It’s easy to make nutrients part of a sensible daily diet once you learn there’s such a variety of them within virtually every food group. As with any nutrient, certain foods will always be richer sources than others. Below are super sources of the nutrients that battle arthritis best.
1. Salmon. Salmon is among the richest sources of healthy fats, making it an ideal source of omega-3 fatty acids, especially because it’s less likely than other cold-water fish to harbor high levels of toxic mercury. In addition to its fatty oils, salmon contains calcium, vitamin D, and folate. Besides helping with arthritis, eating salmon may protect the cardiovascular system by preventing blood clots, repairing artery damage, raising levels of good cholesterol, and lowering blood pressure.
Focus on freshness. To avoid bacterial contamination, look for glossy fish that are wrapped to prevent contact with other fish. If you’re buying fish whole, eyes should be clear and bright, not opaque or sunken, and flesh should not be slimy or slippery. Cuts like steaks and fillets should be dense and moist. In all cases, flesh should be firm and spring back if you press it.
Use quickly. Fresh fish spoils fast, so if you can’t eat salmon within a day after purchase, double its shelf life by cooking it right away and storing it in the refrigerator. (It is delicious served cold with cucumbers and dill.)
Tame total fat. While you want the beneficial omega-3s in fish oil, the fat in fish is also loaded with calories. To keep from adding still more calories during preparation, cook salmon using low-fat methods such as baking, poaching, broiling, or steaming, and season with spices such as dill, parsley, cilantro, tarragon, or thyme.
Cook by color. Following the rule of thumb for cooking fish — to wait until flesh is opaque white or light gray — is a tougher call with pink-hued salmon. To ensure doneness, cook salmon until it’s opaque in its thickest part, with juices clear and watery, and flesh flaking easily with the gentle turn of a fork.
2. Bananas. Bananas are perhaps best known for packing potassium, but they’re also good sources of arthritis-fighting vitamin B6, folate, and vitamin C. What’s more, this easily digested, dense fruit is a prime source of soluble fiber, an important part of your diet if you’re trying to lose weight because it helps you feel full without adding calories.
Control ripeness. Bananas are sweetest and easiest to digest when brightly yellowed to full ripeness. To hasten or prolong the period of perfection, put green bananas in a brown paper bag, which encourages natural gases from the bananas to speed the ripening process. Rapidly ripening fruits should be put in the refrigerator, which turns the peel brown, but preserves the fruit inside.
Preserve pieces. Bananas are wonderful additions to salads or desserts, but tend to turn brown faster than other ingredients. Try tossing bananas with a mixture of lemon juice and water — the acid will help preserve them.
Turn into drinks. Bananas, particularly ripe ones, make great blender drinks. Combine a banana, a peach or some berries, a few ounces of milk, a few ounces of fruit juice, and an ice cube, and blend for a delicious, healthy drink that is jam-packed with arthritis-friendly nutrients.
3. Sweet peppers. A single green pepper contains 176 percent of your daily needs for vitamin C — and colorful red and yellow varieties have more than double that amount. That makes them richer in C than citrus fruits, but sweet peppers are also excellent sources of vitamin B6 and folate.
Lock in nutrients. Store peppers in the refrigerator: The tough, waxy outer shell of bell peppers naturally protects nutrients from degrading due to exposure to oxygen, but you’ll boost the holding power of chemicals in the skin by keeping them cold.
Separate seeds. Whether cutting into crudités, tossing into salads, or stuffing whole, you’ll want to remove tough and bitter-tasting seeds. They’re easily cut when slicing, but when retaining an entire bell for stuffing, cut a circle around the stem at the top of the pepper, lift out the attached membranes, and scoop remaining seeds and membranes with a thick-handled spoon.
Jam them in the juicer. You might not think of peppers as juicer giants, but they can add zest to drinks made from other fruits and vegetables, such as carrots.
Cook as a side dish. Tired of the same old vegetables at dinner? Slice a pepper or two and do a fast sauté in olive oil, adding a pinch of salt, pepper, and your favorite herb. The heat releases the sweetness, making sautéed peppers a wonderful counterpart to meats and starches.
