Eating a diet that includes healthy dietary fats can help reduce inflammation and may relieve the symptoms of psoriatic arthritis, according to Debbie Petitpain, a registered dietitian and nutritionist. Petitpain shared her expertise during a webinar hosted by the Arthritis Foundation on Nov. 10.
Petitpain is chief operating officer of Synergy Health Tech and the former wellness director in the Office of Health Promotion at the Medical University of South Carolina.
Petitpain explained that certain dietary fats affect inflammation differently in the body. Omega-3 fatty acids decrease inflammation, whereas omega-6 fatty acids can promote inflammation, Petitpain said. “Omega-3 fatty acids are found in marine algae and fish, and some plants, like chia seeds,” Petitpain said. Corn and peanut oils, as well as red meat, contain omega-6 fatty acids.
The body needs both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for brain function and growth and development. However, the typical American diet includes more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids.
“If you consume [omega-3 fatty acids], they reduce inflammation in the body, but consuming omega-3 isn’t enough,” Petitpain said. “You need to reduce the amount of omega-6. Making oil swaps will go a long way toward that.”
A Mediterranean diet, which includes fish, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes, offers a better balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The Mediterranean diet is a type of anti-inflammatory diet, designed to reduce inflammation in the body. Other types of beneficial diets include a high-fiber diet and a vegan diet.
Petitpain recommended five teaspoons per day of healthy oils, such as olive or canola, and two servings of fish every week as part of an anti-inflammatory diet. All of these foods contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
For people who cannot or do not want to eat fish, Petitpain suggested eating seaweed, which is sold as a snack in many grocery stores. In addition, for people concerned about mercury levels in some fish, Petitpain referred to recent advice from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about choosing healthy fish.
During digestion, some fatty acid chains pair with a protein carrier so they can be transported through the body by blood. Too much of one of these carriers, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) — sometimes called “bad cholesterol” — can lead to a plaque buildup in the blood vessels and inflammation. Another protein carrier, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) — or “good cholesterol” — absorbs cholesterol. By boosting HDL levels and reducing LDL levels, it is possible to minimize inflammation, which may help manage psoriatic arthritis symptoms.
Petitpain offered tips to avoid cholesterol buildup and reduce inflammation:
Contrary to health advice that was common in the 1980s, it is not recommended that people avoid fat altogether, Petitpain said. Fat provides more energy than either carbohydrates or protein — nine calories per gram as opposed to four per gram of carbs and protein — which makes it a more efficient source of fuel for our bodies.
In addition, fat protects vital organs, helps our bodies absorb the four fat-soluble nutrients — vitamins A, D, E, and K —and produces hormones that regulate metabolism, Petitpain said.
“Fat is vital in the diet as well as having in and on your body,” she said.