lutein – a compound also found in dark, leafy vegetables.
Tips: Sprinkle pistachios over Greek yogurt drizzled with honey for a high-protein, high-fiber snack or breakfast. Crushed pistachios also make a flavorful, crunchy coating for fish or chicken.
Flaxseed is one of the richest plant-based sources of the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid ALA. Studies show it may help lower overall and LDL cholesterol and reduce the complications of diabetes and heart disease risk. Crushing or milling the flaxseed make it easier for your body to digest and use the ALA, so choose these varieties over whole seeds.
Tips: Stir into yogurt along with some fruit or sprinkle onto cereal or salads.
Chia seeds are also an excellent source of anti-inflammatory ALA, but their biggest benefit is probably their high fiber content (about 10 grams per serving), says Moore. “The fiber fills people up, which can help control weight,” she says.
Tips: Chia seeds absorb liquid easily and take on a jelly-like consistency. Moore takes advantage of this by blending chia seeds with almond or coconut milk, fruit and vanilla extract then chilling the mixture in the refrigerator to create a chia pudding.