Out on the town for a special meal? Before you order, know the foods that trigger inflammation as well as those that fight it.
Fighting Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain With Food
When you’re preparing food at home, you can include healing anti-inflammatory foods and leave out foods that trigger arthritis joint pain. But when eating out at a restaurant, you don’t have as much control. So what can you eat?
You can still make smart choices to ease arthritis symptoms when you’re dining out. Here’s a guide to the best menu picks in your favorite restaurants, recommended by Joy Bauer, MS, RD, CDN, author of “Joy Bauer’s Food Cures” and a nutrition expert for the Today Show.
When you’re enjoying dinner at Applebee’s or the Cheesecake Factory, go for grilled or roasted fish or chicken breast as a main course, suggests Bauer. Pass on the unnecessary fat and calories of fried foods to avoid weight gain — being overweight puts extra stress on your joints, Bauer says, and that worsens joint pain. For sides, she suggests steamed vegetables, a baked or sweet potato, or brown rice. A tossed salad is also a good option; order it with olive oil and vinegar on the side. Olive oil contains “good” fat as well as polyphenols, antioxidants that protect the body from inflammation, Bauer says.
Start with soup, says Bauer, who recommends those loaded with vegetables, like gazpacho, black bean, lentil, vegetable, and butternut squash. Stay away from creamed choices — you don’t want the fat and calories when you’re battling arthritis. For sandwiches, order turkey or chicken breast on whole grain or whole wheat bread or in a whole grain wrap. Jazz it up with bell pepper strips, rich in vitamin C. “Vitamin C is one of the nutrients most responsible for the health of collagen, a major component of cartilage,” Bauer says. Cartilage covers the ends of your bones — when it deteriorates, it causes joint pain and swelling.
Japanese food is an excellent choice for people with arthritis because many dishes include ginger, and ginger has been shown to reduce knee pain from osteoarthritis. Ginger also contains chemicals that fight inflammation. Pickled ginger is served with sushi — Bauer recommends placing a thin slice over each sushi or sashimi piece as you eat it. Other healthy choices on the Japanese menu are edamame (soybeans), seaweed salad, steamed vegetables, chicken or salmon teriyaki, and brown rice.
Ginger is also an important ingredient in other Asian cuisines. Try steamed whole fish with ginger, Bauer says. Other options that will help reduce inflammation include steamed chicken, shrimp, or tofu with steamed mixed vegetables. Order your entrée with garlic sauce on the side and use up to 2 tablespoons, Bauer says — garlic’s anti-inflammatory properties are well-known. Broccoli is a popular vegetable in many Chinese dishes, and it, too, fights inflammation. Enjoy orange wedges, rich in vitamin C, for dessert.
Indian food is a delicious and healthy choice thanks to the spice turmeric, a main ingredient in yellow curry powder. Studies show that curcumin, a compound in turmeric, may help reduce inflammation responses. Bauer says that the best choices at an Indian restaurant are chicken curry and curried vegetables. For starters, try the dal — a thick, soup-like dish made from dried lentils — that can be combined with a side of curried vegetables to make an arthritis-friendly main course.
It’s hard not to overeat when you go to a buffet, so try to limit your visits to occasional treats to avoid foods that trigger inflammation and joint pain. Choose foods that are grilled, baked, or roasted, and pile on the veggies, especially those that have been steamed. If you must have foods that are fried, doused in unhealthy oils, or swimming in butter sauce, sample them sparingly — think bite-size portions. Limit or avoid items made with cream sauces and full-fat cheeses.
These days, it’s entirely possible to find healthy options at fast-food restaurants. McDonald’s and Wendy’s offer grilled chicken sandwiches — just leave off the mayo and cheese. Have a baked potato rather than fries, or order salad as your side and put on your own dressing so that you can use it sparingly, if at all. Want a hamburger? Go for it, but for better arthritis management, choose the single patty over the double and leave off any special sauce.
Fast-food Mexican restaurants don’t feature many low-fat choices. But you can find some arthritis-friendly menu options at restaurants such as Chipotle, Baja Fresh, and even Taco Bell. Choose burritos made with chicken or beans over those with red meat, and opt for soft tacos, which have less fat than crispy ones. If you must have sour cream and cheese, limit your portions — don’t glob it on. What you can load up on are fresh salsa and shredded lettuce. Remember, eating high-fat foods can lead to weight gain, and extra weight puts stress on your joints, increasing joint pain.