Arthritis and your diet

There is as no real scientific evidence yet that a specific diet can alleviate or worsen the symptoms of arthritis. Claims regarding special magic diets are unproven by scientific research. There is, however, much evidence that a healthy, balanced diet is especially helpful for people with arthritis.

 What is a balanced diet?

The following pointers are given by dieticians:

1. Eating a variety of foods

A good diet includes choices from each of five different groups of foods, which are:

  • Breads and cereals (whole wheat, high-fibre is best)
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Fats and oils (avoid saturated fats such as from red meat and full-fat dairy sources)
  • Poultry, fish, lean meats, beans
  • Low-fat milk, cheese, yoghurt
Why is variety important?

Your body needs the nutrients from these foods to help it grow and function. Those with arthritis often experience diminished appetite as a result of fatigue and pain, which can make it harder to get variety in the diet. If your joints are swollen and movement is difficult for you, it might lead to your avoiding certain foods, like fresh vegetables, that are an effort to cook.

Specific medications can also affect how well your body uses the food that you eat. Corticosteroids cause your body to lose potassium and retain sodium. Antacids contain high levels of sodium and magnesium –  important to remember for those who have kidney problems. Colchicine (mainly used for gout) affects how well vitamin B-12 is absorbed. Penicillamine, often taken by those with rheumatoid arthritis, lowers copper levels on the body. Eating a balanced diet on an ongoing basis will help counteract these shortages.

2. Maintaining ideal weight

Apart from other health considerations, maintaining an ideal weight is of prime importance to arthritis sufferers, as any extra weight carried places additional stress on your joints.

Avoiding foods high in cholesterol, saturated fats and sugar

Steer clear of takeaway foods and bakery delights, even though the fact that they are readymade and thus need little effort to prepare may make them attractive to those with arthritis. Not only will these foods make the kilos pile on, the extra weight also poses a risk for the many older arthritis sufferers who have high blood pressure or heart disease.

Instead of high-fat meat animal products, choose fat-free dairy and lean cuts of meat. Reduce your intake of meat generally, except for fatty fish (e.g. salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines). Fatty fish contains healthy fats and is especially beneficial – aim to include at least two fatty fish meals per week.

3. The role of starch and fibre

Starch and fibre give you the energy you need and keep your bowels regular. Constipation is sometimes a side effect of arthritis medication. Hi-fibre carbohydrate foods are often low in fat, but give you the vitamins and minerals your body needs. They help keep your weight down, but give you energy.

Especially if you cut down on sugary foods, your body needs the energy provided by these carbohydrates. Some arthritis drugs, such as the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, may cause diarrhoea, which intake of starchy foods helps to counteract.

4. Avoiding sodium and alcohol

Many pre-prepared foods, though they are very convenient, contain very high doses of sodium. A high salt intake is bad for those who also suffer from high blood pressure, as many older arthritis sufferers do. Some arthritis drugs, such as corticosteroids, cause the body to retain sodium and water, which is bad for high blood pressure sufferers.

Choose foods with low or no salt added. Get into a habit of eating other spices on your food.

There are three reasons those with arthritis should stay away from alcohol. It adds to your weight, it reduces the effectiveness of certain arthritis drugs and it can also weaken your bones.

Stomach problems are also likely to occur if you drink alcohol while taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or aspirin. Alcohol combined with acetaminophen can lead to liver damage as well as increase the uric acid in the blood.

Most doctors will advise you not to drink at all while on arthritis medication.

5. Important points to remember

  • Maintaining ideal body weight lessens the stress on affected joints.
  • A diet low in calcium and high in alcohol can lead to osteoporosis.
  • Obesity can lead to the development of osteoarthritis in the knees.
  • In individual cases, food allergies can worsen symptoms of arthritis.
  • Takeaway foods contain very high levels of sodium, cholesterol and saturated fat. 

Claims that certain foods cure or cause arthritis have not yet been scientifically proven.

-          Health24, updated April 2013



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