There are books that claim they have the miracle rheumatoid arthritis diet on the shelves, but none of them really have any proven data to back them up. It sounds appealing but don’t just bet that you can control your RA just by changing your diet. I’m not saying that a proper diet isn’t helpful because it definitely is. What I am saying is that a diet alone won’t do the trick. I am promoting that following a healthy, balanced diet will play a key factor in your overall wellness.
Well Balanced Diet
A person’s diet must be both nutritious and well balanced to maintain energy levels and to keep muscles strong enough to protect the joints. The biggest goal is to consume enough calories per day to maintain YOUR healthy body weight. People that have very active rheumatoid arthritis. Weight loss may be a problem but more commonly weight gain is the problem. Some medications may increase the appetite and therefore cause you to gain weight. Many people that have rheumatoid arthritis will develop muscle loss. This will decrease the body’s metabolic rate and less calories will be burnt (but less calories will be needed). Arthritis often limits physical activity resulting in a decrease in calorie use.
The Food Guide Pyramid
A diet that is nutritionally balanced consists of a variety of foods from the different food groups. Each of the food groups in the pyramid offers a range of servings that will vary according to the calorie requirements. There are some very general recommendations the National Academy of Sciences about calorie consumption:
- older adults and sedentary women (less active): 1,600 calories
- active women and sedentary men: 2,200 calories
- some very active men and women: 2,800 calories
Most people with active RA would require between 1,600 and 2,200 calories. If you’re following this and finding that you’re gaining weight, you can always decrease your caloric intake but maintain the proper food balance in the categories. A diet that is low in fat can help ease the symptoms of RA.
Fats, Sugars, and Oils (use sparingly)
It’s necessary to have some fat in your diet and it’s also impossible to avoid all fats. Fat is a component of foods in important nutrient groups like meat and dairy. Fats will supply nutrients that are called essential fatty acids and are important for things like absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. All fats will add calories to your diet but they shouldn’t account for more than 30%. Saturated fats are the ones found in dairy products, animal fat, and in some coconut and palm oils. These types of fats are the most harmful to consume a lot of because they can increase cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease. Fried foods and baked goods can have lots of these types of fats so be aware. Unsaturated fats won’t raise cholesterol levels but are still high in calories. For those with rheumatoid arthritis, choosing foods and oils with these fatty acids might be advantageous.
It will take some time to get used to a low fat diet and it requires trying out new ideas, learning more about foods, and making wise choices consistently. Be sure and check the ingredient labels for the types of and grams of fat that it contains. Choose lean meats and skim milk. Sugars occur naturally in things such as milk, fruits, and some vegetables but added sugars are just empty calories. Soft drinks, candy, and most desserts are some items you should learn to live without. It’s hard to break but once you do, just the thought of any of these will make you cringe.
Bread, Cereals, Rice, and Pasta (six to eleven daily servings)
Carbohydrates are an excellent source of fiber, minerals, vitamins, and energy. The ones that are particulary important those whole-grain foods like in certain breads and cereals. Many baked items and pastries are low in fiber because they use refined sugars and commercial baked goods are often high in sugar and fat. Most Americans don’t get enough of the recommended 20 to 30 grams of fiber needed per day.
Vegetables (three to five servings per day)
Vegetables can provide vitamins that are critical such as A and C and minerals such as iron and magnesium. And, when eaten raw, can provide sources of fiber as well. Good sources of vitamin A include dark green leafy vegetables, orange vegetables (pumpkins and carrots), and tomatoes. Vitamin C can be gotten from peppers, brocolli, cabbage, potatoes, and leafy greens. Vegetables with the brightest an deepest of colors are usually the ones with the most nutrients.
Fruits (two to four daily servings)
Vitamins A, C, and potassium are derived from fruits. Orange colored fruits (apricots, mango, cantaloupe) are high in Vitamin A. Kiwi, citrus fruits, and strawberries are bursting with Vitamin C. Fruits that are purple or blue are high in antioxidants called anthocyanins. Always try to choose fresh fruits and juices and watch for the ones that are canned or frozen that might be high in sugar.
Meat, Fish, Poultry, Dry Beans, Eggs, and Nuts
The recommended amounts of these are two to three servings with a total of five to seven ounces of lean meat, fish, or poultry. These provide the needed proteins, B vitamins, iron, and zinc. Here are a few tips that could be useful:
1. trim away all the visible fat from meats
2. choose leaner cuts (means less trimming)
3. remove the skin from chicken and turkey
4. broil or roast meats instead of frying them
By adding some meatless meals into your diet by using pinto beans, kidney beans, or black beans will bring some variety in there as well.
Milk, Cheese, and Yogurt (two to three servings)
Milk and milk products can help provide you with vitamins, protein, and particularly calcium. Getting enough calcium is important for those with rheumatoid arthritis because of the potential risk of osteoporosis. Be sure and choose skim milk, yogurts that have little to no fat (and sugar) as well as cheese (including cottage cheese).
In closing, let’s go over the highlights just in case you were starting to doze or just skipped straight to the end!
- Eat a variety of foods
- keep your food intake balanced with your physical activity level
- Choose a diet that includes plenty of grains, vegetables, and fruits
- Choose a diet that is low in fat, cholesterol, and saturated fat
- Keep your sugar intake low
- Limit your sodium intake (watch those labels!)
- If you drink alcohol, do it in moderation. You’d be surprised at how much stuff it has.
And last but not least, DRINK LOTS OF WATER. I know you’ve heard this over and over but it’s amazing how important water is to your body. What I found that helped me convert to water was to actually carry a bottle of water with me everywhere I went whether I was thirsty or not.