Can eating a healthy diet improve arthritis symptoms?

Feet of an old man
Feet of an old man

The helpful little book Arthritis Your Questions Answered (Dorling Kindersley), by Howard Bird, former professor of rheumatology at Leeds University in the UK, provides great practical information for those suffering from arthritis.

In one chapter he answers arthritis patients' questions about what to eat, and how much, and how it can help ease arthritis symptoms. Here is an extract: 

1.Do I have to follow a special diet now that i have been diagnosed with arthritis? 

People with arthritis need to eat the type of well-balanced diet that would be a healthy choice for anyone,regardless of his or her age or fitness levels.

The more essential components of food are: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals.

Read: Arthritis and diet

You need some of these essential components in larger quantities than others, the key to a healthy diet is getting the right balance. As a general guide, you should base your diet on fish (white and oily types), poultry, lean red meat, low-fat dairy products, wholegrain or high fibre cereal foods, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, including beans and pulses and only occasionally have greasy deep-fried, or sugary foods. 

2.How much protein do I need?

Proteins help to keep your muscles and other tissue in your body strong and in good working order. Most people need only 2 portions of protein-rich food a day, as well as the milk in the cereal, tea and coffee.

Read: Protein-calorie malnutrition 

Protein foods include dairy products, eggs, beans, pulses, nuts, fish, poultry and lean meat. Choosing lower fat dairy products and lean meat is an excellent way of avoiding excess calories and fat.

3.Should I eat unsaturated fat rather than saturated fat?

Generally speaking yes. Fats come in different forms and some are more beneficial to your health than others, so it is important to know what kind of fat you're eating,. The type known as saturated fat is found in fatty red meats and many processed foods - for example: meat pies, sausages, hard cheese, butter, cakes, cream, coconut oil and palm oil.

Read: Weight gain with unsaturated fat better for heart

As a rule, saturated fat is regarded as an 'unhealthy' fat because eating large amounts can increase the level of cholesterol in your blood and contribute to a high risk of developing heart disease.

On the other hand, unsaturated fats found in vegetable oils, particular rapeseed and olive oils, some margarines and oily fish are better for you and your heart and for people with arthritis. With so much choice today, it is not difficult or too expensive to eat fats that may be more beneficial to your health. Remember excess fat of any kind can lead to weight gain.  

4.Labels on supermarket foods often give the amount of fat as MUFA and PUFA. What is the difference between them?

Both MUFA and PUFA are types of unsaturated fat, so they are considered 'healthy'. Foods that are rich in MUFAs (monounsaturated fatty acids) include avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds and are thought to help people protect against heart disease.

Read: Omega-3 lower rheumatoid arthritis risk 

There are 2 main groups of PURAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids) in the diet, called omega-6 and omega-3. You need both, but the amount of omega-3 fats in your diet and eat less omega-6 fats. An easy way to reduce omega-6 fat in your diet is to use olive oil based margarines more often than sunflower-based oils and margarines. Oily fish such as sardines, mackerel and salmon are an excellent source of omega-3 fats. 

5.Will drinking alcohol make my symptoms worse?

Not necessarily. There is nothing wrong with having the occasional alcoholic drink, but alcohol is high in calories and regular drinking can contribute to weight gain.

If you do think alcohol, try to keep to the recommended number of units per week - 21 units a week for men and 14 units per week for women. Some people with rheumatoid arthritis find that alcohol can provoke symptoms but this is highly individual. However, if you have gout, it is best to drink in moderation. 

Read more:

Fight arthritis pain with your diet

Best places to eat out when watching your heart 

Restaurant food not much healthier than fast food

Image: Feet of a man from Shutterstock

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