Ultimate guide

Natural Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain Management

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and swelling, pain, stiffness, and reduced functionality in previously healthy joint tissue. Your RA may not always affect your daily life, but flares happen and can slow you down. In addition to your health care provider’s treatment plan for you, knowing how to manage your RA symptoms can help ease the discomfort of this disease.

At WellTheory, our team of expert practitioners share your diagnosis and specialize in comprehensive rheumatoid arthritis care, providing you with the tools and guidance you need for a more comfortable and active lifestyle. Discover more about our membership and how it can help you take back your health.

What Triggers Inflammation in Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis, much like other autoimmune diseases, begins in the body long before signs and symptoms of inflammation become noticeable. Though it is not crystal clear where the inflammation begins, studies have shown that the health of mucosal linings in the mouth, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract plays a role. Genes and environmental triggers for disease eventually impact hormones, infections, and aging, all of which are affected by the health of your gut microbiome. (Source, Source)

Gut Microbiome and RA

Gut bacteria are responsible for hosting a large percentage of your immune system, which determines your body’sresponse to invading pathogens. An ideal gut environment should be ever-changin with diverse bacteria, fungi, viruses, and microbes to harmoniously harbor good health and protect you from infectious pathogens. However, factors such as poor diet, stress, and antibiotic overuse may increase the permeability of the gut lining, which may be detrimental to whole body health and even increase the risk of developing an autoimmune disease. Thriving gut health is a huge piece of the puzzle to living well with this disease. Strategic dietary and lifestyle changes made at any time can impact your health enormously. (Source)

Research has shown that the presence of specific bacterial strains in the gut may be an indicating factor in developing RA. In one study, mice that were colonized with Subdoligranulum didolesgii showed immune responses and joint swelling similar to patients who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. A follow-up study found S. didolesgii in the gut microbiome of 20% of people already diagnosed with or at risk of developing RA. The results of this study showed that S. didolesgii, as well as strains from the Lachnospiraceae and Ruminococcaceae families, may activate immune responses that trigger the development of RA antibodies in humans, increasing the risk of developing this rheumatic condition. A healthy gut microbiota, which is so important in lowering the risk of chronic disease, can be nurtured through diet and lifestyle. (Source, Source)

Why Is RA So Painful?

You may be wondering why RA is so incredibly painful, and how it is possible to manage the pain long term. Symptom management all boils down to controlling and reducing your body’s response to the excess inflammation that causes painful and swollen joints and joint damage, and reduces quality of life.

Rheumatoid arthritis may affect your overall daily life functionality due to the effect it has on the joints of the hands, wrists, feet, elbows, shoulders, neck, knees, and hips. Over time receptors in the central nervous system may increasingly react to the overstimulation of pain in the joints, causing increased sensitivity and intolerance. Research has shown that even with anti rheumatic medication, patients may still face fair amounts of discomfort. Many people with RA find that working on an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle habits can help manage their condition. (Source)

Managing Pain from RA

If you have rheumatoid arthritis, you may be able to reduce systemic inflammation and manage symptoms by altering what you are eating. Anti-inflammatory foods may boost your immune system and nourish a healthy digestive tract full of thriving bacteria, a good start in controlling arthritic pain and swelling and protecting joint function. In addition to treatment with disease modifying anti rheumatic drugs, you may be able to manage RA pain by establishing a diet plan with proper supplementation and by reducing your stress, ditching poor health habits that slow progress, and being aware of your physical boundaries.

Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Diet, in conjunction with complementary management options, is one of the most affordable and convenient means you have to manage chronic disease. Genetic predisposition and development of autoantibodies are thought to be 50% responsible for onset of RA, while environmental factors, such as diet, are responsible for the other half. The health of your gut microbiome comes back to what you’re eating and how you’re living, so read on to find out which foods have been studied to show improvement of symptoms, and which foods to avoid. (Source)

01 Berries

A study reported in Arthritis Care Research found that participants who reported their RA symptoms were affected by the foods they ate found blueberries to be particularly beneficial.Including fresh or frozen organic berries in a smoothie or on top of a salad each day is an easy and tasty way to get your servings in! (Source)

02 Fish

Consuming fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna a few times a week may help reduce overall inflammation and pain. If you can’t stomach fish, consider a fish oil supplement.Although supplements will not provide the same benefits and nutrients as eating fish itself, they have the potential to help reduce inflammation levels because they are high in omega-3 fatty acids. (Source, Source)

03 Green Vegetables

Color is key when it comes to choosing vegetables, but it doesn’t get any better than the dark green and leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, Swiss chard, bok choy, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. The cruciferous vegetables of the bunch — broccoli, brussels sprouts, and bok choy — contain a natural compound called sulforaphane, which has been shown to block inflammation and may help prevent RA from developing in the first place. Dark and leafy green vegetables are also valuable sources of vitamins E and C, which may reduce inflammation and build up collagen for strong cartilage and joint flexibility. Include any of these vegetables in a daily salad, smoothie, or green juice. (Source, Source, Source)

04 Foods to Avoid

Avoiding any of the following foods that may cause inflammation is recommended:

Processed, refined, and packaged foods: These include but are not limited to bread, cereal, pasta, doughnuts, cookies, breakfast bars, candy, fast foods, and frozen or microwaveable meals. These foods may contain gluten (in wheat, barley, and rye) that are thought by some to damage the gut lining and microbiota even if you are not gluten sensitive. Additives often found in these convenience foods are also thought to break down the gut barrier.

Dairy: Most dairy products contain casein, a protein that has been found to promote inflammation.

Fatty foods: Trans fats found in processed, fried, and fast foods damage your health, but consuming healthy fats found in avocados, olive oil, nuts, and fish promotes good health.

Refined sugars: These are found in sugary drinks and sodas as well as packaged and processed snacks and meals, candy, and other sweet treats.

Any foods that you know you are sensitive or allergic to should be avoided even if they are whole foods. Nightshades are a group of foods that includes tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, and peppers that are eliminated in the first phase of the autoimmune protocol(AIP) diet. Some notice avoiding these foods makes a noticeable difference in symptoms, whereas others do not notice any changes. Keep track of your symptoms when consuming these foods and avoid them if needed.

Many participants of a large RA study reported increased rheumatic symptoms after consuming some of the foods categorized above. Most foods that are packaged and processed are stripped of nutrients and are high in sugar and fat, producing an environment ripe for breeding inflammation and chronic disease. (Source, Source, Source, Source)

Supplements to Fight Inflammation

Supplements can be great additions to a healthy diet and lifestyle plan, but must be taken correctly so as not to cause further issues or interact with medications you are taking. Talk to your healthcare provider about which supplements might be best for you. The following are supplements that have been studied specifically in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

01 Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna, and can also be taken in supplement form for extra nutrition (or if you don’t enjoy seafood). Diets high in omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to improve pain levels in those with RA, and may even reduce the risk of developing the condition. A study done in 2017 found participants to have improved pain tolerance with use of omega-3s with little to no side effects. There are many brands and combinations of fish oil, so consult with your provider before choosing a supplement. These supplements may not be right for you if you are allergic to fish or shellfish. (Source, Source, Source)

02 Probiotics

Probiotics can help keep your gut bacteria balanced, providing a more stable internal environment to keep your immune system and overall health thriving. There have been studies done specifically on RA sufferers and the use of probiotics but the results were varied, possibly because differing bacterial strains were used. There are many strains of probiotics that can be helpful to manage specific conditions and improve gut health, so it is best to talk to your provider about which strains might help keep your RA manageable. Most probiotics don’t cause side effects, but you could experience some mild digestive upset. (Source)

03 Additional Supplementation

Additional dietary supplement studies have been done on:

