The word “diet” rarely makes people excited and giddy. Too often, it’s associated with restrictions. “You can eat this, but you can’t eat that. You can only eat so much of this, but you can eat lots of this thing that doesn’t really taste good, but it’s good for you.”
Luckily, the Mediterranean diet isn’t really a diet according to the traditional definition. Rather than having a structured regimen as you see with Whole30 and Keto, the Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional cuisine enjoyed by people living around the Mediterranean Sea during the 20th century.
This type of eating has been shown to decrease the risk of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Considerable research has been conducted regarding the cardiovascular benefits of the Mediterranean diet, and it can also have the following positive effects on your joint health:
- Lower inflammation
- Lose weight
- Lessen the strain on your joints
The great thing about the Mediterranean diet is you can still enjoy the foods you love: Fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, cheese, eggs, chicken, and yes — red wine — are all part of the Mediterranean lifestyle. The key, however, lies in the proportions of what you consume.
What All Can You Eat on the Mediterranean Diet?
At its core, the Mediterranean diet is plant-based, meaning the majority of meals aren’t centered around animal protein, with the exception of seafood. Instead, it’s grounded in fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts. Yes, you can also enjoy a hearty steak or roasted chicken — but think of them as an occasional treat rather than a regular staple.
There are four main “food groups” or categories of ingredients.
1. Lots of fruits and vegetables
This is the most important food group. These foods are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, polyphenols and omega-3 fatty acids, all of which have been shown to reduce inflammation in our bodies.
With the Mediterranean diet, every meal you eat should be based around several vegetables. This category includes:
- Dark leafy greens like spinach, kale and collard greens
- Nightshade vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes and peppers
- Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and brussels sprouts
- Beans like cannellini, pinto and black beans
- Berries like strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries
- Nuts like walnuts, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts and pistachios
- Extra virgin olive oil
2. A good amount of fish and seafood
Besides beans, this is where you’ll get most of your protein — but you should be eating fish less often than vegetables. Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel are high in omega-3 fatty acids, just like olive oil. Good options readily available at your grocery store include:
3. Some dairy and poultry
These should be eaten even less than the fish, so treat this category as more like an occasional feast where you can indulge yourself. Once in a while, you can enjoy a sizzling roast chicken, a slice (or two) of aged cheddar cheese or silky scrambled eggs.
Consider adding these on your list sparingly:
- Poultry such as chicken
4. Very little red meat and desserts
This is the category where you should eat the least often. The great thing about the Mediterranean diet is that it doesn’t prohibit a good steak or hamburger, but you should only eat them every once in a while. When it comes to desserts, switch them out for fruits, which have no added sugars, as those can cause inflammation.
What About Red Wine?
Yes, this diet does include the option to drink red wine with meals every day. There have been some studies linking moderate red wine consumption and a reduced risk for heart disease.
Currently, though, there is no peer-reviewed scientific research proving the link to any health benefits from drinking red wine. If you choose to drink, the American Heart Association recommends the following moderate alcohol consumption protocols:
- 1-2 drinks per day for men
- 1 drink per day for women
Exercise is Required
You knew this was coming. Nothing sounds more exciting than “exercise” AND “diet,” right? We understand that exercising is difficult in and of itself. When you add a new way of eating to the equation, it gets even harder. But regular exercise is part of the Mediterranean lifestyle and, thus, part of this diet.
Low-impact activities are key, as they both fulfill the exercise requirement and actually benefit your arthritis! Things like walking, stretching, bicycling, and swimming can:
- Increase your range of motion
- Strengthen your muscles
- Increase your endurance
- Improve your balance
Such activities get your joints moving, which actually reduces joint pain. It’s the harsher exercises like running, weight lifting, and organized sports that are wrong for your arthritis pain, as they involve sudden starts and stops.
The Mediterranean diet has long been touted as a heart-healthy diet, but in reality, it’s also an arthritis-healthy diet thanks to its anti-inflammatory benefits. As always, you should talk to your doctor about any changes in your diet to ensure it aligns with your unique health conditions.
If you’re interested in learning more about how diet and exercise affect arthritis, we recommend the below articles: