Ask the experts: What is an arthritis diet?

With cases of gout surging (BBC, 2024) and around one in 40 people suffering from the condition in the UK, we spoke to registered nutritionist, VJ Hamilton, to find out more about how nutrition could help people manage types of arthritis.

elderly man sat down holding his knee

What is arthritis and how can nutrition help?

Arthritis is a chronic inflammatory condition characterised by swelling, stiffness, and pain in the joints. It often results in limited mobility and deterioration of joint cartilage and surrounding structures. 

Nutrition can play a crucial role in managing arthritis by reducing inflammation and providing the essential nutrients which are critical for joint health and repair. Proper nutrition can help manage arthritis symptoms on a daily basis by eating foods that reduce inflammation and prevent further joint flare-ups. A healthy diet can also boost mental well-being, which can help someone living with arthritis feel better day-to-day.

I’ve heard it’s important to eat right for specific types of arthritis. Is this true?

Yes, it’s true. Different types of arthritis may benefit from alternative dietary approaches, and that’s because they each have their own unique underlying causes. 

For example, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease, so nutritional strategies for RA often focus on reducing inflammation and supporting the immune system to manage symptoms. Whereas, with osteoarthritis characterised as a breakdown in cartilage in the joint, foods rich in antioxidants and nutrients that support joint health, like vitamin C and collagen, can be beneficial. 

Gout, which is caused by the buildup of uric acid crystals in the joints, is linked to high purines in the blood. Therefore, limiting purine-rich foods (like red meat, organ meats, and shellfish) and alcohol can help reduce the risk of gout attacks.

However, in clinical practice, the dietary recommendations often overlap, as all types of arthritis are linked to inflammation. 

Are there any foods that should be avoided for people with arthritis?

Yes, certain foods, such as highly processed foods high in refined sugars, saturated fat, and trans fats may contribute to inflammation and worsen arthritis symptoms. For those with gout, red meat and organ meats contain high levels of purines, which can increase uric acid levels in the body and exacerbate symptoms.

In addition, some evidence suggests that people with arthritis, particularly rheumatoid arthritis, may experience increased inflammation from nightshade vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and aubergines due to the compounds they contain called alkaloids, particularly solanine and capsaicin. Most of the evidence to support this is anecdotal, but I have seen some clients see better results when they remove nightshade vegetables from their diets.

VJ’s top tips for managing arthritis day-to-day

  • Move throughout the day. This helps lubricate the joints, maintain flexibility and strengthen muscles, reducing strain and inflammation. 
  • Eat three different coloured plant-based foods with every meal. This ensures a diverse intake of nutrients and antioxidants, which can help reduce inflammation and support joint health. Different coloured fruits and vegetables contain various vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, each with unique anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. 
  • Incorporate deep breathing exercises to help reduce stress and promote relaxation, which can alleviate muscle tension and improve circulation. 
  • Meal prepping can be incredibly beneficial for individuals with arthritis by reducing the physical strain and stress associated with daily cooking. By preparing meals in advance, you can minimise the need for repetitive motions and prolonged standing in the kitchen, which can exacerbate joint pain and fatigue. It also allows for better portion control and prioritising nutrient-dense, arthritis-friendly ingredients.
  • Stay hydrated. Keep a water bottle with you throughout the day and sip regularly to stay hydrated. Herbal teas and infused water with cucumber or citrus slices can add flavour. Hydration is crucial for those with arthritis as it helps maintain joint lubrication and flexibility, reduces inflammation and supports overall health.

This article was originally published in Happiful Magazine (Issue 87, 2024). You can order print copies online, or read the e-magazine for free on the Happiful app.


References

  • BBC One (Morning Live), aired 18th June, 2024.
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Written by Emily Whitton
Emily is a Content Creator & Marketing Coordinator at Happiful and a writer for Nutritionist Resource.
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Written by Emily Whitton
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