Ellie Krieger, a registered dietitian, culinary expert and star of the online talk-show “New Way RA”, hosted by Deborah Norville is committed to helping people coping with rheumatoid arthritis, the chronic inflammatory disease that affects the joints, live better and eat to reduce the inflammation in their joints. Krieger, who also hosts Healthy Appetite on Food Network and the author of numerous cookbooks including the New York Times best-seller The Food You Crave: Luscious Recipes for a Healthy Life (Taunton Press, 2008) specializes in whipping up meals that are as tasty and nutritious as they are friendly to sore, aching joints.
So we asked Krieger, who resides in New York City with her husband, Thom, and her daughter, Isabella, to solve a day’s worth of common food conundrums experienced by people with RA. And she served up tasty joint-friendly solutions to a host of food scenarios.
The problem: Navigating the grocery store aisles and shelves.
It’s tempting to toss boxed foods and meals into your cart at the grocery store. Those foods eliminate the need to chop, mince and grate, making meal preparation easy on sore or tired joints.
Despite being “easy” those foods can be loaded with sodium, sugars and even fat, making them unfriendly to joints affected by RA. Too much sodium can lead to water retention in the body, which can put pressure on already inflamed and sore joints. Excess sugar leads to being overweight and added stress on joints.
The current guideline for sodium is no more than 1,500 mg a day for adults age 19 to 50; 1,300 mg for those over 50. The recommended guideline for sugar intake is no more than 5 teaspoons (20 grams) for adult women and 9 teaspoons (36 grams) for adult men.
The solution: Read the labels
Krieger says reading labels is the key to filling up your cart with foods that reduce inflammation in your body to ease the symptoms of RA.
“Try to limit sugary foods and refined carbohydrates like white breads. Those foods are linked with increased inflammation in the body,” says Krieger. “You don’t have to avoid them completely, but read the labels to make sure you’re staying within the guidelines because so many things have sugar and sodium and could lead to you consuming far too much.”
In addition to sodium, watch for words including sugar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup and dextrose, says Krieger. Some specific types of foods Krieger says you should skip are: sweetened drinks, white breads and pastas and boxed dinners like mac and cheese.
The problem: Skipping breakfast
Morning stiffness in hands, fingers and wrists can make it tough to tackle an ambitious breakfast, or even opening a cup or yogurt. So instead of flipping pancakes or scrambling eggs, many with RA bypass breakfast or opt for drive-thru meals that Krieger says are high in fat and little else.
The solution: Breakfast smoothies
Krieger says vitamin D is has anti-inflammatory powers. And since one of the top sources of vitamin D is milk, it’s easy to start your day an anti-inflammatory way. “Breakfast is a great and very convenient time to get milk into your daily diet,” she says. “It’s also a great time to incorporate other foods like fruits, which also help reduce inflammation and increase overall health into your diet.”
“A breakfast smoothie made with 8 oz. of milk and a handful of frozen fruit is a frothy and tasty treat that doesn’t involving chopping, stirring, whipping, etc. To make it even more substantial, and add more antioxidants, healthy fat and fiber, add a scoop of almond butter or wheat germ or a small handful of handful of almonds,” says Krieger.
Bonus health booster: Toss some frozen cherries into your smoothie. A study conducted by the U.S.D.A. says Bing cherries can reduce the painful inflammation experienced by RA sufferers.
The problem: Sick of the same old sandwich
They’re easy to make, but a sandwich everyday can leave you feeling like you’re stuck in a food rut. “Many people with RA think they don’t have any other option because sandwiches seem like the only option when hands and wrists are sore or stiff,” says Krieger.
The solution: A plate full of color
“Lunch is a great time for a colorful salad that’s kind to your joints,” says Krieger. Fresh pre-washed baby arugula and spinach found in the grocer’s produce department means you don’t have to chop. Add in cherry or grape tomatoes, pre-chopped veggies from the salad bar and a pouch of salmon (found in the grocery department not the seafood section) for healthy color.
“The salmon is good for RA because has omega-3 fatty acids, which are unsaturated or ‘good’ fats that are anti-inflammatory. You also get nearly a day’s worth of vitamin D in a 3 ounce portion of salmon,” says Krieger.
Toss in a handful of almonds for fiber and added good fats, and top with a homemade vinaigrette made from equal parts lemon juice and olive oil, a dash of salt and pepper. “Add a piece of whole grain bread on the side and you’ve got a tasty meal that helps keep inflammation in check that you can throw together in under five minutes,” adds Krieger.
Bonus health booster: A study published in the journal Joint Bone Spine suggests that vitamin D may be able to reduce the inflammation that causes rheumatoid arthritis as well as other diseases.
The problem: Wondering what’s for dinner?
By the end of a busy day, spending hours in the kitchen might seem impossible if your joints are tired and achy. But Krieger says you don’t have to be doomed to leftovers, take-out or a visit from the pizza delivery guy and a meal full of unhealthy fats that may ramp up inflammation in your body.
The solution: No fuss dinner.
Tonight try Krieger’s no fuss dinner option that is sure to please you palate and your joints. “Boil whole grain pasta and drain it. Then toss with a can of chopped or diced tomatoes, pre-minced garlic, a dash of dried parsley and basil, pepper to taste and tablespoon or two of olive oil. You can even throw in lean chicken or shrimp that’s sautéed or white bean for protein,” she says.
Bonus health booster: Tomatoes are packed with the antioxidant lycopene. And a recent study says that lycopene can effectively reduce inflammation by inhibiting the release of inflammatory enzymes in the body and stimulating production of non-inflammatory enzymes.
If chopping, dicing and slicing is tough because of sore hands, fingers and wrists, rely on these shortcuts Krieger says will help you to eat healthy.
• Pre-washed greens in the produce department. That eliminates washing and prep.
• Frozen chopped veggies, peas, chopped spinach, etc. Krieger says the nutrition benefits are comparable to fresh versions but the frozen are ready to eat.
• Take advantage of the salad bar at the supermarket and the chopping that’s been done for you. “Use the chopped veggies and fruits to make your own fruit salad or to add to your soup recipe at home.
• Instead of squeezing a garlic press, buy pre-chopped garlic in jar.
• Use dried herbs and spices, which Krieger says are still potent but eliminate the need to chop, grind, etc.
• Look to frozen berries and other fruits for smoothies, to top yogurt, oatmeal or ice cream.