Our joints go through a lot every day, whether it’s simply standing or walking, or even sitting while at school/work. It is essential to protect our joints in order to reduce pain and allow us to participate in all of the activities we want. Remaining active with regular exercises is not the only way to take care of your joints — what you put into your body can also have an affect. A healthy and diverse diet can directly contribute to joint health via nutrients, and can also help with weight loss, which makes life a lot easier on your joints. Studies have shown that losing 1 pound of body weight can result in a reduction of 4 pounds of joint stress in the knees. Add this up for every step you take during your day, and you can really save a lot of work on your knees. The focus of my article today is to help you get the nutrients your joints need and easy ways to promote weight loss with diet modifications. Here are the ingredients required for good joint health.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium is an essential mineral and is stored in our bones. Vitamin D is needed as it helps absorb the calcium we ingest. Without adequate Vitamin D levels, eating foods rich in calcium won’t help you out very much. Calcium is required for basic body functions including the ability of the bones to withstand force. Calcium and Vitamin D can be found in:
Calcium – dark leafy greens, dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt), nuts, fish.
Vitamin D – produced by the body with exposure to sunlight without sunscreen for about 10-20 minutes.
Omega- 3 Fatty Acids and Antioxidants (Vitamins A, C, E)
Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation (swelling). As we use our joints more or if we have pain in our joints, the body responds with inflammation to the area as a protective response – however, this inflammation can further contribute to pain and reduce range of motion. Anti-oxidants help fight off free radicals, which can promote inflammation and can further damage joints. Found in:
Omega-3 – halibut, salmon, shrimp, nuts, whole grains, fish oil.
Antioxidants –fruit, dark leafy vegetables, carrots, almonds, avocado
Fiber plays a role in reducing blood glucose levels, which have been linked to inflammation. In addition, foods high in fiber help digestion and typically make you feel fuller for a greater time, which in turn helps with weight loss. Found in:
Fruit, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
Protein is the essential building block for muscle, bone, and tissue including joints. Regular protein intake will ensure that the body has the resources necessary to protect its joints as well as the muscles that surround each joint. Lean protein is recommended as it contains less fat and therefore will help contribute to weight loss. Found in:
Chicken, turkey, free-range grass-fed beef, fish, beans, soy.
Joints have fluid running through them to act as both lubrication but also a source of receiving nutrients from the blood. Remaining hydrated will ensure a greater blood volume with better delivery of nutrients to the joints, as well as increased lubrication for smoother and less painful motion. It is suggested to have roughly 0.5-1.0 oz of water per pound of body weight.
Due to poor dietary choices and access the average American is deficient in many essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, which are the building blocks for healthy joints. Obtaining nutrients from organic, unprocessed foods should always be your first choice. However there may be times when your body requires additional nutrients via supplementation due to injury or poor diet. Here are the top two for joint health.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin
Key components of cartilage, which makes up joint tissue. Although naturally produced by the body, supplementing may be necessary when joint pain or arthritis is present. Glucosamine/chondroitin has been scientifically researched and found to aid with joint health.
Curcumin, Ginger & Bromelaine
Studies have shown curcumin, ginger and bromelaine to have anti-inflammatory effects, decrease pain an increase joint health. Curcumin is naturally occurring in the spice turmeric and bromelaine is an enzyme found in pineapple. Ginger is a commonly used in teas and stir-fry.
Now that you have a wide variety of foods to choose from, here are some suggestions for meals/snacks that will not only promote joint health, but also weight loss.
Low fat milk with low-sugar whole grain cereal
Low fat Greek yogurt with a berry medley topped with whole grain oats
2-egg omelet with spinach, avocado and low-fat cheese
Spinach and arugula salad with lean chicken, tomatoes walnuts, flax seed with freshly-squeezed lemon juice dressing
Grass-fed, free-range beef or turkey burger with whole-wheat bun accompanied with a dark-leafy green salad
Grilled salmon crusted with almonds served with a side of roasted broccoli and brussel sprouts
Tuna sandwich with a cabbage slaw
Lean grilled chicken with a cucumber-mint yogurt sauce wrapped up in flatbread with red bell peppers and cucumbers
Snacks and Sides (Instead of reaching for that bag of chips, try these)
Carrots, celery, and other crunchy vegetables with low-fat hummus
Low-fat Greek yogurt
Fruit (Apple, banana, pineapple, orange, etc)
These are just a few options but you now have all the ingredients to get creative and protect your joints at the same time. Remember! A program to rehabilitate an injured joint from trauma, surgery or disease should include physical therapy combined with sound nutrition principles. This will be the quickest path to healing.
In good health,
Mohit Birdi, PT, DPT, CSCS