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Part 2: Let’s Talk Food - Inflammation fighting foods and what to avoid.
Welcome back! Thanks for checking out week two of my RA story. Over the past several weeks, I’ve been doing more research with regard to the best diet and exercise tips to help with my Rheumatoid Arthritis and Thyroid issues. As mentioned last week, this research has brought up some conflicting opinions, so I’m here to share with you the most consistently held viewpoints with a few caveats to be aware of.
I had to do a bit of cross-checking because some of the best/worst things for your Thyroid may have an opposite impact on your Rheumatoid Arthritis. Thus I can’t really go all in on any one list I’ve found online. The lists below are based on commonalities found among several sites (links at bottom of page) and based on my current conditions: Rheumatoid Arthritis and HYPOthyroidism (yes, it’s now flipped back to my original hypothyroidism after a short bout of postpartum hyperthyroidism). To read more about my health background, check out My RA Story Part 1.
This week we’re just looking at best and worst foods in more of a list form. Check back in a few weeks for my week at a glance which will include a week’s worth of food choices based on these lists. I’ve started tracking my food intake, exercise routines and symptoms so I’ll have a lot of detail in those upcoming weeks about how to incorporate these healthy choices into your everyday life.
I’m not a doctor, nor do I have any sort of medical background outside of personally dealing with the conditions mentioned below. The tips, suggestions and opinions mentioned in this and subsequent posts are based on my own experiences and testimonials from others. It is not intended to be medical advice and is not for everyone. Always consult your doctor before making changes to your medications, diet or exercise routines.
Universally Bad for You Foods
Let’s start with the easiest category. There’s really no arguing that certain foods are just bad for you. From cancer causing agents to diabetes, obesity, poor cardiovascular health, the list of risks could go on and on… there are certain foods that are just plain old terrible for you. I’ll be honest though, I enjoy a double cheeseburger from McDonalds a couple times a year. And some nights a frozen pizza or chicken nuggets and mac & cheese is all I have the energy (or craving) for. I figure there are plenty of things that could kill me at any given time, so I’m a realist - give into these cravings occasionally, but don’t make them a weekly staple.
Foods high in Trans fats (fast foods, fried products, processed foods)
Foods high in Saturated fats
Sugar & artificial sweeteners
Refined Carbohydrates - although this group doesn’t necessarily deserve to be classified with the severely detrimental to your health culprits mentioned above, refined carbohydrates are fairly consistently considered much less healthy than their whole grain counterparts.
Controversial Foods for RA & Hypothyroidsism
Soy and soy containing foods like tofu, and miso - while supposedly good for fighting inflammation and managing your RA, soy can be bad for hypothyroidsim, affecting how your medication gets absorbed. I love me some edamame from time to time but have to remind myself to keep it in moderation.
Nightshades - Eggplant, Tomatoes, Peppers - While nutrient rich and generally good for your thyroid, nightshades are a controversial food with regards to inflammation and RA. Many believe that these spark inflammation rather than help fight it, but there are conflicting studies. If you are worried they may be having an adverse effect on your joints, try eliminating them for a couple weeks and reintroducing them one at a time to track the impact each has on your symptoms.
Milk Products - Calcium and vitamin D are vital to a healthy diet. Milk products are a great way of getting these essentials. Unfortunately, some believe dairy can cause inflammation and suggest a dairy free diet for managing RA. It’s less common than you would think to have a lactose intolerance or actual dairy allergy, but rather more likely that these symptoms are brought on due to a difficulty in digesting casein. Again, you can try an elimination diet to see the effect dairy products have on your symptoms, but if at all possible, milk, yogurt and some cheese in moderation have good benefits that you should try to keep in your diet if at all possible. One thing to note if you are taking medication to treat your hypothyroidism, it is typically recommended to wait at least 30 minutes after taking your medication (if not an hour or two) to consume products high in calcium and vitamin D. Fun fact - the same rings true for consuming coffee after thyroid medication.
Gluten - Studies are conflicting on the actual impact gluten has on fighting inflammation although many (including myself) swear by the positive impact a gluten free diet has had on their joint pain. Many even argue that simply limiting their gluten intake has helped with their joint pain and increased energy.
Best Foods for You
Cruciferous Vegetables - Spinach, swiss chard, kale, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are generally great for you; however, if you have a thyroid issue AND an iodine deficiency, you may need to limit your intake of these dark leafy greens and make sure they’re cooked when you do partake. For one of our favorite ways to do up Brussels sprouts (and get some spinach in too) check out our recipe for stuffed meatballs and Brussels sprouts.
Vegetables (and sea veggies) in General - Beets and seaweed are great for you and uniquely flavorful options.
Fruits - Berries (specifically strawberries, blackberries, goji berries and cranberries) are particularly great for you as are tart cherries and avocados (in moderation).
Fish/Shellfish - Salmon, Cod, Yellowfin Tuna and canned tuna are great options
Nuts & Seeds - Brazil nuts in particular are also great for Thyroid health although one kernel is double the daily recommended amount of selenium so maybe try just one every other day.
Garlic & Onions
Whole Grains - an interesting tip though from health.com: “Not all products labeled ‘whole grain’ are necessarily healthier than their refined counterparts. To be sure you’re getting the good stuff, look for foods in which the total number of carbohydrate grams per serving is fewer than 10 times the number of fiber grams.” -Amanda MacMillan (Health. July 26, 2013. http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20705881,00.html#whole-grains-0)
Eggs - for a veggie filled egg dish you can feel great about, try our Potato Crusted Farmer's Quiche and make with sweet potatoes for added nutritional value!
Dark Chocolate (in moderation)
A Surprising Find
A lot of the oils that you may be substituting in your cooking thinking they’re healthier for you may, in fact, be causing some of your inflammation. Oils such as corn, sunflower, grapeseed, soy, peanut, and vegetable oil are high in Omega 6 Fatty Acids and can have an adverse effect on your RA symptoms if you consume too much of them. Mayonnaise and many salad dressings are high in Omega 6 fatty acids as well. It’s important to strike a healthy balance of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids.
Coconut oil is generally seen as a good food for managing RA symptoms due to its anti-inflammatory elements. There are conflicting studies recently about just how good (or bad for you) coconut oil may be, so again, it’s best to not overdo it.
What Does It All Mean?!
As I’ve mentioned several times, you have to take everything with a grain of salt. It can be risky and counterproductive to eliminate an entire group of foods from your diet. It seems best to target specific foods to try eliminating and check the impact it has on your specific symptoms. Adversely, it can also be risky and counterproductive to go all in on superfoods and other great-for-you foods. Too much of something can have a negative impact on your health, so just practice some moderation and aim for a well-rounded diet.
What works for me is not going to necessarily work for you. My plan is to limit gluten and processed foods as I’ve found success with that in the past. On the flip side I plan to vastly increase the amount of fruits, veggies and fish in my diet, keeping in mind some of the particularly great-for-you suggestions listed above. You’ll see how this all plays out for me in the weeks to come!
Next week we’re going to take a look at low impact exercise ideas, most of which you can do from the comfort of your own home. In the weeks to come, we’ll start putting it all together with week-long meal and exercise plans with links to our favorite FREE at home workouts. We’ll be providing some tips and recipe ideas to help you get all of those great-for-you-foods listed above in a way that won’t break the bank and will reduce food waste.
Be sure to follow us on social (links below) for updates throughout the week and share with your friends who are in need of a health boost this holiday season (so, like pretty much all of us).
If you’d be interested in joining a FREE accountability group, be sure to like and follow us on Facebook so you can show your interest and join the group when the time comes!
Cheers everybody, see you next week!