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Arthritis: Here's what you need to know


Most people know someone with arthritis.  But did you know that healthy eating is important to managing arthritis?  Read on for how a healthy lifestyle, including food choices and physical activity, can help you live well with arthritis. 


What is arthritis?

Arthritis means inflammation of the joint (“arth” is joint and “itis” means inflammation). When people hear arthritis they usually think only of osteoarthritis, the kind that typically happens as you age.

In fact, there are over 100 different types of arthritis that can strike anybody from babies to older adults. While arthritis does commonly attack the joints, different types also cause musculoskeletal pain.

Visit The Arthritis Society website to find out more about different types of arthritis.


Arthritis and healthy living

It is not always possible to prevent arthritis but you can take control of the quality of life that you have with the condition. Live better and manage pain by making healthy lifestyle choices that include healthy eating, being active and losing weight.


Healthy eating can make a difference

Healthy eating can make a difference to some people with arthritis.  Here’s why:

  • The right food choices, along with portion control, can help you achieve a healthy weight. Losing weight can reduce the pain in weight bearing joints.
  • Making healthy choices using Canada’s Food Guide will provide you with the right amount of energy and nutrients that you need to complete daily tasks and enjoy favourite activities.
  • Eating healthy can reduce the risk of chronic diseases like osteoporosis, heart disease and diabetes.

The best eating plan for someone with arthritis is to base their food choices on Canada’s Food Guide. This means:

  • Choose one dark green and one orange vegetable or fruit everyday. Try spinach, arugula and sweet potatoes.
  • Fill your plate with vegetables and fruit so that you get at least seven servings a day.
  • Make at least half your grain choices whole grains. Experiment with quinoa, bulgur or steel cut oats.
  • Choose lean meat, fish and poultry and stick to reasonable serving sizes. Try making some of your meals meatless by using meat alternatives like tofu, eggs and legumes.
  • Meet your calcium and vitamin D requirements through low fat milk and milk alternatives.
  • Use healthy fats like olive and canola oil and soft margarine instead of saturated and trans fats like butter and hard margarine.
  • Limit high sugar and high sodium foods. 

People with arthritis should also pay special attention to calcium, vitamin D, iron, omega-3 fatty acids and some antioxidants.The Arthritis FAQ has more information on these nutrients.


Is it true that arthritis can be cured with a special diet?

No. Fad diets that require you to eliminate foods or food groups or even ask you to fast have not proven to relieve pain or “cure” arthritis. In fact, sometimes they can make you feel worse – especially if you aren’t getting all the nutrients you need to stay healthy.

Find out more about arthritis and special diets in Arthritis: Five common myths are busted.


If you have arthritis, keep those joints moving

It’s easy to think that when you are suffering with arthritis pain that you shouldn’t exercise anymore. Not true! Research has shown that following an exercise program can decrease pain by keeping joints and cartilage healthy. It can also improve your fitness, flexibility and help you lose weight, which is especially important for people with osteoarthritis.

Aim for 30-60 minutes of physical activity everyday. Try to do a combination of activities that improve your heart health, strengthen your bones and muscles and make you more flexible. The Arthritis Society recommends that people with arthritis try activities that are easier on the joints such as walking, swimming, gentle stretching, range of motion exercises, yoga, tai chi and using hand weights.

Always speak to your doctor before getting started with physical activity. 


Should I lose weight if I have arthritis?

Possibly. Depending on the type of arthritis, you can reduce the pain in some joints by losing weight.  This is especially true for osteoarthritis of the weight bearing joints (knee, hip, back, ankles and feet). Any extra weight you are carrying will put a lot of pressure on those joints and increase the pain. Even a little bit of weight loss will make a big difference to your pain. Aim to achieve a healthy BMI (body mass index). Figure out your BMI here.

Losing weight is not easy; here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Follow Canada’s Food Guide. Fill your plate mostly with vegetables, fruit, and high-fibre whole grains or legumes. Round out your meals with low fat dairy and lean meat, poultry or fish.
  2. Watch your portion sizes. We tend to eat whatever is on our plate, even if we’re not hungry. Take this quiz to see how you measure up.
  3. Get active. Speak to your doctor if you are new to exercise and then aim for 30-60 minutes a day of a physical activity that you enjoy.
  4. Call EatRight Ontario at 1-877-510-510-2 to speak with a Registered Dietitian about healthy weight loss or send an email.
  5. Click here for more weight management and healthy eating resources.
  6. Get help with menu planning. Visit My Menu Planner to customize a meal plan that includes all your favourite foods.


Arthritis pain and supplements

Because arthritis pain can be difficult to treat and manage, some people turn to herbal remedies. There are quite a few supplements that have been promoted to relieve arthritis pain. Some of the most popular include glucosamine and chondroitin, collagen and gamma-linoleic acid.   So far there are not a lot of studies that have shown that these supplements are helpful for arthritis. If you do want to try these or any other type of herbal supplements, make sure to speak to your doctor, Registered Dietitian or pharmacist first. Remember, just because something is natural does not mean that it is always safe to take.

See the Arthritis FAQ for more information on supplements.


The bottom line:

  • It is possible to make everyday with arthritis a good day. Here’s what you need to remember:
  • Make healthy food choices using Canada’s Food Guide and skip the fad diets. Healthy eating can help you lose or maintain your weight and will give you the energy for the tasks of daily living.
  • Your joints and bones will be healthier if you keep them moving. Aim for 30-60 minutes of physical activity that will work for you. Speak to your doctor about getting started.
  • Make weight loss a priority if extra weight is putting too much pressure on your joints.  Even a little bit of weight loss can reduce your pain.
  • Take your medication as prescribed. If you wish to try herbal supplements, speak to your doctor, Registered Dietitian or pharmacist first.
  • Get support. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your healthcare team, friends and family. Want to meet others with arthritis? See The Arthritis Society website for programs and services.


For more information about arthritis:

Gout

Arthritis: Five common myths are busted

Arthritis FAQ

Read Nutrition & Arthritis by The Arthritis Society and Dietitians of Canada to learn how eating well can help arthritis.

Visit The Arthritis Society for more information on arthritis, supports and programs.

This beginner’s check-off list from the Arthritis Society can help you get active.

Last Update – October 9, 2016

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If you have questions about what you've read here, or other questions about food, nutrition or healthy eating, click to email our Registered Dietitians or call 1-877-510-5102.