  • Thunder god vine (Tripterygium wilfordii)
  • Cat's claw
  • Deer or elk antler velvet
  • Feverfew
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Green-lipped mussel
  • Rosehip
  • Willow bark extract

Due to little research and possible side effects, there’s no conclusive evidence that these help manage RA, although future studies may be more promising! (Source)

Managing Stress

Managing your stress on a consistent basis is key to reducing your risk of developing chronic diseases, but what if you have already been diagnosed? Stress management is just as important to living well with your diagnosis as it is to prevention! Working from the inside out to control inflammation through diet and lifestyle is a good start. When cleaning up your habits try to ditch alcohol and smoking, too. Alcohol, one of the most widely abused and addictive substances, wreaks havoc on the immune system, gut lining, and microbiota, while smoking increases the risk of developing RA and its severity of it as well. (Source, Source)

Oftentimes we turn to poor habits as a crutch to get through the moment, but the truth is that these habits can reduce your quality and quantity of life, making you feel worse in the long term. Instead, check out our list of healthy hobbies that can help occupy your time and mind!

Engage in Healthy Hobbies

  • Sign up for a class on a topic you’re interested in
  • Practice daily breathing exercises and mindfulness
  • Take social media breaks
  • Get outdoors each day

These are all great ways to reduce stress and chronic inflammation overall. Making time and providing opportunities to unwind may help you manage pain and other accompanying symptoms of RA. (Source)


Exercise, or daily movement, is an approach to health everyone should be taking, but if you have a rheumatic disease physical activity can make a huge difference in how your body functions. Whether you work with a physical therapist, or a personal trainer, or have the know-how to teach yourself, the right movement is beneficial for joint health. The benefits of proper stretching, strength training, and cardiovascular exercise include reducing inflammation, pain, and fatigue, while increasing resilience, energy, and functionality. (Source, Source)

Slow, deliberate movements that do not tax or overburden the body, such as tai chi and yoga, may be a smart move for those with RA.

  • Tai chi is a traditional form of  Chinese martial art that combines slow movement and mental focus to restore balance, increase range of motion, and provide enjoyment.
  • The practice of yoga has been used to improve mental and physical health while reducing pain, increasing flexibility, and restoring functionality.

Classes can be found online for both of these gentle physical activities, and in-person classes may be offered near you as well. (Source, Source)

Alternative Practices

Alternative methods of pain management may provide relief from flares and pain, as well as helping manage stress. These methods include the Ayurvedic practices of massage and acupuncture.

  • Massage has been shown to increase grip strength in those with loss of function in their hands, wrists, arms, and shoulders, and is a great stress buster.
  • Acupuncture can be helpful in managing pain and inflammation, while boosting immune function.

Find an experienced alternative medicine practitioner to work with as you explore how to best manage your RA. (Source, Source)

The Bottom Line on Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain Management

There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but it is possible to manage symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease. Here’s how you can allow your body the time and space it needs to heal:

  • Utilize a food-first approach along with lifestyle hacks such as following an anti-inflammatory diet
  • Add in supplements as necessary
  • Manage stress
  • Engage in appropriate movement each day
  • Plan daily tasks around what your body can handle can improve your quality of life with rheumatoid arthritis

There will always be flares that come and go with autoimmune diseases, but following a whole foods diet and holistic lifestyle paired with your health care provider’s care plan, will better help you manage your chronic pain and enjoy daily activities on a regular basis. To be confident your plan is suited to fit your unique needs, connect with WellTheory’s Care Team and get a nutrition and lifestyle plan personalized to you.

Tips & Tricks

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The Ultimate Guide To Phytonutrients

Lycopene is the phytochemical that gives fruits and vegetables their red color. Lycopene is a potent antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties that protect the body from oxidative stress. Lycopene has also been found to decrease “bad” low density lipoprotein (LDL) and increase “good” high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

Lycopene may also protect the skin against ultraviolet (UV) damage from the sun. One small study found that participants who added 16milligrams of lycopene to their diet every day had less severe skin reactions to UV light over 10 weeks than a control group without the added lycopene. (Of course, consumption of lycopene-rich foods doesn’t replace sunscreen!)

