As we’ve shared before, many foods have been shown to fight inflammation. Now one quick stop at the grocery store can help ease your suffering. The produce section is a valuable asset to any pain treatment program. Vegetables are rich in antioxidants and other nutrients that protect against cell damage. They lower inflammation throughout the body, including in your joints, strengthen bones, and boost the immune system.
When it comes to vegetables, more color is better and variety is essential. Here’s a guide to those that should flavor your plate every day to help lessen pain.
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. There’s some evidence diets high in this vegetable family could prevent RA from developing in the first place. This particular subset of the vegetable population has also been known to block an enzyme that causes swelling in the joints. Green, leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, brussel sprouts, kale, mustard, the cabbage family, Swiss chard and bok choy are packed with fiber, and calcium. They also have antioxidants like vitamins A, C and K, which protect cells from free-radical damage. These cruciferous vegetables are all nutritional powerhouses.
Sweet Potatoes, Carrots, 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 with antioxidants. Some research suggests eating more foods rich in beta-cryptoxanthin could reduce your risk of developing RA and other inflammatory conditions. But due to their higher content of potassium, some people on certain medications or with kidney issues should consume them in moderation. Ask your provider for guidance.
Bell peppers, no matter their color, are an abundant source of vitamin C (which preserves bone, and may protect cells in cartilage) and antioxidants that have powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Bell peppers provide the antioxidant quercetin, which has been seen to reduce one marker of oxidative damage in people with sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease. According to some studies, eating 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. Chili peppers also reduce pain because they contain capsaicin as well as sinapic and ferulic acid, all known to reduce inflammation.
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 and other inflammatory processes. Alliums also contain a compounds called diallyl disulphine, thiocremonone, and organosulfur which may reduce the enzymes that damage cartilage and cause inflammation. They work well in a variety of meals and can easily be added to salads, soups, scrambled eggs, casseroles, rice or pasta dishes, and many more.
Root vegetables – like turnips, rutabagas, yams, chestnuts, parsnips, radishes, ginger, and turmeric may not be the sexiest foods on the table, but they are chock full of anti-inflammatory properties. Various studies have shown that these pungent root vegetables can be useful in treating symptoms of arthritis and other joint pain. From reducing oxidative stress to preventing chronic disease, adding a serving or two of root vegetables to your daily diet can not only add a unique flavor but be incredibly beneficial to your health. Plus, some, like tumeric and ginger are available in a supplement.
Should You Avoid Nightshade Vegetables?
Eggplants, tomatoes, all varieties of potatoes (except sweet potatoes and yams), tobacco, and peppers (not white or black, these are derived from peppercorns) are all members of the nightshade family. Although they are generally referred to as vegetables, many nightshades are botanically considered fruits, such as tomatoes, eggplants and peppers. These “vegetables” contain the chemical solanine, which some people claim aggravates arthritis pain and inflammation. Are nightshades worth avoiding?
All the claims against them are anecdotal, and while it might be true for some people, there are no scientific studies proving they actually cause inflammation or make symptoms worse. Nightshade vegetables are rich in nutrients and should be considered a worthy addition to your diet if they don’t trigger any issues.
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. 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 for the body’s use.
Adding these powerhouse vegetables will not only improve your diet but may decrease pain. Throw on a few anti-inflammatory spices and see the value grow. A win-win in anyone’s book.