4. Shrimp. Taste and convenience make shrimp the most popular shellfish around. But shrimp also deserves acclaim as one of the few major dietary sources of vitamin D, with three ounces providing 30 percent of the recommended daily amount — more than a cup of fortified milk. Shrimp also contains omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin C, along with other nutrients essential for general health, including iron and vitamin B12.
Select by senses. When buying fresh raw shrimp, look for flesh that’s moist, firm, and translucent, without spots or patches of blackness. Then put your nose to work: Shrimp should smell fresh and not give off an ammonia-like smell, which is a sign of deterioration. If you’re buying shrimp frozen, squeeze the package and listen: The crunch of ice crystals means the shrimp was probably partially thawed, then refrozen — a sign you should find another (less crunchy) package.
Eat or freeze. When you get shrimp home, rinse under cold water and store in the refrigerator for up to two days. If you plan to store beyond that, stick to frozen shrimp, which will keep in the freezer for up to six months.
Cook quickly. Overcooking makes shrimp tough, so it’s best to cook it fast, boiling in water until shells turn pink and flesh becomes opaque, stirring occasionally. Rinse under cold water and serve alone, as part of a seafood chowder, or chilled. Shrimp can also be broiled, grilled, or stir-fried.
5. Soy products. Once relegated to the shelves of health-food stores, soy products such as tofu and tempeh have reached the mainstream largely because they’ve been shown to have cardiovascular benefits. But soybeans also protect bones, thanks to compounds called isoflavones and significant amounts of both vitamin E and calcium. Long a staple of Asian diets, soy can also be found in soy milk — a boon for people who want to avoid lactose or cholesterol in regular milk.
Make the most of milk. Use soy milk (now sold in many supermarkets next to cow’s milk) for puddings, baked goods, cereal, shakes — just about anywhere you’d use regular milk. But don’t mix it with coffee or other acidic foods, which tend to make soy milk curdle.
Try them whole. Trust us: Whole soy beans, sprinkled with a little salt and pepper, are delicious. They look like large sweet peas but have an even gentler, milder flavor — nothing at all like the better known but more intimidating products like tofu. Check the freezer aisle for edamame (pronounced “ed-ah-MAH-may”) — they come both in their pods, or shelled. They cook up fast — about five minutes in boiling water and two minutes in the microwave — and can be eaten hot or cold as snacks or appetizers, or tossed into salads, stir-fries, casseroles, or soups.
Give tofu a few more chances. Many people don’t know what to make of tofu. It’s an odd color for a vegetable-derived food (white), an odd texture (smooth and moist), and comes in an odd form (usually, a block). Get past all that. Tofu is easy to work with, extraordinarily healthy, and takes on the flavors around it. Easy ideas: Drop half-inch cubes into most any soup; stir into tomato sauces, breaking it up into small pieces; or just cut into cubes, cover with chopped scallions and soy sauce, and eat at room temperature as is.
6. Sweet potatoes. These tropical root vegetables (which, technically, not related to white baking potatoes) are such a nutritional powerhouse, they once topped a list of vegetables ranked according to nutritional value by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Sweet potatoes are a rich source of vitamin C, folate, vitamin B6, and dietary fiber, among other nutrients.
Buy fresh. Though you’ll benefit from eating sweet potatoes in any form, fresh potatoes are better than canned products, which are packed in a heavy syrup that leaches the vegetable’s most valuable nutrients, including vitamins B and C.
Keep cool, not cold. Store sweet potatoes someplace dark, dry, and cool — preferably between 55 and 60 degrees — but not in the refrigerator: Cold temperatures damage cells, causing the potato to harden and lose some of its nutritional value.
Maximize nutrients. Eat cooked potatoes with their skin — an especially rich source of nutrients and fiber. Handle gently to avoid bruising, then bake or boil, and serve with a touch of fat from butter, oil, or another dish and some salt and pepper.