AIP-Compliant Red Foods and Their Phytonutrient Compounds
Blood Orange
flavonoids, hesperidin, isohesperidin, limonene, limonin, lycopene, naringin, terpenio
anthocyanin, flavonoids, hydro-xycinnamates
anthocyanin, catechins, ellagic acid, hippuric acid, kaempferol, lycopene, triterpenoids, quercetin, quinic acid
beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, polyphenois
anthocyanin, cyanidin, ellagic acid, lycopene
Red Grape
anthocyanin, cyanidin, ellagic acid, flavonols, kaempferol, lycopene, myricetin, peonidin, quercetin, resveratrol
Pink Guava
alkaloids, ellagic acid, lycopene
Red/Pink Grapefruit
beta cryptoxanthin, lycopene, naringin, narirutin, ponciri
Red Onion
copaene, flavonols, lycopene, polysulfides, quercetin, vinyldithiins
Red Beet
betacyanin, flavonoids, lycopene, phenolic acids
Other Red Foods and Their Phytonutrient Compounds
beta-carotene, kaempferol, lycopene, rutin
Red Bell Pepper
anthocyanin, capsaicinoid, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, lycopene, zeaxanthin
beta-carotene, canthaxanthin, lycopene, tocopherols
Red Potato
alpha linoleic acid, anthocyanin, flavonoids, polyphenols, tocopherols
beta-carotene, lycopene, zeaxanthin

Ways to incorporate more red foods into your diet

  • Add red-colored fruits and vegetables to salads.
  • Opt for red pasta sauces made from tomatoes instead of carbonara or Alfredo sauce. Red sauces can also be used as toppings for other dishes!
  • Have salsa as a dip alongside tortilla chips or eggs, or on top of potatoes.
  • Make a juice using lycopene-rich foods.
  • Add some goji berries to your chrysanthemum, chamomile, or any other tea.

Phytonutrients in Orange Foods

Carotenoids are responsible for yellow, orange, and red color in many fruits and vegetables. Research suggests that one carotenoid in particular, beta-carotene, may protect against decline in lung function. A study done in 2017 also suggested that eating fruits and vegetables rich in carotenoids such as beta-carotene, alpha-carotene ,and beta-cryptoxanth in had protective effects against lung cancer.
Like lycopene, dietary intake of beta-carotene has protective effects against diseases that are mediated by oxidative stress, such as diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune diseases. High levels of alpha carotene are associated with longevity — one large U.S. study found that high levels of alpha-carotene in the blood were linked with a reduced risk of death over a 14 year period. Aside from its antioxidant effects, the carotenoid beta-cryptoxanthin may prevent bone loss and may have anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties.

AIP-Compliant Orange Foods and Their Phytonutrient Compounds
beta-carotene, lycopene, rutin, tartaric acid
Butternut Squash
alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, phenolic acids, zeaxanthin
beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, gallic acid, kaempferol, lutein, zeaxanthin
alpha-carotene, beta-carotenes, beta-cryptoxanthin, caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, lycopene
Mandarin Oranges
alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, flavonoids, lutein, zeaxanthin
beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, beta-glucogallin, ellagicacid, quercetin
beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, flavonoids, hesperidin, isohesperidin, naringin, terpineol, limonene, limonin
beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, zeaxanthin
alpha-carotene, anthocyanidins, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, phenolic acids, rutin
beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, catechin, kaempferol, proanthocyanidins, quercetin, triterpenoid
alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, phenolic acids, phytic acid, zeaxanthin
Sea Buckthorn
beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, lycopene, quercetin, zeaxanthin
Sweet potato
alkaloids, anthocyanin, betacarotene, flavonoids, oxalic acid, phenolic acids
alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, tangeritin, zeaxanthin
curcumin, curcumenol, demethoxycurcumin, eugenol, turmerin, turmerones, zingiberene
Winter Squash
alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, zeaxanthin
alkaloids, beta-carotene, flavonoids, phenol
Other Orange Foods and Their Phytonutrient Compounds
Orange Lentils
beta-carotene, flavonoids, phytic acid, tocopherols, flavonols
Orange Bell Pepper
beta-carotene, lycopene, capsaicinoid, lycopene, phenols

