The produce section in your grocery store can be one of the most important stops you can make!

By Pam McDonald

One in five adult Americans (or 22.7%) have doctor-diagnosed arthritis. For adults age 65 and older that percentage increases to 49.7 – nearly half. David C. Koelling, President of Strategic Dining Services, an integrated, hospitality-based dining management company and Senior Housing Forum partner, points out that when you have arthritis, the produce section in your grocery store can be one of the most important stops you can make.

Tweet: One in five adult Americans (or 22.7%) have doctor-diagnosed arthritis. For adults age 65 and older that percentage increases to 49.7

He notes vegetables are rich in antioxidants and other nutrients that protect against cell damage and lower inflammation throughout the body, including in your joints. Vegetables of all types have attributes that are health promoting. Which vegetables are best? David says, “A variety is best and the more color the better.”

Strategic Dining Services offers the following guide to some of the vegetables that should color your plate every day.

Dark Green Leafy Vegetables

Energy production and other metabolic processes in the body produce harmful byproducts called free radicals, which damage cells. Free radicals have been implicated in the development of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and in the inflammation that attacks joints. Green, leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, kale, Swiss chard and bok choy are packed with antioxidants like vitamins A, C and K, which protect cells from free-radical damage. These foods are also high in bone-preserving calcium.

Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables (Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy and cauliflower) offer another benefit – a natural compound called sulforaphane. Research on mice shows sulforaphane blocks the inflammatory process and might slow cartilage damage in osteoarthritis (OA). And there’s some evidence diets high in this vegetable family could prevent RA from developing in the first place.

Sweet Potatoes, Carrots, Red Peppers and Squash

These brightly orange- and red-hued vegetables get their distinctive color from carotenoids like beta-cryptoxanthin. Plant pigments also supply sweet potatoes, carrots, squash and red peppers with antioxidants. Some research suggests eating more foods rich in beta-cryptoxanthin could reduce your risk of developing RA and other inflammatory conditions.

Red and Green Peppers

Peppers – no matter what their color or whether they’re mild or hot – are an abundant source of vitamin C, which preserves bone, and may protect cells in cartilage. Getting less than the recommended 75 mg for women and 90 mg for men daily may increase risk for OA of the knee. Just a half-cup of red bell pepper gives you a full day’s supply.

Onions, Garlic, Leeks and Shallots

These pungent vegetables are all members of the allium family, which are rich in a type of antioxidant called quercetin. Researchers are investigating quercetin’s potential ability to relieve inflammation in diseases like RA. Alliums also contain a compound called diallyl disulphine, which may reduce the enzymes that damage cartilage.


Though technically a fruit and not found in the produce aisle, olives and olive oil can be potent inflammation fighters. Extra-virgin olive oil contains the compound oleocanthal, a natural anti-inflammatory agent that has properties similar to the NSAID drug, ibuprofen.

Realizing that not everyone is enthusiastic about eating vegetables, Strategic offers innovative recipes that “sneak” vegetables into the menu or prepare them in an intriguing way, providing more benefits while recognizing we can’t significantly change the eating habits of many residents. But we shouldn’t stop trying. Adding variety and creative cooking needs to be a long-term commitment. The key to getting residents to try new things is to make it fun and enjoyable, not a directive.

Strategic Dining Services provides (mealtime experiences that work) and dining leadership for the entire senior living community – from culinary and dining staff training, to marketing and sales event support, to creating a community hospitality approach, as well as increased resident involvement. For more information, visit Strategic Dining Services.