There are more than 100 types of arthritis, with the most common forms being osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Despite each form of arthritis being unique, there are shared debilitating symptoms including pain, fatigue and inflammation.
When diagnosed with arthritis, the first important dietary steps to take includes eating the right amount and healthiest types of foods, and meeting daily needs for vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
Once the basics are covered, the final step is to add in, and perhaps take away, foods that have been shown to make a significant difference to the person's experience of the condition and to the arthritis itself. Often the dietary changes will be dictated by the type of arthritis.
Being overweight puts an extra burden on joints, which is felt even more by joints that have been already damaged by arthritis.
Because of the way joints work, the pressure in your knee joints is more than just your body weight. One pound of weight loss relieves about four pounds of knee joint load. Therefore even a small weight loss can make a big difference to the speed of deterioration of the joints as well as to the symptoms experienced, such as pain.
A way to assess weight at home is to consider both body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference (WC). Waist circumference determines the amount of body fat an individual is carrying around their middle, where the organs are kept. Women need to aim for a WC less than 88cm (35 inches), while men need to aim for less than 102cm (40 inches).
Eat more vegetables and fruit
A person with arthritis needs to base half of their meals on vegetables and fruit. Fruit and vegetables need to make up the largest component of the diet, and this needs to be done consistently.
Having at least two fruits and vegetables at every meal will help increase fibre intake, improve body composition, and provide the body with the necessary antioxidants it needs to ensure the immune system is strong and the cartilage within the joints is protected.
To maximise the intake of antioxidant rich foods, eat brightly coloured vegetables and an array of colours; green, yellow or orange, red, white, blue, black or purple.
Calcium is an essential nutrient who is famous for its role in bone health.
Certain individuals are at greater risk of osteoporosis or brittle bone disease such as post-menopausal women, those that don't consume enough calcium and people with arthritis. A target of 1,000mg of calcium needs to be hit every day.
Vitamin D is needed by the body to absorb calcium and there is some evidence that arthritis progresses faster in people who have low levels of vitamin D in their bodies. Vitamin D is produced by the body when skin is exposed to sunlight. Most people in Northern Ireland don't get enough vitamin D for a variety of reasons including too much time spent indoors, diligence with necessary sunscreen and latitude.
Vitamin D is found in foods such as eggs, chicken livers, salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel and swordfish as well as fortified foods.
Since it may be difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone, it is recommended to take 200 IU of vitamin D per day. Older adults should aim to take 400 IU each day.
Those with arthritis are at risk of becoming anaemic for a variety of reasons including taking NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). In some situations, iron supplements are required.
However, those can upset gut function. It's advisable to take iron supplements every other day to reduce the negative symptoms experienced with supplementation. For most people, eating iron-rich foods should be enough. Animal sources of iron, particularly beef, pork liver, clams and black pudding, are absorbed more easily from the body compared to plant sources. Plant-based iron sources are better absorbed if there is also plenty of vitamin C within the meal - for example, including red, yellow or orange peppers in a meal with iron-rich lentils, eating citrus fruit with roasted pumpkin seeds or enjoying a tomato-based sauce with soya beans.
It's also a good idea to avoid drinking tea or milk with meals as this can reduce the absorption of iron from the meal.
Fats and oils are broken down by the digestive system into fatty acids. Some fatty acids can be made by the body while other types need to be eaten.
The ones that need to be eaten into the body are referred to as essential fatty acids as they are essential for health and it is essential that we eat them. The body uses these types of fatty acids to control inflammation in the body. ALA is the omega-3 fatty acid found in plants while DHA and EPA are found in oily fish. Both help to optimise health.
Omega 3 fats, particularly the omega 3 fats found in oily fish, can be helpful for inflammatory arthritis. It is important to eat both types. If a person is allergic to fish, or vegan, they may be able to ingest DHA and EPA by taking an algae supplement.
Do not confuse cod liver oil with an omega 3 or fish oil supplement. Fish liver oils contain some omega 3 fat as well as vitamin D and vitamin A. Taking these oils risks consuming too much vitamin A, if taken in large doses, and should be avoided during pregnancy.
1 tin sardines
1 malted drink made on milk
1 serving whitebait
50g calcium-fortified cereal
200ml calcium-enriched milk alternatives
½ tin rice pudding
1 cup soya beans
10 dried figs
1 serving pilchards
6 pieces of scampi
1 tbsp blackstrap molasses
100g cottage cheese
15g soft spreadable cheese
220g baked beans
1 pot of calcium enriched soya yoghurt
1 tin salmon
50g fromage frais
60g milk chocolate
4 sprigs broccoli
30g Brazil nuts
100g ice cream
1 serving of bok choy