Best Vegetables for Arthritis
Going green – and yellow and orange – could be one of the best things you do for your joints.
When you have arthritis, the produce section is one of the most important stops you can make in the grocery store. Vegetables are rich in antioxidants and other nutrients that protect against cell damage and lower inflammation throughout the body, including in your joints.
Which vegetables are best? “The more color the better. Eat the rainbow on your plate,” advises Kim Larson, a Seattle-based nutritionist and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson. “Variety is the key.”
Here’s a guide to some of the vegetables that should color your plate every day.
Dark Green Leafy Vegetables
Energy production and other metabolic processes in the body produce harmful byproducts called free radicals, which damage cells. Free radicals have been implicated in the development of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and in the inflammation that attacks joints. Green, leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, kale, Swiss chard and bok choy are packed with antioxidants like vitamins A, C and K, which protect cells from free-radical damage. These foods are also high in bone-preserving calcium.
Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables (Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy and cauliflower) offer another benefit – a natural compound called sulforaphane. Research on mice shows sulforaphane blocks the inflammatory process and might slow cartilage damage in osteoarthritis (OA). And there’s some evidence diets high in this vegetable family could prevent RA from developing in the first place.
Sweet Potatoes, Carrots, Red Peppers and Squash
These brightly orange- and red-hued vegetables get their distinctive color from carotenoids like beta-cryptoxanthin. Plant pigments also supply sweet potatoes, carrots, squash and red peppers with antioxidants. Some research suggests eating more foods rich in beta-cryptoxanthin could reduce your risk of developing RA and other inflammatory conditions.
Red and Green Peppers
Peppers – no matter what their color or whether they’re mild or hot – are an abundant source of vitamin C, which preserves bone, and may protect cells in cartilage. Getting less than the recommended 75 mg for women and 90 mg for men daily may increase risk for OA of the knee. Just a half-cup of red bell pepper gives you a full day’s supply.
Onions, Garlic, Leeks and Shallots
These pungent vegetables are all members of the allium family, which are rich in a type of antioxidant called quercetin. Researchers are investigating quercetin’s potential ability to relieve inflammation in diseases like RA. Alliums also contain a compound called diallyl disulphine, which may reduce the enzymes that damage cartilage.
Though technically a fruit and not found in the produce aisle, olives and olive oil can be potent inflammation fighters. Extra-virgin olive oil contains the compound oleocanthal, a natural anti-inflammatory agent that has properties similar to the NSAID drug, ibuprofen.
Should You Avoid Nightshade Vegetables?
Eggplants, peppers, tomatoes and potatoes are all members of the nightshade family. These vegetables contain the chemical solanine, which some people claim aggravates arthritis pain and inflammation. Are nightshades worth avoiding?
“It is anecdotal, and it certainly might be true for some people, but there are no scientific studies done to prove that they actually cause inflammation or make symptoms worse,” Larson says. Nightshade vegetables are rich in nutrients, making them a worthy addition to your diet. But if you find they trigger arthritis pain, don’t eat them, Larson suggests.
Cooking Your Vegetables
Almost as important as which vegetables you choose is how you cook them. Steaming is preferable to boiling because it preserves the nutrients in the vegetables. “Don’t use a lot of water, because vitamins and antioxidants might leach out in the water,” Larson says. Also don’t overcook them – keep vegetables a little bit “al dente” to hold in the vitamins and minerals.
Skip the deep fryer, which adds a lot of extra fat and calories, but do sauté. “If you add oil, it actually releases the phytochemicals in vegetables and makes them more available,” Larson adds.