By Karen Kennedy
Although many studies show that maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most important components of managing Р or even preventing Р osteoarthritis (OA), there are no specific nutritional guidelines for what an arthritis diet should be.
Instead, most doctors recommend eating a healthy diet. What does that mean? “Think small when eating,” recommends Ruth Frechman, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “As you get older you have to eat less to stay the same weight.”
But portion size isn't the only way to maintain a healthy weight for arthritis. The Food and Drug Administration, which regularly issues guidelines for Americans, recommends a balanced diet with a primary focus on plant-based foods. Approximately two-thirds of your diet should include fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The other one-third should include fat-free or low-fat dairy products and lean sources of protein.
Include all food groups for a healthy arthritis diet
Eating variety of fresh, frozen or dried fruit daily is important, but go easy on fruit juice, which can be high in sugar. Recommended servings of fruit vary with age, gender and level of activity. For adults that can be 1Р2 cups per day. The recommended amount can be reached with a large banana, an orange and a cup of dried fruit, for example.
Vegetables, especially dark green and orange vegetables, and dried beans and peas are essential to a healthy diet. As with fruit, recommended amounts of vegetables depend on your age, gender and level of activity. For adults, figure 2Р3 cups of vegetables per day from:
Ґ Dark green vegetables such as spinach, greens and broccoli.
Ґ Orange vegetables such as sweet potatoes, squash and carrots.
Ґ Dried beans and peas such as black beans, black-eyed peas or garbanzo beans.
Your daily meals should also include whole grains Р foods made with the entire grain kernel, including whole-wheat flour, bulgur, oatmeal, whole cornmeal and brown rice.
The fiber in whole grains makes them a better choice than refined grains, such as white flour, white rice and white bread, which have no fiber.
Eat three ounces of whole grains daily from foods such as brown or wild rice, buckwheat, oatmeal, popcorn, and whole wheat bread, pasta, crackers and tortillas.
Calcium-rich dairy products are important in a healthy diet. Choose low- or no-fat milk, cheese and yogurt. Adults need about three cups of dairy per day. One and a half ounces of cheese, for example, equals one cup of milk.
Most Americans get enough protein each day; the challenge is to choose lean or low-fat sources, such as chicken, seafood, beans, peas, nuts and seeds. Broiling, grilling or baking poultry and fish can help lessen the amount of added oil and fat in your diet.
Foods (and Drinks) to Avoid with Arthritis
What about the foods that you should avoid or eat in very small amounts? These healthy diet destroyers include:
Ґ Saturated fats, which are found in things like butter, lard and meats, are linked with the creation of cholesterol.
Ґ Trans fats, also linked to high cholesterol, can be found in some processed foods such as crackers, candies, cookies, snack foods, fried foods and baked goods. Look for the words “no trans fats” on food labels before purchasing.
Ґ Salt or sodium, which can elevate blood pressure, is found primarily in processed food. The Nutritional Guidelines recommend that people with high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease consume 1,500 milligrams (mg) Р about one teaspoon Р of sodium each day. Everyone else should aim for 2,300 mg or less. Most Americans currently get 3,000Р4,000 mg each day. Check food labels for sodium content before purchasing.
Ґ Sugars, whether added to coffee or in processed foods and sodas, are empty calories, with no nutritional value, and add calories to your daily total. As a guide, a 2,000-calorie daily diet should include about 32 grams, or eight teaspoons, of sugar. One 12-ounce soda has 10 teaspoons of sugar.
Ґ Alcohol also offers empty calories. Aim for moderate alcohol intake Р no more than one drink (12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or 1½ ounce of distilled alcohol) per day for women and two a day for men.
Overall, a healthy arthritis diet eating plan means a shift away from red meat and high-fat dairy to more plant-based foods, including vegetables, dried (but cooked) beans and peas, fruits, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
To get your protein and calcium, increase amounts of seafood, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.
Become familiar with nutrition labels on prepared foods, which will help you choose foods low in saturated and trans fats, sodium and added sugars.