Ways to incorporate more orange foods into your diet

  • Have a baked sweet potato instead of white potato
  • Add turmeric powder to stir-fries, or make a warm cup of ginger and turmeric tea.
  • Have orange-colored foods as a snack throughout the day, such as tangerines, papaya, or peaches
  • Make a pumpkin, butternut squash, or carrot soup.
  • Make a smoothie out of orange-colored foods

Phytonutrients in Yellow Foods

Lutein and zeaxanthin are also part of the carotenoid family, along with beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin. Lutein and zeaxanthin are the only dietary carotenoids that reach the retina, the thin layer of tissue that lines the inside on the back of the eye. They are known to support eye health and have preventative effects against age-related macular degeneration, an eye disease that can lead to the loss of vision as we age. However, lutein and zeaxanthin also have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities. Zeaxanthin can also help to recycle glutathione, another important antioxidant in the body. (9, 15)

AIP-Compliant Yellow Foods and Their Phytonutrient Compounds
Yellow Apple
catechin, chlorogenicacid, flavonols, quercetin, rutin
beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, tartaric acid
beta-carotene, lutein, oxalic acid, zeaxanthin
Golden Beet
beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, flavonoids, lutein, phenolic acids, zeaxanthin, flavonoids
Yellow Cauliflower
beta-carotene, polyphenols, protocatechuic acid, quercetin
Yellow Dragon Fruit
betacyanin, betacarotene, flavonoids, lutein, phenolic acid, zeaxanthin, phenolic acid
alpha-carotene, anthocyanin, betacarotene, flavonoids, lutein, polyphenols, zeaxanthin
alkaloids, betacarotene, biolaxantin, gallicacid, neoxanthin, quercetin, terpenoids, zeaxanthin
gingerol, monoterpenes, oxalicacid, quercetin
Golden Kiwi
beta-carotene, betacryptoxanthin, caffeicacid, chlorogenicacid, lutein, phenolics, quinic acid, zeaxanthin
alkaloids, alphacarotene, betacarotene, flavonoids, lignans, lutein, phenolics, terpenoids, zeaxanthin
alkaloids, betacryptoxanthin, flavonoids, phenols, quinines, rutin, terpenoids
anthocyanin, betacarotene, phenols
Yellow Pear
beta-carotenecaffeic acid, pectin, quercetin, tocopherols
anthocyanin, betacryptoxanthin, lutein
Rutabaga/Swedish Turnip
beta-carotene, indole 3-carbinol, lutein, luteolin
Summer Squash
beta-carotene, betacryptoxanthin, lutein, zeaxanthin
Star Fruit
alkaloids, flavonoids, phenolics, phytofluene
alkaloids, betacarotene, betacryptoxanthin, chlorogenic acid
beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin
Yellow Watermelon
beta-carotene, betacryptoxanthin, lutein, zeaxanthin
Yellow Zucchini
alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin
Other Yellow Foods and Their Phytonutrient Compounds
Yellow Bell Pepper
beta-carotene, capsaicinoid, lutein, phenols, zeaxanthin
anthocyanin, betacarotene, flavonoids, phenolic acids
beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, ferulic acid, caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid
Yellow Potatoes
beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, flavonoids, phenols, anthocyanin

Ways to incorporate more yellow foods into your diet

  • Add diced yellow bell peppers and corn to your stir-fry.
  • Make honey and lemon tea.
  • Make stove-top popcorn with healthy fats such as olive oil and coconut oil.
  • Roast, bake, or mash yellow (Yukon) potatoes instead of white potatoes.
  • Use bananas to make banana pancakes and bread.
  • Slide some banana into your oatmeal.
  • Blend frozen pineapple, almond milk, and honey or maple syrup to make pineapple sorbet.

