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Healthy Eating

Embracing the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle

various ingredients like salmon, avocado, carrots...

Nutrition is pivotal to your health, particularly if you are navigating the challenges that come with having arthritis. The Mediterranean diet has been of interest to researchers since the 1950s, when they uncovered that the life-expectancy of people from the region was higher than in other parts of Europe, even if they were economically worse off. The good news is that now there is evidence directly linking the benefits of this diet for people with arthritis. 

What is the Mediterranean diet? 

A daily consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, healthy fats, and herbs and spices; moderate consumption of fish and seafood, fermented dairy, eggs and poultry; and limited consumption of refined sugars and red meats, is recommended by the Mediterranean diet. Fresh ingredients rather than processed foods are used to prepare meals. 

“It’s easier to stick with a healthy diet when you are not depriving yourself and are taking time to enjoy the taste of the food,” says Cristina Montoya, registered dietitian and member of the Arthritis Health Professions Association. “The Mediterranean diet goes beyond food, it is a way of living. Mindfulness, sharing meals with friends and family, cooking with others, exercise and healthy sleep habits are encouraged, and its holistic approach makes it successful.” 

The Mediterranean diet and arthritis symptoms 

Omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and polyphenols are at the core of foods making up the Mediterranean diet – all of these have anti-inflammatory properties. You can reduce swelling and inflammation by adding foods recommended by the Mediterranean diet. 

In a recent study, 44 patients with rheumatoid arthritis were randomly assigned to either a Mediterranean diet, rich in legumes, unsalted roasted nuts, fermented dairy products, fish, poultry and limited red meat, or a standard healthy, with 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, limiting foods high in fat, sugar, and salt to once or twice a week.  After 12 weeks, the study found that the Mediterranean diet improved physical function and quality of life for patients with rheumatoid arthritis compared to the standard healthy diet. More robust research is needed, but the initial results are very promising. 

How can you make the transition to this diet? 

Cristina recommends additions or substitutions you can make to embrace the Mediterranean diet:

Breakfast

Current dietary pattern

Plain oatmeal + berries + coffee

Mediterranean diet

Plain oatmeal + berries + coffee + cinnamon + nuts + hemp seeds


Lunch

Current dietary pattern

Salad (romaine, tomatoes, cucumber, grilled shrimp, and carrots) + side of garlic bread

Mediterranean diet

Salad (romaine, tomatoes, cucumber, grilled shrimp, and carrots) + side of garlic bread + fresh basil + bell peppers + lemon vinaigrette in olive oil + feta cheese
+ whole grain baguette or red lentil soup.


Snack

Current dietary pattern

Banana + crackers

Mediterranean diet

Banana + crackers + unripe banana + almond butter OR hummus + whole grain crackers


Dinner

Current dietary pattern

New York steak + green beans + baked golden Yukon potato.

Mediterranean diet

New York steak + Grilled salmon or haddock + cherry tomatoes + oregano, olive oil and garlic on potatoes


Total number of plant foods:

Current dietary pattern

9

Mediterranean diet

18

There is no single superfood that can cure you. Cristina says, “Rather than fixating on a specific ingredient or nutrient, focus instead on your eating pattern, so it becomes a way of living rather than a temporary short-term fix.”