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
“No diet can ‘cure’ arthritis, and there are no particular diets or specific types of food that will make arthritis better or worse,” says Martin Lau, Arthritis Action’s Services Development Manager & Dietitian. “Instead, the aim should primarily be to strive for a normal body weight if carrying more than you should, and eating a well-balanced, varied 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.
Martin Lau recommends you consider two elements when thinking about diets.
- 1. The plan helps you lose weight initially
2. The plan helps you keep the weight off in the long term
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
“Body weight plays a key part in arthritis, especially the three most common types of arthritis: osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout,” says Martin. “Excess weight places additional pressure on weight-bearing joints. A landmark study found one pound of weight-loss lessens four pounds of pressure on the knees, per step. For those with inflammatory arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis, carrying more body weight could reduce the chance of achieving remission.”
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.
“Considering feasibility, a high protein - low carbohydrate diet can be easier to stick to, as the higher protein can make you feel fuller for longer,” says Martin. “A diet high in protein can be safe to follow, provided you don’t have any kidney problems. It is important to speak to a GP before following a food elimination type of weight loss plan, just to be safe.It’s also a good idea to practise common-sense when trying to lose weight. Opt for nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables, and avoid ready-processed foods and new diets that promise remarkable results. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is!”
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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