Flexibility in joints depends in part on the connective tissue that surrounds muscles. Two key components of connective tissue are collagen and elastin. They provide both strength and elasticity. Lubrication in connective tissue helps the fibers slide over one another. As you might think, the more elastic the connective tissue, the more flexibility around the joint.
Foods that are rich in essential fatty acids (EFA’s), vitamin C, sulfur, and water may help promote healthy connective tissue for enhanced flexibility.
Essential fatty acids include omega-3 and omega-6 which are found primarily in fish, flax seeds, and liquid oils. These fatty acids are termed “essential” because they cannot be made in the body. It’s important to aim for a 3:1 omega-3 to omega-6 ratio for the most anti-inflammatory benefits.
Since we easily get plenty of omega-6 fatty acids from a typical American diet (plant oils and animal products), intentionally including omega-3s through foods such as fatty fish, flax seeds, and walnuts, or supplements, helps achieve the desired ratio. If you don't eat a lot of fish, consider supplementing with an omega-3 product.
Collagen is the main protein from which connective tissue is made, and vitamin C is essential for the production of collagen. Vitamin C-rich foods go beyond orange juice and other citrus fruits. Load up on plant foods such as bell peppers, broccoli, strawberries, tomatoes, leafy green vegetables, raspberries, pineapple, cruciferous vegetables, parsley, and watermelon—all are excellent sources of vitamin C. Try making a smoothie with frozen pineapple and strawberries, spinach, and parsley for breakfast or snack. (Don’t forget to include protein powder in your smoothie!)
Sulfur-rich foods also promote connective tissue health by providing sulfur for flexible bonds between proteins. Animal proteins, such as fish, poultry, beef, and eggs provide sulfur, while brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, and garlic are a few good vegetarian sources. Shred a head of cauliflower, sauté it for about 5 minutes, season with spices, herbs, and/or salt and pepper, and eat in place of rice with your favorite stir-fry.
Do you recall how I mentioned lubrication earlier? This helps the connective tissue fibers slide over one another. Drinking plenty of water and eating water-rich foods to maintain hydration may help with the lubrication around the fibers in effort to promote greater flexibility. Many fruits including strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, peaches, grapefruit, pineapple, apples, and pears are high in water. Vegetables like cucumber, lettuce, zucchini, celery, and eggplant are also high in water.
Stay tuned for a recipe including some of these foods next time!
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