Phytonutrients in Green Foods

Dark green, leafy cruciferous vegetables are a good source of sulfur (isocyanate, sulforaphane, glucosinolate). Our body needs sulfur in order to synthesize certain essential proteins. These sulfur compounds break down into isothiocyanates and indoles in the gut, which are known to have antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory effects. (36, 52, 33)

Research suggests that sulforaphane may support heart health by reducing inflammation and lowering blood pressure. It may also have antidiabetic effects. One study found that sulforaphane reduced fasting blood sugar in patients with type 2 diabetes. (55, 41, 47)

Glucoraphanin, a glucosinolate that’s found in some cruciferous vegetables, has been found to protect the blood–brain barrier in mice with induced experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (used to study MS, which can’t be induced in the same way), suggesting it may reduce the risk of developing MS. (16, 40)

AIP-Compliant Green Foods and Their Phytonutrient Compounds
cynarin, gallic acid, quercetin, rutin, silymarin
glucosinolates,indole-3-carbinol, lutein, sulforaphane, thiocyanates, zeaxanthin
lycopene, rutin, glutathione, quercetin, caffeicacid, kaempferol, ferulic acid
Bitter Gourd
anthraquinones, beta-carotene, glucosinolates, isoflavones, lutein, phenolic acids, sterol,
Bok Choy
beta-carotene, flavonoids, glucosinolates, kaempferol, lutein
alpha-carotene, betacarotene, glucosinolates, kaempferol, lutein, sulforaphane
Brussel Sprouts
indole-3-carbinol, isoflavonoids, isothiocyanate, kaempferol, lutein, zeaxanthin
beta-carotene, chlorogenic acid,indole-3-carbinol,lutein, sulforaphane, tocophero
beta-carotene, lutein,indole-3-carbinol, isothiocyanates, sulforaphane, zeaxanthin
beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin
Gai Lan/Chinese Broccoli/kale
beta-carotene, carbinol, chlorophyll, indole-3-carbinol, lutein, sulforaphane, zeaxanthin
Honeydew Melon
beta-carotene, caffeicacid, ellagic acid,ferulic acid, gallicacid, kaempferol, lutein, terpenes
glucosinolates, lutein, polysulfides, zeaxanthin
beta-carotene, glucosinolates, indole-3-carbinol, kaempferol, lutein, zeaxanthin
anthocyanin, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, flavonoids, lutein
anthocyanin, beta-carotene, glucosinolates, isothiocyanate
allicin, alliin, betacarotene, gallic acid, isothiocyanate, kaempferol, lutein
beta-carotene, chlorophyll, lutein, zeaxanthin
Mustard Greens
glucosinolate, betacarotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, phenolicacids, anthocyanin
beta-carotene, chlorophyll, flavonoids, lutein, phytosterols, zeaxanthin
apigenin, beta-carotene, caffeic acid, citral, dillapiole, elemicin, limonene, luteolin, myristicin
beta-carotenes, lutein, quercetin, zeaxanthin
Swiss Chard
catechin, epicatechin, kaempferol, lutein, myricetin, quercetin, zeaxanthin
beta-carotene, glucosinolates, lutein, zeaxanthin
Other Green Foods and Their Phytonutrient Compounds
apigenin, caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, chlorophyll, flavonoids, kaempferol
anthocyanin, betacarotene, chloroform, lutein, phytosterols, violaxanthin

Ways to incorporate more green foods into your diet

  • Add chopped spinach and asparagus to an omelet or frittata.
  • Make a green smoothie using a variety of green vegetables and fruits.
  • Make kale chips using green kale.
  • Use basil or any dark green vegetable of your choice to make a pesto sauce.
  • Dip cucumbers in hummus, or celery in peanut butter.
  • Make wraps using lettuce leaves, cabbage leaves, perilla leaves, or Swiss chard.
  • Saute your choice of green vegetables with garlic, lemon, and olive oil.

