Certain foods can help battle inflammation, strengthen bones and help to
alleviate some of the pain and stiffness caused by arthritis. But the myriad of nutritional advice online makes it hard to separate the wheat from the... walnuts. To help negotiate this fractured digital dietary landscape, we spoke exclusively to Jo Travers, The London Nutritionist and author of The Low-Fad Diet, to find out which foods could help with everyday joint wear and tear.
How and why do certain foods help or indeed hinder joint pain?
When joints hurt they are inflamed, and diet can play a big role in increasing or decreasing inflammation. In the short-term, the inflammatory process is part of the immune system doing its job. However, it can become overactive and become chronic - and that’s when eating well can help.
A good diet is recommended for everyone, but for those with arthritis it’s even more important. Why is that, and how do certain foods impact inflammation and pain?
There are actually quite a few different mechanisms of inflammation that are affected by food. The types of fats we eat have a direct impact on whether pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory compounds are made. Saturated fats tend to make more pro-inflammatory compounds, whereas poly- and monounsaturated fats tend to make anti-inflammatory ones - especially omega 3 fats from oily fish.
The other really exciting emerging body of evidence is around the effect of gut microflora on inflammation. The bacteria that live in our digestive system are now recognised as being very important for health in all sorts of ways, and they thrive on a diet containing plenty of fruits, vegetables and other plant foods.
The benefits of things such as fish oil supplements are often discussed. Is there any truth to this?
Fish oil supplements are high in omega 3 oils, so yes they can be very good for reducing inflammation in people with arthritis.
Are there any foods that those with arthritis should avoid at all costs and why?
No food should be completely off-limits, that would be boring! However not eating too much saturated fat will help keep symptoms at bay. Saturated fats are found in meat, butter, full fat dairy products like cream, or coconut and palm oils. Ready meals and baked goods like biscuits and cakes are often high in saturated fats so it’s good to get into the habit of checking the traffic light labels on the front of packs. Avoid the red traffic light for saturated fat and go for mostly foods with a green traffic light.
Sometimes preparing food when you have joint pain is very painful. What are your tips for getting around this?
I’m all for buying convenience food. Although some ready meals are not particularly healthy, there are plenty of ways you can take advantage of ready-prepared foods. You can buy ready-chopped vegetables for example, which means less standing at the worktop and less time spent holding knives. Frozen vegetables and tinned beans and lentils are also great effort-savers in the kitchen.
Sometimes the small tasks can be daunting if you're living with arthritic pain. What advice would you give to someone when it comes to shopping and cooking? Is it a case of plan on the bad days, shop and cook on the good days and freeze foods ahead for the bad days?
It’s great to cook your own food if you can because you are in control of what goes into it, so making in batches to freeze is a great idea. However on the days you haven’t got anything in the freezer, having a back-up plan with ready-made food is totally fine. The main things to remember are to check the labels and pick food that’s lower in saturated fat, eat plenty of plant foods, and include some oily fish like mackerel and sardines (from a tin is fine!)
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