Arthritis often limits the activity and joy in life of the people it affects. The pain, stiffness, and swelling of the joints caused by this disease can make participating in everyday life more difficult, or even impossible. Minimizing these symptoms is not an easy task, either. It often requires extensive tests, time with doctors, and even physical therapy or surgery.
In conjunction with prescriptions or changes recommended by a doctor, natural ways to support healthy joints and prevent flare-ups may add to a senior’s quality of life. While there is no magical food that will completely eliminate joint pain and stiffness caused by arthritis, there are a number of foods that can help the body protect itself and which will also promote healthy joints.
Fish, especially fatty fish (salmon and tuna are the most common in this category), help the body fight inflammation. Especially if swelling is a major symptom for a senior, eating fish more frequently (such as a grilled salmon filet or even tuna sushi) can help a senior get the fatty acids needed to reduce inflammation. This is especially true over time, so a few months of regular practice may be needed to see significant results.
Garlic, onions, and leeks help to preserve cartilage. This is especially helpful if the arthritis suffered is caused by autoimmune response, such as rheumatoid arthritis. These foods help to stop cartilage-damaging enzymes from breaking down joints. (These items also taste delicious on steak, vegetables, and bread.) Getting fresh or minced garlic, as opposed to dehydrated or powdered garlic, can furnish more of the important health benefits. (In addition to its help with arthritis, garlic is heart-healthy, so it pulls double duty on preserving good health.)
Turmeric is a natural fighter of inflammation, and has been used in India for generations as such. It is a key ingredient in many curries, a flavorful Asian dish that centers around spicy sauces, slow-cooked meats, and delicious vegetables. In small doses, it is not intolerably spicy (for those who are somewhat sensitive to hot spices) and adds a delicious flavor to meat, especially when the meat is grilled or roasted. Both turmeric and garlic add great flavor to the food items suggested here, as well—fish and veggies grilled or roasted with both ingredients are delicious.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage have been found to slow cartilage damage—but in mice. This is a study in its infancy, but it is always good to find vegetables in this family to add to meals. Try switching iceberg or Romaine lettuce in a salad for hearty kale, chips for roasted Brussels sprouts, or mashed potatoes for mashed cauliflower. This may help preserve joint health—but if it does not make a huge difference, it will definitely add fiber to a senior’s diet, which is great for digestive health. Leafy green veggies can also help supply calcium and vitamin D, which are essential for strong bones.
Although not typically eaten alone because of their severe tartness, tart cherries and their juice have been found to reduce pain and stiffness caused by osteoarthritis and even gout. Bottles of tart cherry juice are available at many health and organic food stores (or they may be found online, which might be more cost-effective). Tart cherry juice may be mixed with green tea, ice cream, or even other juices. A small amount goes a long way—the flavor is very powerful and should not be underestimated.
Arthritis often limits the activity and joy in life of the people it affects
Soybeans and Oils
If a senior dislikes fish or it is too expensive in the senior’s locale, soybeans will provide the same fatty acids. Tofu (often used as a meat substitute in Asian cuisine) is readily available at local grocery stores, and it is made of soybeans. Tofu often tastes bland and has an odd, soft texture that may not be for everyone, however, with proper spices, it can be delicious. Cooked, frozen, or fresh edamame (soy beans) are also available for a great salty snack. A tasty recipe is to roast edamame in a pan with some olive oil, brown sugar, salt, and pepper. This delicious snack is sweet and salty all in one, with a nice crunch on the outside, packing a great inflammation-fighting punch.
Oils are good sources of fatty acids too. The most common is extra virgin olive oil, but studies show that avocado, safflower, and walnut oil are also good for inflammation and cholesterol levels. Replace butter or margarine with these natural oils when cooking, especially when grilling or pan-searing. It will not add the same salty creaminess as butter, but it will keep everything moist and add health benefits, and any deficit in flavor can be corrected with spices.
A 2011 study, according to the Arthritis Foundation, found that Vitamin C can slow down osteoarthritis. This means that it slows the wear and tear on cartilage and bone. Although this will not make symptoms disappear, it can keep them from getting worse quickly. This preserves quality of life, and it may allow seniors to continue participating in activities later in life, such as sports, traveling, and activities of daily living like cooking and cleaning. Vitamin C may be taken as a supplement or increased in the diet by adding more citrus fruits, such as oranges or kiwi, or even melons like cantaloupe. (Adding many citrus fruits to the diet should be done in moderation, however—these fruits come with lots of natural sugar, and too much vitamin C can damage your kidneys.)
In addition to natural fruit juices or smoothies, seniors can get positive health benefits by adding to their diet green tea (there are lots of well-documented anti-inflammatory effects), milk (for strong bones), and wine (more anti-inflammatories). All of these should be used in moderation—especially wine—but they can produce positive results, especially in conjunction with a healthy diet, exercise, and plenty of sleep.
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