Phytonutrients in Blue/Purple/Black Foods

Anthocyanins are phytochemicals that give red, blue, and purple plants their vibrant coloring. Anthocyanins have antioxidant properties that may boost heart health and reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular-related and other chronic diseases. (26)

Anthocyanin-rich foods have been linked to reductions in inflammation and reduced blood sugar concentrations, suggesting they may also have antidiabetic effects. Anthocyanins have also been found to protect eye health. One study found that daily supplementation with pharmaceutical anthocyanins improved the visual function of individuals with normal tension glaucoma (where the optic nerve is damaged despite pressure in the eye being normal). (30, 43)

Other phytochemicals called stilbenoids are typically found in grapes and blueberries. Like anthocyanins, stilbenoids have been shown to have a variety of benefits such as protective effects on the heart and brain, as well as antidiabetic, anticancer, and anti-inflammatory properties. (4)

AIP-Compliant Blue/Purple/Black Foods and Their Phytonutrient Compounds
Purple Asparagus
anthocyanin, beta-carotene, ecdysterone, lutein ,zeaxanthin
Purple Basil
anthocyanin, betacarotene, kaempferol, myrcene, phenolicacids, quercetin, rutin, terpinolene
anthocyanin, caffeicacid, chlorogenic acid, kaempferol, myricetin, quercetin, terpenoids
anthocyanin, beta-carotene, lutein, salicylic acid, zeaxanthin
anthocyanin,catechins, ferulic acid, gallic acid, myricetin, phenolic acids, quercetin, stilbenoids
Purple Cabbage
anthocyanin, betacarotene, flavonoids, glucosinolates, indole-3-carbinol, lutein, sulforaphane, zeaxanthin
Purple Cauliflower
anthocyanin,beta-carotene, glucosinolates, iindole-3-carbinol, lutein, sulforaphane, zeaxanthin
Purple Carrots
alpha-carotene, anthocyanin, betacarotene, caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, lutein, zeaxanthin
Black Currants
anthocyanin, caffeicacid, kaempferol, phenolic acids, lignans, myricetin, quercetin
anthocyanin, flavonoids, polyphenols
anthocyanin, betacarotene, chlorogenicacid, lutein, rutin, zeaxanthin
Purple Grapes
anthocyanin, betacarotene, caffeic acid, catechins, coumaricacid, ellagic acid, ferulicacid, kaempferol, lutein, myricetin, quercetin, stilbenoids, zeaxanthin
Purple kale
anthocyanins, betacarotene, flavonoids, glucosinolates, indole-3-carbinol, lutein, sulforaphane, zeaxanthin
anthocyanin, chlorogenic acid, lutein, phytosterols, sorbitol, terpenoids, zeaxanthin
anthocyanin, ellagicacid, lutein, lycopene, quercetin, zeaxanthin
Other Blue/Purple/Black Foods and Their Phytonutrient Compounds
Chia Seeds
caffeic acid, quercetin, myricetin, phenolic acids, chlorogenic acid
phenolic acids, tocopherols, flavonoids, anthocyanin, phytosterols, phytic acid
anthocyanin, aubergenone, flavonoids, glycoalkaloids, phenolic compounds

Ways to incorporate more blue/purple/black foods into your diet

  • Substitute purple cabbage, carrots, and onions for green cabbage, orange carrots, and white onions.
  • Add blueberries, blackberries, black currants, figs, and plums to yogurt or oatmeal.
  • Have a baked purple sweet potato instead of a white potato, or use them to make sweet potato patties.
  • Make sauerkraut using purple cabbage.
  • Use purple vegetables in salads.
  • Make a cannelloni using eggplant.

