THE BLOG
05/20/2013 10:09 am ET Updated Jul 20, 2013

Top Foods and Tips to Fight Arthritis

May is National Arthritis Awareness Month, and you may be surprised to find out that arthritis is the second most frequently reported chronic condition, with more than 100 types of arthritis that each affect the body differently. Eating healthy is good for us, but did you know your diet can make a difference in the way you feel? Although a variety of foods are always important, there are certain vitamins and nutrients that specifically help prevent inflammation and ease the symptoms of arthritis. These tips and standout nutrients are real power players in reducing inflammation and easing symptoms.

Arthritis and Inflammation

The most basic definition of arthritis is inflammation in the joints. Inflammation is the body's immune response to protect and heal us from infection and foreign substances, including bacteria and viruses. Chronic, or prolonged, inflammation results in long-term tissue destruction and may be the underlying basis to hosts of chronic diseases such as some cancers, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and arthritis. Several nutrients may be specifically important in helping to reduce inflammation.

The Value of Vitamin C

The antioxidant vitamin C is found in foods such as bell peppers, oranges, kale, spinach, and strawberries. Did you know there is more vitamin C in a red bell pepper than an orange? This water-soluble vitamin plays an important role in growth and tissue repair.

Load Up on Carotenoids

Carotenoids are antioxidants with powerful anti-cancer and immune-boosting properties to help reduce inflammation in the body. Carotenoids are naturally-occurring pigments that are mostly responsible for the color red, yellow, and orange in fruits and vegetables but found in some dark green vegetables also. Foods high in carotenoids are found in sweet potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, and Brussels sprouts. Beta-carotene, a well-known carotenoid, is one of more than 600 carotenoids that are considered "provitamin A" compounds that the body can convert to retinol, an active form of vitamin A.

Amazing Omegas

Omega-3 fatty acids are another important nutrient to include in your diet in the fight against inflammation. They are essential for the body to work properly and we must get them through diet, as they are not made in the body. Research supports a long list of health benefits, including arthritis, from eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 supplements are popular; however, the body absorbs and uses the fatty acid much better from food, which includes salmon, walnuts, soybeans and flax seeds.

Indulge in Calcium

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and is required for many important metabolic, vascular and muscular functions. However, only 1 percent is needed for these highly-regulated mineral functions, as 99 percent of the calcium in the body is stored in the bones, making it the main nutrient for bone health. Foods rich in calcium include dairy products -- milk, yogurt, cheese -- fortified cereals, tofu, sesame seeds and dark leafy greens. Vitamin D plays a major role in bone health, as well, since the fat-soluble Vitamin D is vital for the absorption of calcium. Although few foods have the vitamin naturally present, milk, orange juice and cereal are often fortified. Known as the "Sunshine Vitamin," sun exposure allows the body to produce vitamin D when the ultraviolet light hits the skin.

Create an Arthritis-Friendly Kitchen

There are times your joints are hurting, making it difficult to do everyday tasks, especially preparing and cooking meals in the kitchen. However, there are several techniques and modifications you can do to help minimize the stress on your joints to reduce inflammation. It is important to arrange your kitchen with accessibility in mind. Set up your shelves with convenience in mind with the most used items closest to reach. Install pull-out drawers instead of cabinets to easily access your cookware or use wall hooks or a ceiling pot hanger to eliminate unnecessary bending. If possible, install a pot filler at your stove to keep from walking with heavy pots of water.

Decrease Joint Stress With Simple Suggestions

Some helpful equipment and utensils to decrease the stress on your joints include using aluminum cookware, as they are much lighter. Always use a pot with two handles rather than one, so that you can use both hands to support and distribute the weight evenly. Look for lighter ergonomic cooking tools with easy grips and non-slip handles. And most importantly, try to use electronics such as a food processor, standing mixer, can opener, electronic whisker, and blender to avoid the repetitive motion of stirring, chopping or grating.

Although research isn't always conclusive, we do know that overall diets high in anti-inflammatory foods have lower age-related chronic disease incidence, proving good-for-you food can improve the way you feel.

With over 1 million cookbooks sold, Holly Clegg has become an expert on easy, healthy recipes through her best-selling trim&TERRIFIC® cookbook series, including the more targeted health focused cookbooks, Diabetic Cooking with the American Diabetes Association, Eating Well Through Cancer and Eating Well to Fight Arthritis. Clegg has appeared on Fox & Friends, NBC Weekend Today, The 700 Club, USA Today, Web MD and The Huffington Post. For more information, visit www.hollyclegg.com. Read Holly's blog on Red Room.

For more by Holly B. Clegg, click here.

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