7. Cheese. Hard or soft, fresh or ripened, cheese in all its variety is an excellent source of calcium for bones, and protein for muscles and other joint-supporting tissues. Depending on type, cheeses (especially hard varieties such as cheddar and Colby) are also a good source of vitamin B6 and folate. The sheer abundance of cheeses makes it easy to get more in your diet — by, for example, slicing hard cheeses onto crackers or grating them into casseroles, or spreading soft cheeses such as cottage cheese or Brie onto fruits or vegetables.
Grease your grater. When you have arthritis, grating cheese is hard enough without the grater becoming clogged. To make the job easier, give the grater a light coating of oil, which keeps the cheese from sticking and makes it easier to rinse the grater clean.
Lengthen shelf life. Hard cheeses that are well wrapped and unsliced can last up to six weeks in the refrigerator. (Chilled soft cheeses are best used within a week.) To make cheese last even longer, throw it in the freezer, but expect thawed soft cheese to separate slightly and hard cheese to be crumbly — ideal for melting into casseroles and sauces but not as good for nibbling.
Let it warm. Cheese tastes best when served at room temperature, so if you’ve been storing it in the refrigerator, take cheese out and let stand at least one hour before serving to enjoy its full flavor.
Have a daily cheese platter. Healthy eaters know that every dinner table should have a plate of fresh raw vegetables in addition to all the prepared foods. Consider adding a large hunk of cheese to the platter each night, along with a knife. Sitting there in front of you, it’s hard to resist slicing a piece off a few times to round out the meal.
8. Lentils. These dried legumes, with their rainbow of earthy colors, are prime sources of folate, with a single cup providing about 90 percent of your daily needs. But lentils also provide one of the richest plant-based sources of protein, contain large amounts of soluble dietary fiber, and hold significant stores of vitamin B6. These and other nutrients make lentils protect the body against heart disease and cancer in addition to arthritis.
Try a few soups. Not many people know a lot of lentil recipes. The most common usage — soup — is probably the best place to start for those new to the food. You might be surprised at how easy and tasty lentil soups can be. Add cooked lentils to water or broth, chop in carrots, celery, onions, and a lean meat, add some simple herbs and seasonings, and you are well on your way to a great meal.
Buy in bags. Though sometimes sold in bulk from bins, it’s best to buy lentils in plastic bags, preferably with most beans shielded from light. Reason: Exposure to light and air degrades nutrients (especially vitamin B6) and open bins invite contamination by insects.
Pick the best beans. Even bagged products aren’t pristine: Sort through lentils before you use them by spreading them on a baking sheet and picking out those that are shriveled or off-color, along with any small stones that may have gotten mixed in. After that, there’s no need to soak, but you should swish beans in a water-filled bowl, discard any floaters, and rinse under cold water in a strainer before cooking.
Minimize gas. Thoroughly drain lentils before eating or adding to other dishes: Beans are famous for causing gas due to sugars they contain that the body can’t digest, but these sugars are soluble in water and leach out when lentils are cooked.
9. Green tea. This mild, slightly astringent tea contains hundreds of powerful antioxidant chemicals called polyphenols and has been cited for helping prevent problems ranging from cancer to heart disease. But studies also suggest green tea may help prevent or ease symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. In one study of induced arthritis in mice, green tea cut the disease onset rate almost in half, and follow-up studies by the same researchers, at Case Western Reserve University, in Ohio, show promise in humans.
Boil water briskly. Tea tastes best when water is at the boiling point, which allows tea to release its flavorful compounds quickly. Water that’s cooler than that tends to release flavors more slowly, weakening the tea.
Keep steeping short. Let tea steep in hot water for about three minutes — and no longer than five. This brief steeping time allows tea to acquire a full-bodied flavor and release its nutrients, but withholds compounds that make tea taste bitter.
Get a bag bonus. Tea purists favor the fresher flavor of loose tea, but some experts suggest that tea bags release more beneficial nutrients because smaller, ground-up particles expose more of the tea leaves’ surface area to hot water.