Phytonutrientsin White/Tan/Brown Foods

Allicin, a phytochemical produced when garlic is chopped or crushed, has been associated with a lower risk of coronary events in older adults. Research suggests allicin may help reduce LDL and total cholesterol levels when consumed for more than 2 months. (8, 39)

Garlic is well known for its antimicrobial effects and has historically been used to combat infectious diseases. It is also known to be effective against a variety of bacteria, such as Salmonella, Escherichia coli, and Staphylococcus aureus. (8)

Another phytonutrient that is found in many white, tan, and brown foods is quercetin. Quercetin has anti-inflammatory properties and may be effective against obesity, cancer, viruses, allergies, and high blood pressure. (5)

Serum C-reactive protein (CRP) levels are a biomarker of inflammation in the body. High CRP levels are associated with heart disease, obesity, and lupus. One study done in 2008 found that the intake of foods rich in flavonoids, such as quercetin, is associated with lower serum CRP concentrations. (12)

AIP-Compliant White/Tan/Brown Foods and Their Phytonutrient Compounds
beta-carotene, flavonoids, glucosinolates, indole-3-carbinol,lutein, sulforaphane, zeaxanthin
beta-carotene, flavonoids, lutein, phenolic acids, zeaxanthin
Japanese Turnip
anthocyanins, betacarotene, ferulicacid, glucosinolate, lutein, quercetin, violaxanthin
allicin, allin, caffeicacid, ferulic acid, kaempferol, polysulfides, quercetin, triterpenoid
gingerols, paradols, shogaols, terpenes
Lotus Root
catechins, catechol, gallic acid, phenolic acids
anthocyanidins, catechins, malvidin, quercetin, rutin
catechins, gartanin, mangostin, normagostin, rosin, xanthones
beta-glucans, ergosterol, ganoderic acid, lucidenic acid
hydroxytyrosol, oleuropein
allicin, alliin, caffeicacid, ferulic acid, fumaric acid, phytosterols, quercetin, rutin
alkaloids, flavonoids, glycosides, phenols, quercetin, terpenoids
Other White/Tan/Brown Foods and Their Phytonutrient Compounds
catechin, kaempferol, methylquercetin, protocatechuic acid, p-hydroxybenzoic acid, resveratrols, vanillic acid
caffeine, flavonols, quercetin, theobromine
caffeoylquinic acid, gallic acid, kaempferol, myricetin, quercetin
flavonoids, lutein, phenolic acids, tocopherols, zeaxanthin
lignans, phytosterols, sesamin, sesamolin, tocopherols
beta-sitosterol, daidzein, genistein, isoflavone
gallic acid, phenolic acids, phytosterol, proanthocyanidins
Whole Grains
beta-cryptoxanthin, flavonoids, lutein, zeaxanthin
White Potatoes
flavonoids, phenolic acids, beta-carotene, chlorogenic acid
beta-carotene, caffeine, chlorogenic acid, phenolic acids
campesterol, lignans, triterpenes, sitosterol, stigmasterol

Ways to incorporate more white/tan/brown foods into your diet

  • Use dates instead of refined sweeteners to sweeten a dish or drink.
  • Add onions and mushrooms to a stir-fry.
  • Make your own granola or trail mix using whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
  • Stir-fry lotus root with bell peppers and garlic sauce.
  • Add cacao to smoothies, yogurt, or oatmeal.
  • Pickle some Japanese turnip to have as a snack or side dish.

The Bottom Line on Phytonutrients

The thousands of phytochemicals produced by plants for their own protection may also help prevent and treat many of our own medical conditions and diseases. Phytonutrients give fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and other plant foods their variety of colors, so “eat the rainbow” to maximize the health benefits offered by these plentiful chemical compounds.