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Healthy eating

Although diets and supplements won't cure your arthritis, eating a healthy, balanced and varied diet is good for your overall health and well-being.

Your body needs energy and nutrients from food to keep you going throughout the day, as well as to help your bones and muscles stay strong and develop

Eating should be pleasurable and can be an important way of spending time with friends and family.

Basing a healthy diet around whole (rather than processed) foods, which are low in fat, sugar and salt, would be good.

Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables is a smart move as well – you've probably heard of the ‘five-a-day’ recommendation. Eating fruits and vegetables can help prevent heart disease and strokes and possibly reduce the chance of some types of cancer.

Eat fibre

Foods with fibre are also good for you. As well as having a beneficial effect in preventing heart disease, people with diabetes tend to find increasing the fibre in their diet can help improve their blood sugar control.

Foods high in fibre include:

  • fruit and vegetables
  • beans
  • nuts
  • oatmeal and some cereals
  • wholemeal bread and wholewheat pasta.

It's recommended that people consume at least 20–35 g of fibre each day. You can check the amount of fibre in many foods by reading the product label.

Drinking plenty of water throughout the day is important as this helps carry nutrients around your body and get rid of waste. Having tea and coffee as part of a balanced diet is fine, but it's important that caffeinated drinks aren't your only source of water.

Look for low-fat options

A healthy diet is low in fat, especially saturated fats. Saturated fats are found in:

  • butter and lard
  • pies
  • cakes and biscuits
  • fatty cuts of meat, sausages and bacon
  • cheese and cream.

Certain fats are worse than others. Trans fats are especially unhealthy – they raise your cholesterol level and increase your chance of getting heart disease.

Trans fats are found in:

  • margarine
  • many fast foods
  • some processed ready-meals.

Try to avoid eating foods with these types of fats.

Fish contains healthy fats (polyunsaturated fats) that are healthy and can actually reduce your chance of heart disease. Olive oil also contains polyunsaturated fats, so use this when you're cooking.

Get enough vitamins

Doctors will often prescribe a folate (or folic acid) supplement, but you can also help by making sure you have natural folate in your diet. Folate is found in many breakfast cereals, oranges and orange juice, and green leafy vegetables.

Folate is another name for vitamin B9 and along with vitamin B12, it helps your body carry out many important jobs, including keeping the nervous system healthy. If your body doesn't produce enough of these particular vitamins it can lead to problems including muscle weakness and a lack of energy.

Some people with arthritis may be taking methotrexate, a medication that can interfere with how you process the vitamin folate. 

If you have a balanced diet, you generally won't need to take vitamin supplements. But it probably won’t hurt to take a multivitamin or a small dose of individual vitamins. If you do take vitamins, you still need to make sure that you have a healthy and nutritious diet.

Calcium and vitamin D

You need calcium and vitamin D to help prevent osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to become thin and break more easily than usual. If you’re taking steroids, it's even more important to ensure you have plenty of calcium and vitamin D in your diet.

Foods and drinks that have a lot of calcium include:

  • dairy products (soya milk is the best source of calcium as a non-dairy alternative to milk)
  • green vegetables such as kale, collard greens, and broccoli
  • certain nuts.

Many foods have calcium added, such as cereals and soy products.

Oily fish (salmon, mackerel) are the best natural source of vitamin D. Many products also have vitamin D added to them, including cereals, milk, orange juice and many yoghurts.

Sunlight in the UK is a good source of vitamin D, though you must be careful not to get burned, especially if you have fair skin. People with some conditions, such as lupus, are more at risk of getting burned by the sun.

Keep to a healthy weight

Having a low-fat and nutritional diet as part of a healthy lifestyle can help you maintain a healthy weight. This is good for your joints because less stress will be placed on them.

Being overweight has been known to cause extra inflammation and may make your symptoms worse overall.

We all need different amounts of calories in our diet, depending on our age, size and lifestyle. Making sure you don't have too many calories is important. Check food labels to find out how many calories are in food. Many foods in supermarkets are now colour coded – remember to look for more green and amber products and avoid red ones.

It's also useful to look at the sugar in your food too. In general, men shouldn't have more than 70 g of sugar a day, and women shouldn't have more than 50 g.

If you’d like more information about what would be the best diet for you, talk to a GP or your rheumatology consultant as they might be able to put you in touch with a dietician.

Read more about diet and arthritis.


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