Eat your way to healthier joints

Nutritionist Frida Harju-Westman suggests some natural ways to keep your joints healthy through diet and exercise

Chia seeds

Chia seeds have a great deal of nutritional value and are even believed to have been used by the Aztecs to relieve joint pain and sore skin. They are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, in fact, the seeds contain even more omega-3 per gram than salmon! Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their inflammatory properties, with a number of studies, including research from the University of Southampton, showing that they can help to reduce inflammation and joint pain. Chia seeds are also rich in zinc and copper, two essential minerals that help to produce the enzymes that fight inflammation in the body.

Green tea

Tea is a good source of polyphenols, a plant compound, which according to a study by the University of Liverpool Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease, can reduce inflammation. Green tea contains a particularly high number of polyphenols, as well as the natural antioxidant epigallocatechin 3-gallate (EGCG) which, according to a review published in Arthritis Research and Therapy, has been shown to help preserve cartilage and bone.

Cherry juice

Cherries are rich in anthocyanins, a plant pigment that has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They also contain the nutrients potassium and iron, essential minerals needed by the body in order to function. Research by Oregon Health and Science University has suggested that tart cherries in particular may help to reduce joint pain and inflammation, with two cups of tart cherry juice a day believed to help reduce inflammation. While research on the cherry juice is not yet conclusive, it may be a good drink to add to your diet. However, bear in mind that cherry juice is not calorie-free and try to avoid those with added sweetener.

Broccoli

Broccoli is known as a cruciferous vegetable, as it is part of the Cruciferae family. Cruciferous vegetables contain the compound sulforaphane, which research from the University of East Anglia suggests could be key to preventing the breakdown of cartilage in joints. This compound is believed to prevent inflammation, thus blocking the enzymes that could cause joint problems. While research on this is yet to be conclusive, broccoli is packed with essential nutrients including vitamins A-K and minerals such as magnesium, zinc and phosphorus. It also contains high levels of calcium, which is easily absorbed by the body and helps to strengthen your bones.

Fish

Omega-3, found in fish, is an essential fatty acid with an array of health benefits, which includes helping to keep joints healthy as you age. In particular Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), both types of omega-3 fatty acids, are believed to help reduce inflammation, which is what causes swelling, and consequently pain in the joints. Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel or sardines, are all good sources of EPA and DHA and it is recommended that you try to eat these twice a week. Try making mackerel on toast or taking a can of tuna into work to eat as a snack.

Oatmeal

Oatmeal is a great source of whole grains, which are packed with nutrients, making them a great staple of any diet. They are particularly rich in B vitamins, such as B6 and B12, which are known to reduce the level of the amino acid homocysteine in the blood, which is associated with inflammation. Oatmeal also has a high fibre content, which helps the body to resist inflammation, by helping to remove toxins from your intestines. In contrast, avoid refined grains such as white flour, which have been stripped of their fibre and minerals arnd have a high glycemic index, meaning that their digestion can lead to a rapid spike in your blood sugar levels, which can lead to inflammation.

Don’t forget exercise!

Regular exercise is essential to good health for many reasons, but it can also play a considerable role in helping to protect your joints from damage. When we exercise, the tissue around our joints produces a fluid that helps the bones to move past one another. Physical activity encourages the circulation of this fluid, essentially helping to lubricate the joints which helps them work. Regular exercise also helps to build strong muscles and ligaments, which surround your joints, helping to protect them.

Another reason exercise is so important, as seen in research from the John Hopkins School of Medicine, is that the chance of joint pain is increased, the more weight the individual carries. This is because the heavier you are, the more stress you place on weight-bearing joints, such as your knees. Regular exercise and a good diet are therefore important to help you to shed excess weight that may be putting your joints under strain.

Low-impact exercises such as cycling, walking or swimming, are great for helping to strengthen your joints. Swimming is particularly good if you already experience joint pain, as the buoyancy of the water means that the impact on your joints as you exercise is reduced. Another recommended activity is weight lifting, as this helps to develop strong muscles and bone density, which as a result creates good joint stability. It’s also a good idea to try activities such as yoga and pilates as they help to increase your range of motion and help to strengthen your muscles.

Frida Harju-Westman is the in-house nutritionist at the global health app, Lifesum (www.lifesum.com). Using tech and psychology, it creates a tailored plan to help people live happier, more balanced lives. Whether the goal is to lose weight, build muscle, or just live a healthier life, Lifesum shows how changing small, everyday habits can transform your life. The app is available on iOS and Android.

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