Arthritis Foods - Dos & Don'ts
Arthritis is a common chronic pain condition, with around 8.5 million people living with osteoarthritis in the UK. There is no cure for arthritis, but you can manage and improve your symptoms and quality of life through things like exercise, pain relief and a healthy diet.
Whilst there is no specific diet that people with arthritis should adhere to, learning about anti-inflammatory foods, antioxidants and vitamins may make a big difference. If you’re not sure where to start, we’re here to help. We’ve compiled a list of the dos and don’ts of food when you have arthritis, so you can make healthier choices and improve your quality of life.
Do eat a healthy, balanced diet
There is no single diet that can ‘cure’ arthritis. The aim should be to have a normal body weight if you are overweight and eating a well-balanced diet. Fruit and vegetables contain high levels of vitamins and antioxidants which are essential for staying in good health, not to mention the high fibre content which is helpful for our gut bacteria.
Eating a balanced, nutritionally rich diet will help keep your body healthy and prevent further damage to the joints. Foods such as green leafy vegetables, nuts, fatty fish like salmon, and fruits like oranges and blueberries can help reduce inflammation in the body, which can improve the symptoms of arthritis. Foods containing vitamins A, C and E may also be able to help prevent further joint damage.
Don’t follow restrictive fad diets
When we think of diets, our mind tends to go to restrictive, low calorie fads which are hard to maintain, or diets which exclude certain food groups entirely and may be difficult to manage long term. You shouldn’t have a diet that you’re struggling to maintain, or one which makes you feel lethargic, hungry or otherwise dissatisfied.
Refined white sugar, processed food, fast food, junk food and sugary drinks shouldn’t make up the bulk of your diet as not only are they high in calories but they are also low in nutrients, can be inflammatory and in excess can raise the risk of various health conditions. You don’t have to avoid them altogether, however, and doing so may actually make you crave them more. There are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ foods in dieting; it’s more about listening to your body, having a healthy balance and allowing treats in moderation.
Inflammation is a really important part of your body's immune response. It is triggered when inflammatory cells travel to a part of the body which has been injured or attacked. Whilst it is essential in the healing process, if the inflammatory cells stay too long, or if they are triggered by things which are not harmful to the body, they can lead to chronic inflammation which can lead to various health problems and make the symptoms of arthritis worse.
Do try to keep to a healthy weight
Excess weight places additional pressure on weight-bearing joints. A study found one pound of weight-loss lessens four pounds of pressure on the knees, per step.
Your body needs energy, consumed as calories, in order to function properly and for you to live a full life. Calories are really important, and you should avoid diets which are encouraging you to consume far fewer calories than you need. The NHS recommends around 2,500kcal a day for an average man and 2,000kcal a day for the average woman to maintain your weight.
In order to lose weight, you should be in a manageable calorie deficit (the shortage in the amount of calories consumed compared to the amount of calories needed to maintain your body weight). Manageable weight loss is around 0.5kg to 1kg (1lb to 2lb) per week and can be done through a mixture of dieting and exercise.
If you are in any kind of doubt over a weight loss diet then it is strongly recommended you speak with your GP to seek advice on the healthiest way to do this. The best way is a simple combination of aiming to eat healthier, slightly reduce your portion sizes, stop snacking and try to move more.
Do get enough Omega 3
Omega 3 is a fatty acid associated with various health benefits like lowering blood pressure, reducing likelihood of stroke and heart attack, and regulating blood clotting.
Omega 3 may also be good at reducing inflammation, which can benefit people living with arthritis. Omega 3 is found in fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, but vegetarians and vegans can also get it from soy products.
Don’t eat too much processed food, sugars or red meats
Moderation is key, and whilst it’s really important not to feel like certain foods are forbidden it is important to be mindful of how different things affect your body. Processed sugar can release cytokines, which are small proteins which help control the growth and function of immune system cells and blood cells. This can lead to increased inflammation if the body thinks it's under threat.
Processed foods tend to contain more sugar than fresh foods, so they should be consumed in moderation as well. Research indicates that people who regularly eat red and processed meats are more likely to have higher levels of inflammation, so this is something else you should consume in moderation.
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