10 Green and Red Fruits & Veggies to Eat When You Have Rheumatoid Arthritis
Last updated: June 2023
Rheumatoid arthritis causes inflammation and pain for those that have the disease. Eating foods high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties can help reduce inflammation and pain. The color of the fruit or vegetable can tell you a lot about its health properties.
Nutritional benefits of red and green foods
For example, green vegetables contain a powerful antioxidant known as lutein. Lutein is not only anti-inflammatory, but also promotes healthy blood vessels, lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. Lutein also helps keep your eyes healthy and reduces the risk of age-related macular degeneration (vision loss).
Red fruits and vegetables contain powerful anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants like lycopene and anthocyanins. These keep your heart healthy, help maintain and increase memory, and lower the risk of cancer.
With all of these positive benefits, it’s time to increase our consumption of red and green fruits and vegetables.
10 anti-inflammatory foods for rheumatoid arthritis
The sweet and tart seeds of pomegranates are nutritious, delicious little bursts of flavor. The seeds are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Both the seeds and juice are a great way to get phytochemicals; these compounds give pomegranate its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powers.
Incorporating pomegranate seeds or drinking its juice can help decrease the inflammation seen in rheumatoid arthritis. Recent studies have also found a link between pomegranate’s anti-inflammatory properties and improved memory. Scientists believe that the consumption of pomegranate can prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease!1
Pomegranate seeds can be plucked from the fruit, bought ready to use, or even frozen. They make a great addition to salads, fruit salad, oatmeal, and yogurt! Pomegranate juice can be purchased year-round and is delicious when added to smoothies and salad dressings.
Swiss chard, rainbow chard, and rhubarb chard are not only some of the best looking greens in the market, but they are also nutrient powerhouses! Chard is an excellent source of phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. This potent combination of nutrients makes chard one of the most powerful healthy foods for preventing diseases including cancer, decreasing inflammation, and maintaining bone health.
Be sure to eat your chard with a little bit of healthy fat so you can absorb all of those fat-soluble vitamins. Try sautéing chard in a bit of olive oil and serving with nuts and a squeeze of lemon. Add chopped chard into omelets, frittatas, and pasta dishes. Add chard into your smoothies and try it in place of other salad greens for its unique flavor and beautiful color.
These bright red berries have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine as a functional food (foods that have positive health effects beyond basic nutrition). Their benefits include anti-aging properties and can help improve insulin sensitivity. These berries owe their health-promoting punch to a combination of phytochemicals that work together to produce an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.
Goji berries are starting to become popular on this side of the globe, so be on the lookout! They are usually dried, making them an awesome topping for yogurt or cereal. They make a great addition to your favorite trail mix, muffin, scone, and even soup! Add them to teas and smoothies (soak in water for 10 minutes before adding) for an added burst of flavor and nutrition. Also if you can find the juice it makes a great addition to smoothies and salad dressings.
Fennel has a history as a medicinal plant in the Mediterranean region and has been used traditionally throughout Europe for digestive ailments. In addition to being an excellent source of vitamin C, potassium, and fiber, fennel is also naturally high in an anti-inflammatory compound called anethole, which makes it a great choice for people with rheumatoid arthritis. Anethole has been shown to not only reduce inflammation but also prevent cancer development.3
Fennel’s unique aromatic taste is similar to licorice or anise, with a crunchy texture that is comparable to celery. Thinly sliced raw fennel pairs well with many foods like avocado, citrus, fresh mint, and yogurt, or as an added garnish in a salad. It also tastes great braised as a complement to seafood dishes. Try roasting it with garlic and other vegetables or add diced fennel to any pasta dish or sauce!
Tart cherries are a potent source of anti-inflammatory and antioxidants, called flavonoids, which are responsible for their heart disease and cancer prevention qualities as well as giving the fruit its deep, rich hue.4
Research suggests that eating these compounds in cherries may have a beneficial role in improving inflammatory pain, in preventing gout attacks, and in improving quality of sleep.4
Fresh tart cherries and their juice are available at most markets and are delicious on their own. Remember to look for darker colored cherries as these contain more antioxidants! Fresh cherries are also wonderful to use in chutney and bruschetta. Enjoy a sweet treat by using cherries on top of yogurt or in smoothies. You can also try purchasing dried tart cherries, which make a great addition to cereals, trail mix, salads, and fresh baked goods.
