June 16, 2017
It’s Rheumatoid Arthritis Week (19-25 June), which makes it a great time to talk about how tweaks to your diet may help ease arthritis symptoms. Anyone living with rheumatoid arthritis, the more common osteoarthritis, or gout (another form of arthritis), knows the tremendous pain and discomfort of inflamed joints.
I recently took part in a question and answer session with members of Gransnet, and so many people wanted information about what to eat – and what to avoid – when living with arthritis. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, intricate links have been found between specific foods and symptoms, but it appears that relatively simple changes to what we eat may reduce flare-ups of other types of arthritis, too. I strongly recommend keeping a food diary to help you identify links between certain foods and any symptoms. You may feel better eating white meat than red, for example.
I’ve put a few nutritional pointers, below, that may help. If you’ve found any other foods that reduce your arthritis symptoms, then do post them in our Nourish Community. Together, we can share tips and recipes that will help all of us live a bit less creakily!
Head to the Med The Mediterranean diet, packed with fresh fruits and vegetables, oily fish and not too much red meat, appears to be the best way of eating for our health overall, and it features many anti-inflammatory foods.
Reduce acidic foods Most people with arthritis often say they can’t eat too many oranges, tomatoes or other acid-producing foods, which make their joints feel worse. There’s no hard scientific evidence to support cutting out specific foods, but it’s worth noting any foods that appear to trigger your symptoms and see if you feel better if you eat less of them.
Figure out fats I strongly advise eating monounsaturated fats as your main source of fat, as these don’t cause inflammation – try olive oil and avocado oil. Omega-6 oils, such as sunflower, safflower and corn oils, on the other hand, may trigger symptoms. Rheumatoid arthritis can increase risk of heart disease, another reason to eat heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
Eat oily fish A diet rich in the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish stimulates the body to produce substances that can sometimes dampen the inflammatory response and alleviate arthritic pain, so make sure mackerel, salmon, trout and other oily fish are a regular part of your diet.
Increase vitamin D There’s evidence that vitamin D may relieve osteoarthritis and slow down its progression. Your body absorbs this vitamin from sunlight, but it’s also found in oily fish (see above).
Be sugar smart In my clinic, I have seen some patients’ arthritis improve when they lower their intake of sweet foods, although the scientific evidence to support this is lacking. Rather than avoid sugar entirely, I suggest eating naturally sweet foods, such as fresh, baked or stewed fruits, rather than those with added sugar. This is because I worry about avoiding all fruits for fear of aggravating arthritis or other conditions, as you can then so easily miss out on essential nutrients, such as vitamin C, which is essential for recovery and healing. It also helps us absorb minerals such as iron, a lack of which in the diet can lead to anaemia and symptoms such as fatigue, which can already be an issue with arthritis.
Watch your weight Carrying too much weight is a risk factor for osteoarthritis, especially in the knee joint. A high body fat ratio also effects levels of blood fats and hormones such as oestrogen, which may explain why there’s a link between osteoarthritis and a greater risk of developing heart disease. For simple strategies to help you lose weight, see here.
For more tips on how to eat a well-balanced diet, take a look at our Nutrition Basics.