My Rheumatoid Arthritis Journey
RA and the Mediterranean diet
In 2014, I was diagnosed with a severe and aggressive form of Rheumatoid Arthritis. I was placed on medication and immediately went about looking for natural ways to relieve some of my symptoms, focusing first on my diet. Before making any changes to your diet, you really should talk to your doctor. I am not a doctor or an expert in this field. I am just a person looking for ways to live with my Rheumatoid Arthritis. In my research, I kept finding references to the Mediterranean diet. I ordered several different cookbooks on the Mediterranean diet and I discussed this diet with my Rheumatologist. She was very supportive of the diet for several reasons. The diet focuses on simple and healthy food options and the diet is sustainable. She gave me the green light to try it out.
So, what is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet incorporates healthy eating using the traditional cooking style of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. And, it enthusiastically allows for olive oil or even a glass of red wine. The diet consists of eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts; using olive oil instead of butter; using herbs and spices to replace salt; eating more fish and poultry instead of red meat; and drinking red wine in moderation (optional). The diet also emphasizes the need to be physically active and to enjoy your meals with family and friends.
According to my research, a traditional Mediterranean diet has been found to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. There is also some discussion on the internet that this diet has been proven to reduce the incidence of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.
Mediterranean diet and Rheumatoid Arthritis
So what can the Mediterranean diet do for Rheumatoid Arthritis? Well, in my research, I found that the diet may also reduce the pain and swelling of joints stricken by Rheumatoid Arthritis although there appears to be some evidence to suggest that relief may not begin for at least six weeks after the diet is started. There was one study I read which found that mice fed with high doses of fish oil and vitamin E had reduced levels of a specific protein that causes joint swelling and pain. Another study suggests that a Mediterranean diet reduced the onset of Rheumatoid Arthritis by nearly three-fold compared with those who ate less olive oil and fewer fruits and vegetables. Olive oil, one of the key components in the diet, is reportedly rich in oleic acid which has an anti-inflammatory effect and is thought to reduce inflammatory protein levels. Fish, another component to the diet has nutrients in the oils which may have a similar anti-inflammatory effect. Legumes and poultry are low in fat, thereby, believed to further reduce inflammation.
Fish was a difficult part of this diet for me since I have never liked fish. Since starting this diet, I have learned to tolerate fish and have, surprisingly so, started liking it. I use lots of spices (not salt) and I have learned what fish I like and which fish to avoid.
Does the Mediterranean diet work to relieve Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms?
What I liked about the Mediterranean diet is that the focus is not to eliminate or reduce total fat consumption, but rather to eat healthier types of fat. Has the Mediterranean diet worked for me? The simple answer is yes and no. I faithfully followed the diet for one month and lost 15 pounds. I started to see a very slight reduction in the number of flare ups during the day. However, I am a foodie by nature and I quickly lost interest in the diet because I love exploring new recipes. I love reading cookbooks. With that said, I am starting the diet again and this time I plan to stick with it for at least six weeks. Since I saw a slight improvement, I feel a need to explore this diet further plus, since I gained the 15 pounds back since ending the diet, it is time to start again. I have an arsenal of books on the diet and started to create my own recipes which I hope to share (only the successful ones, my flops will remain my secret). Below is a recipe that I created called Greek artichoke rice. Enjoy.
A word of caution about the red wine. Due to my medication, I am limited to no more than two glasses of red wine a week. I live close to the Napa Valley and love red wine so this has been especially challenging for me. I have become creative in my wine consumption and will usually have 1/4 glass of wine with each dinner meal followed by water with lemon.
Greek artichoke rice
Serve as a side dish or add chicken to make a meal.
- 1 cup short-grain rice
- 2 cups canned-low sodium vegetable broth
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 tablespoons onion, finely chopped
- a small handful of spinach, cleaned and chopped
- 5-6 canned artichoke hearts, chopped
- 1/8 cup Greek olives, chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon oregano
- pepper (salt if desired), to taste
- 1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
Greek Artichoke Rice
- Bring rice in vegetable broth to a boil, cover tightly, reduce heat to simmer, and cook until liquid is aborbed.
- While rice is cooking, heat olive oil over medium high heat and saute garlic and onion until golden. Reduce heat to medium and add spinach a little at a time to allow spinach to wilt. When spinach is wilted, mix in oregano, salt, pepper and artichokes. Stir quickly and remove from heat.
- Add cooked rice, feta cheese, lemon juice, Greek olives; toss well.