In general, the darker the lettuce, the greater the amount of nutrients – and romaine is at the top of the nutrient-density chain when it comes to lettuce. Romaine lettuce promotes antioxidant activity and may help improve blood sugar regulation.2
Because it’s extremely low in calories, romaine lettuce makes a fantastic addition to a healthy diet. It can also aid in shedding those extra pounds that may be putting pressure on your joints. It pairs well with almost every other food out there – from fruits and vegetables to nuts, grains, meats, and cheeses; you can let your imagination run wild and explore different salad variations. You can also use romaine to garnish your favorite sandwiches, wraps, or tacos, or keep the leaves whole for lettuce wraps.
Apples (can be red or green!)
This probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. Apples are one of our most familiar fruits and they are packed with healthy nutrients to help with rheumatoid arthritis and decrease your risk of other diseases as well.
Apples are an excellent source of vitamin C and fiber, which is important for keeping cholesterol down and maintaining bowel regularity. They are also a good source of potassium which is an essential electrolyte involved in fluid balance. Most of the nutrients are contained in the skin so don’t bother to peel them. Apples also contain important phytochemicals that act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents.
Apples taste great raw, by themselves, or accompanied with an ounce of your favorite nut butter or low-fat cheese. They can also be chopped up and added to a salad (with romaine!). Baked or sautéed apples with a bit of cinnamon is also a healthy alternative to traditional desserts.
Zucchini is the best known of the summer squashes and it has a very high water content (95% in some cases). High water content dilutes nutrient density but also makes this squash very low in calories. Along with some vitamins and minerals, zucchini provides anti-cancer effects! It grows in the summer and helps protect against dehydration and its carotenes help protect against sun damage.
Zucchini is very versatile and can be cooked in a variety of ways. Try making zucchini ‘noodles’ with a vegetable peeler for a healthier twist on spaghetti, or try it grated into a family favorite casserole, meatloaf, or in this gluten free zucchini muffin recipe. Zucchinis can also be stuffed and baked, and they are fantastic on the grill. Brush sliced zucchini with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and grill each side for about a minute.
Beets are another nutrient-rich food to add to your regular RA diet. You can eat both the leaves and the root and gain benefits from both! Beet greens can be eaten similarly to Chard (see above) and are a great way to get calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C.
The roots are also very nutritious with a combination of beneficial vitamins and minerals, including bone-building phosphorous. They’re low in calories and are just sweet enough to help curb dessert cravings. Another RA secret weapon, beets contain an antioxidant called betalains, which are known for their cancer-fighting properties. Also, in a clinical study, short-term use of betalain-rich concentrate significantly improved knee discomfort and joint function which may help with those with RA.
Beets are extremely versatile and can be served sweet or savory, hot or cool. Raw beets can be used in salads and soups. Look in your produce department for beets already peeled and ready to use. They are also delicious cooked, steamed, roasted, or grilled. If pureed or juiced, you can blend them into smoothies or applesauce.
Don’t take this oldie-but-goodie for granted. Celery is available year-round, has a long shelf life, and is very low in calories, which makes it an ideal food for weight control. It is also packed with a surprising number of health-promoting nutrients! Celery provides vitamins, fiber, and minerals like calcium!
While it’s true that celery contains more sodium than other vegetables, it is offset by its potassium content, and the amount ends up not being significant even to those that are sensitive to salt. Celery contains flavonoids that have shown anti-inflammatory effects. It has also been identified as having anti-cancer properties.5
Raw celery is great with peanut butter or hummus, but can also add great crunch in salads, both green and those like tuna and chicken salad. Chopped celery, often paired with onion and carrot, is a great addition to meat dishes, soups, and stews. Celery can also be juiced to add a refreshing twist to your juice or smoothie. Lastly, try braising celery in either vegetable stock or canned tomatoes. Cook celery until soft, then top with crumbled cheese.
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