Arthritis, a group of painful and often debilitating conditions, affects millions of people worldwide. Many people with arthritis seek relief through various means, including dietary changes. Living with arthritis often includes a journey of managing symptoms, exploring treatments, and making lifestyle adjustments.
While there might not be a one-size-fits-all diet for arthritis, new research suggests that certain dietary patterns, such as plant-based eating and Mediterranean diets, could offer benefits for people with arthritis.
What is a Healthy Diet?
The main feature of a healthy diet is to be varied and balanced. It must include plenty of fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, fish, legumes, and nuts, low in refined grains, unhealthy fats, and minimal amounts of sugar and salt (1).
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a diet is healthy when it contributes to protecting against malnutrition in all its forms: under- and over-nutrition. A healthy diet also protects from conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke (1,2).
Understanding Arthritis & its Dietary Implications
Arthritis includes a range of conditions characterised by joint inflammation, stiffness, and pain. These conditions can impact mobility and overall quality of life.
As part of arthritis management, attention to diet has gained popularity, due to the potential influence of nutrition on inflammation, joint health, and overall wellbeing.
The Foundation of an Arthritis-Friendly Diet
An arthritis-friendly diet is not a miracle cure, but it can be a valuable component to help manage arthritis. This dietary approach focuses on several key principles:
Anti-Inflammatory Foods: Inflammation is a central factor in many types of arthritis. Including anti-inflammatory foods, such as fatty fish (rich in omega-3 fatty acids), fruits, vegetables, and wholegrains, can help reduce inflammation and symptoms.
Antioxidants: Antioxidants, found in colourful fruits and vegetables, combat the oxidative stress associated with arthritis and contribute to joint health.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These healthy fats, abundant in fish, linseeds, and walnuts, have been shown to reduce pain and inflammation associated with arthritis.
Healthy Fats: Replacing saturated and trans fats with healthy fats like those found in olive oil and avocados may help manage arthritis symptoms.
Limiting Trigger Foods: Some people find that specific foods, like red meat or processed sugars, worsen their arthritis symptoms. Identifying and avoiding trigger foods can be beneficial.
**** Whether there are specific foods that trigger symptoms is still to be proven by research, however for people who may have identified potential trigger foods, trialing reducing or limiting these foods might be beneficial for some. But this can be so different for every person and guidance should be sought by a dietitian before removing core food groups or food types from your diet.
The Plant-Based Advantage
Plant-based eating means most of the foods you eat are from plant sources, such as fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, seeds, nuts, legumes, beans and oils (3).
This eating pattern may include small amounts of animal products, such as, eggs and dairy. Some people may incorporate some small amounts of meat and fish products (3).
Plant-based can also describe food or drinks that don’t contain animal products, including soy milk and ‘meat alternatives’ (usually made from soy, textured vegetable protein, or wheat gluten) (3). Here are some key aspects and tips you may want to try with a Plant-Based Diet:
1. Anti-Inflammatory Potential
Action: Embrace a plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Tip: Prioritise colourful, nutrient-dense foods known for their anti-inflammatory properties.
2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Action: Include plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as linseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and fatty fish (flexible plant-based eating pattern).
Tip: Experiment with incorporating these ingredients into smoothies, salads, or as snacks.
3. Reduce Animal Products
Action: Limit or avoid red and processed meats, which may contribute to inflammation.
Tip: Explore plant-based protein sources like beans, lentils, tofu, and tempeh for a protein-rich diet.
4. Weight Management
Action: Plant-based diets often contribute to weight management, relieving stress on weight-bearing joints.
Tip: Focus on whole, minimally processed foods to support sustainable weight goals.
The Mediterranean diet is rich in plant-based foods such as wholegrains, legumes, fruit, vegetables, extra-virgin olive oil and low in red meat consumption.
This dietary pattern might have the potential to reduce the risk of some chronic conditions, and help manage pain associated in all types of arthritis (4-6).
The Mediterranean initially diet drew the attention of many medical professionals as it held so many health benefits for those who ate this diet daily. This diet can help reduce cardiovascular risk, metabolic syndrome, type-2 diabetes, cancer and some neurodegenerative disorders (7). Here are some key aspects and tips you may want to try with the Mediterranean diet:
1. Heart-Healthy Fats
Action: Embrace the Mediterranean diet, emphasising heart-healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, and nuts.
Tip: Use olive oil as a primary cooking fat and indulge in a handful of nuts as a snack.
2. Omega-3’s From Fish
Action: Include fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel, rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Tip: Experiment with Mediterranean-inspired fish recipes seasoned with herbs and olive oil.
3. Abundance of Antioxidants
Action: Consume a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables, providing antioxidants to combat oxidative stress.
Tip: Create vibrant salads and roasted vegetable dishes.
4. Mindful Eating:
Action: Sit down for meals, savour each bite, and pay attention to your body’s hunger and fullness cues.
Tip: Turn off screens and create a pleasant dining environment to fully enjoy your meals.
While both plant-based and Mediterranean diets show promise, the key lies in individualisation. It’s important to note that arthritis is different for everyone, and foods affect people differently so some might see improvement in their overall wellbeing whilst others may not see the same beneficial effects.
Personal health conditions, preferences, and cultural considerations should guide dietary choices.
Some individuals might find a hybrid approach, incorporating elements of both diets, to be most beneficial.
Speak with your Healthcare Professional
Consult with a healthcare professional or an Accredited Practising Dietitian to tailor dietary choices to your specific needs.
A great tip to maintain and be consistent with your new dietary eating pattern is to keep a food diary to track how different foods impact your symptoms and discuss these observations with your healthcare team.
Remember to be consistent in your dietary choices, allowing time for your body to adjust and respond. Gradual changes are often more sustainable. Start with small adjustments and build on them over time.
While there might not be a singular, ultimate diet for arthritis, the power of nutrition in influencing symptoms and overall health is undeniable.
There are no diets or supplements that will cure your arthritis, but some people do find that their condition is affected by what they eat, how much they weigh and their physical activity levels.
The plant-based and Mediterranean diets offer valuable insights into crafting an arthritis-friendly eating plan.
By embracing these dietary patterns, people can start on a journey towards better joint health, reduced inflammation, and enhanced wellbeing.
Remember, the key is not just what you eat but the holistic approach you take to nourish your body and manage arthritis with informed choices.
Health Promotions Coordinator