Dr. Aly Cohen recently contributed to this Everyday Health article on healthy foods for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers…
Starting your morning with the right foods can help alleviate joint pain and stiffness throughout the day.
By Julie Stewart Medically Reviewed by Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and that certainly holds true when you’re managing a chronic condition like rheumatoid arthritis, or RA. If you have RA, every meal is an opportunity to give your joints some support.
While there’s no specific diet that can cure RA, foods with anti-inflammatory properties can soothe joint pain and stiffness — a process that starts in the gut. “When you eat, your food goes through 20 feet of bowel, the most important barrier between the outside world and the inside world — and, in fact, the immune system,” says Aly Cohen, MD, the founder and medical director of Integrative Rheumatology Associates in Princeton, New Jersey, and the author of The Smart Human blog. “The gut is the connection between how we eat and how our joints feel.”
Unfortunately, typical breakfast foods — like scones, waffles, and cereals — aren’t the best choices. “All of these are pretty much carbohydrates, which break down very quickly in the body into sugary components, and sugar is inflammatory,” says Dr. Cohen. Instead, aim for an anti-inflammatory morning meal that includes protein, healthy fats, and antioxidants. Try leftovers from a healthy dinner, like grilled chicken and vegetables — or make one of these RA-friendly breakfasts:
Greek yogurt with fruit Yogurt is packed with filling protein and good bacteria. In a study published in December 2017 in the British Journal of Nutrition, women who ate low-fat yogurt daily for nine weeks had reduced signs of inflammation compared with women who didn’t. Cohen recommends plain Greek yogurt, which has more protein than other kinds. Just check the ingredients list to make sure there’s no added sugar. Then add a sliced organic green apple or a handful of organic berries. These whole fruits contain inflammation-fighting antioxidants, as well as fiber, such as pectin. In a study published in January 2018 in the journal Nature Communications, mice that ate a diet high in pectin had significantly less inflammation and bone damage than those on a standard diet. What’s more, as your gut ferments this type of fiber, it produces anti-inflammatory fatty acids, which are also good for people with RA.
Salmon omelet Try scrambling a couple eggs and adding some shredded grilled salmon. In study published in June 2017 in Arthritis Care & Research, people with RA who ate fish at least twice a week had less disease activity than those who ate fish less than once a month. One reason for that could be the omega-3 fatty acids in fish, which help control inflammation. In another study in Arthritis Care & Research, in March 2017, people with RA who consumed the most omega-3 fats had the least unacceptable pain and refractory pain. Look for eggs from hens fed flaxseed, which is rich in omega-3s. Says Cohen, “Often the ones that are fed omega-3s have omega-3s in them, which is a very good fat.”
Avocado toast or wraps Mash an avocado and spread it on some toast. Even better — try gluten-free toast. Cohen finds that some people with RA feel better when they reduce their gluten intake. Another option: Spread the avocado mash on a few leaves of butter lettuce, add some hummus or halved cherry tomatoes, and wrap the leaves like a breakfast burrito. Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fats, which may protect joints from inflammation. A study published in April 2018 in Clinical Nutrition suggests that people with RA who consume more monounsaturated fats may feel better than those who consume less. The vehicle for the avocado is important, too. As your gut digests the fiber in the toast or lettuce, your body may produce additional anti-inflammatory compounds.
Almond butter with vegetable sticks Almonds are rich sources of protein, and like avocados, they contain a healthy helping of monounsaturated fats. Spoon some almond butter onto a plate and dig in with slices of celery or jicama, both of which contain fiber and antioxidants, which are helpful in fighting symptoms of RA.