There is no set arthritis diet but eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight can make a big difference to your overall wellbeing and your arthritis. As well as ensuring that your body has all the essential nutrients to function, eating healthily may help reduce the symptoms of arthritis both directly and by reducing the stress on your joints through weight loss. If you are underweight, a balanced diet should help you overcome exhaustion and gain healthy weight. Download our Healthy Eating and Arthritis information booklet here.
There is a lot of confusing and conflicting information on arthritis diet, and whether or not particular foods are helpful or harmful. Although certain foods might have more of an effect on your arthritis than others, the most important thing is to have a balanced diet to ensure you get all the nutrients your body needs. The basic idea is to eat less fat, less sugar, more fruit and vegetables, more oily fish and plenty of calcium and iron-rich foods.
You will probably find that everyone wants to give you advice on what to eat and what not to eat. Remember that everyone reacts differently to specific foods and that you have to work out for yourself what suits you best.
Carrying excess weight is a common problem for people with arthritis. Certain drugs, such as steroids, can lead to weight gain, and others, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), can lead to stomach problems, making dietary choices harder. Some people may find that being unable to exercise or prepare fresh food means that they put on weight easily. Others get trapped in a similar cycle during a flare-up, but one in which they are too tired to eat and consequently lose weight, becoming even more exhausted.
Eating a balanced diet is key to maintaining a healthy weight. Controlling your weight is often the most effective thing you can do to reduce the symptoms of arthritis. Even a small weight loss can reduce strain on the hips, back, knees and feet if you are too heavy. And making sure you are not underweight should help to give your body the necessary strength and nutrition to get through a flare-up and to fight disease.
A healthy body weight is achieved by balancing the energy intake in our diet with the energy we use through activity. However, every individual has unique nutritional requirements, depending on your age, gender, body size and level of activity. A guideline daily intake is 2,000 kilocalories (known as kcal) for an active woman and 2,500 kilocalories for an active man. If you need to gain weight, eating slightly larger quantities of the healthier foods is the best approach so that you are taking in more calories. Rather than simply eating more fried foods and chocolate (which won't help your overall health in the long run). Try things such as having an extra slice of toast at breakfast, or an extra helping of pasta or rice.
Lots of foods, particularly processed foods, contain hidden fat, sugar and salt. Preparing your own food allows you to control what you are eating. If you have difficulties cooking from scratch but need to lose weight, choose the low fat versions of ready meals from the supermarket, checking the calorie and salt content on the back of the packaging. You should always consult your doctor or nurse before embarking on a weight loss programme as it is important to lose weight in the correct way - crash diets can harm your body.
Eating a healthy diet is about getting a variety of food from different food groups. In general, a healthy diet is one that is:
- high in fruit and vegetables
- high in starch and fibre
- low in fatty foods and salt
- low in added sugars.
A balanced diet contains carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals, and fibre. Carbohydrates provide us with energy. Protein is essential for growth and repair of the body. Vitamins and minerals play a major part in the healthy functioning of our bodies. Although it is healthy not to consume too much fat, our bodies do need some fat. It provides us with energy and also helps us to absorb certain vitamins. Fibre helps with bowel health (especially important for those who have slower bowel movements as a result of not being able to exercise or taking certain medications).
There are five main food groups. The diagram below shows the proportion of your diet they should make up. You do not need to have this balance at every meal, but you should aim to achieve this over the day or the week.
- breads, cereals and potatoes
- fruits and vegetables
- meat, Fish and alternatives
- milk and dairy foods
- fatty and sugary foods
For more information check out our Healthy Eating and Arthritis information booklet or contact the Arthritis Ireland helpline on 1890 252 846.