Look after your joints with help from nutritional therapist Henrietta Norton
With around 10 million people experiencing the symptoms of arthritis in the UK alone, joint health problems are a common complaint in GP surgeries. However, this is not just the preserve of the elderly as is often thought. In fact, joint degeneration and auto-immune related joint concerns such as rheumatoid arthritis can begin at any age. Therefore looking after our joints through diet and lifestyle at a young age is both a very powerful preventative measure as well as effective support for existing conditions
Which foods could help?
Rainbow coloured vegetables
Vegetables and fruits are high in vitamin C, which is essential for collagen production and the health of the cartilage. Each different colour within a vegetable provides an array of natural anti-inflammatory chemicals called phytochemicals such as flavonoids. They are also rich in a variety of antioxidants to quench free radicals that can exacerbate inflammation and damage to the joints. The deeper root vegetables are also an excellent source of trace minerals needed to support the immune system and bone density (which is particularly important in cases of osteoarthritis or osteopenia). I recommend aiming for five to seven servings of mixed coloured vegetables per day – think of a rainbow of colour on your plate!
Colour can be achieved through fruit too. The best fruits to include are usually dark-coloured berries, which are high in antioxidants and low in sugar. Other fruits can be highly nutritious but also contain significant amounts of natural sugar, so it may be best to stick to a maximum of two to three portions a day and avoid those highest in sugar such as bananas, grapes and especially dried fruit.
Another important nutrient is omega 3 fatty acids. This type of fatty acid – especially EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) found in oily fish – can be converted into substances in the body that help to control inflammation. To get more omega 3, eat oily fish such as sardines, mackerel, trout and salmon two or three times a week, and include omega 3-rich seeds, such as flaxseeds and chia seeds, in your diet. Raw nuts and other seeds are rich in omega 6 essential fatty acids and also contain some omega 3, and can be excellent sources of nutrients such as magnesium, zinc and calcium that are important for bone health.
Spices such as turmeric, ginger and cayenne can be brilliant additions to foods as they can have gentle anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown that the anti-inflammatory benefits of regular turmeric consumption in food to be comparable to over-thecounter non-steroidal anti-inflammatories.
Keep hydrated. Drinking enough water is vital for joint health, as it is for all areas of health. Water helps to remove toxic metabolic waste and dead cells that are produced in higher quantities where there is inflammation, as well as delivering nutrients to the tissues. Try herbal teas too: nettle tea is high in minerals to support the bones, green tea may be a good source of antioxidants to combat free radicals, and rosehip tea may have good anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger tea can also be a good option, especially if made using fresh ginger.
What foods should we avoid?
The following groups of foods may be best avoided or kept to a minimum when looking after your joints:
Sugary foods and refined carbohydrates
Sugar can have a detrimental effect on our health in many ways, including by exacerbating inflammation. Refined carbohydrates break down quickly into sugars when digested so are just as problematic. Aim to replace these with whole grain carbohydrates such as brown rice, oats, quinoa and good quality wholemeal breads. (Some people may do better avoiding wheat at all and trying rye breads or other alternative wheat-free options.) Alcohol is also included in this group.
Tea is a better option, but stick to one to two cups a day to limit caffeine intake. Try to replace tea and coffee with alternatives such as grain ‘coffees’ based on barley, rye or chicory, or rooibos tea which tastes similar to normal tea but is naturally free of caffeine and other stimulating substances.
Red meat and organ meats (e.g. liver, kidney)
These are best limited to one or two servings a week, as they can be acid-forming and high in a pro-inflammatory omega 6 fat called arachidonic acid. They can also be rich in nutrients, however, so for most people they do not need to be excluded entirely.
Avoid any fried foods, particularly those fried in vegetable oils. Vegetable oils are high in omega 6 fatty acids, which in high levels can convert to pro-inflammatory substances in the body, and also become rancid when heated to high temperatures. Fry or roast food in oil only occasionally. Olive oil is a slightly better alternative to normal vegetable oils but its fatty acids can still spoil at high temperatures, so avoid heating it to smoking point. Coconut oil can be a much better option: as it is mainly composed of saturated fats, it does not spoil at high temperatures, and still provides a healthier alternative to butter and other animal fats. De-odorised coconut oils are also available for cooking if you want to avoid the coconut flavour/smell.
Vegetables from the nightshade family
These may cause a problem for those with arthritis as they seem to trigger inflammation in the joints. The nightshade family includes tomatoes, white potatoes, aubergine and peppers. (Note: black pepper as a spice is not included in this group and is fine to use.)
How can your lifestyle help?
If you are overweight and suffering from osteoarthritis in particular, weight loss will help to reduce the strain on your joints. You should also try to reduce stress. Stress causes increases the rate of oxidative damage and preliminary research has shown a connection with stress and auto-immune inflammatory conditions such as psoriatic and rheumatoid arthritis.
Many supplements may be helpful for joint health and the below may be worth trying…
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