How would you feel if I recommended the following diet restrictions? No mashed, roasted, or fried potatoes. No tomato sauce or salsa. No peppers. No baba ghanoush with your pita. Removing these foods from the diet may be difficult, but for some arthritis sufferers it could mean a reduction in their physical pain.

The nightshade family (Solanaceae) contains bitter-tasting toxins that may interfere with the normal repair of cartilage in body joints and contribute to joint degeneration by promoting the inflammatory process. This group includes potatoes, eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, and tobacco. Avoiding tobacco is a smart choice, but giving up the others can leave a gaping hole in many diets.

Calculate the Losses

Peppers are high in vitamin C; potatoes and tomatoes contain B and C vitamins as well as potassium. These vegetables also contain valuable antioxidants such as bioflavonoids and, in the case of tomatoes, lycopene, which has anticancer properties.

So how can we replace these foods and still bring needed nutrients, flavour, and variety to our diets? For starters, we can incorporate sour cherries into our diet, an excellent source of anti-inflammatory flavonoids.

The cruciferous group of vegetables including cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, as well as onions and garlic, are high in sulphur-containing compounds needed for joint repair.

Cabbage is a great source of vitamin C. Try braising 2 cups (500 mL) of thinly sliced red cabbage over medium-low heat, with 1/4 cup (60 mL) of apple cider vinegar and 1/2 cup (125 mL) maple syrup, until tender. If you find the flavour of red or whitehead cabbage too strong, try the milder napa or Savoy varieties.

Hate Brussels sprouts? Try cutting off the base, peeling the leaves into a salad, and tossing with a citrus vinaigrette–or steam the leaves lightly for two minutes, then season with sea salt and pepper and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Saying Goodbye to Potatoes and Starches

To replace starch in your diet, try root vegetables like parsnips (they make great French fries), rutabagas, or turnips. If you find their flavour too pungent, try mashing them with carrots or sweet potatoes.

A mainstay in French cuisine is celeriac, also known as celery root. It is often combined with mashed potatoes, but its distinctive peppery flavour stands out on its own. Tropical root vegetables also offer alternatives. Taro (also known as dasheen) is a starchy root that can be roasted, baked, boiled, or steamed like a potato. Sweet potatoes and yams are just as versatile and offer beta carotene and some B vitamins.

Carrots and celery contain silicon, a mineral that helps to strengthen connective tissue. Celery also helps clear acidic blood that often accompanies the inflammation of tissues caused by arthritis. Carrots help with calcium metabolism, which is important for healthy joints and bones, and they are very high in beta carotene, a powerful antioxidant.

More Pesto, Please

The classic recipe calls for sweet basil and pine nuts, but it is also delicious with arugula and almonds. Arugula has a distinctive nutty, peppery flavour and is rich in vitamin C and potassium. Almonds are a good source of protein, calcium, iron, phosphorus, and B vitamins. Use pesto sauce on your homemade pizzas, toss roasted vegetables with it, or add it to vegetable soup.

By giving up things we love, we make room for new, interesting variety in our lives. If you find it hard relinquishing the popular nightshades, take heart in knowing that nature has provided a wealth of flavours to take their place and benefit your arthritic condition.

Arugula and Almond Pesto Sauce

About the Author

Timothy Hennessy, RHN, RNCP, is a Kingston-based nutritionist, certified chef, and organic gardener. He believes in the healing power of whole foods.