Diet is key in the management of arthritis symptoms. Focus should be around an anti-inflammatory diet, plus ensuring you incorporate the correct nutrients to maintain healthy cartilage, and strong bones.
In an ideal world, you should stick to whole foods that have not been processed, but here are some tips to help you understand food labels for those times where we need to rely on ready-made meals, but still want to be good to our bodies.
All ingredients are listed in order, from high to low. For example, if sugar is close to first on the list, this means the item is high-sugar and should be avoided due to its inflammatory effects. Sugars may be labelled as ‘fructose’, ‘glucose’, ‘sucrose’, syrups, or even honey.
As a general rule of thumb, if you do not know what something is, steer clear from it!
Nutrition Information Panel (NIP)
It is important to maintain a healthy weight and low cholesterol if you suffer from arthritis, in order to avoid added strain on the joints or organs. The ‘per serve’ on the NIP lists the overall energy as a tool to calculate your calorie intake. The per serve info. also displays the recommended daily % intake of each category.
To compare the nutrition value of two products, look at the ‘per 100g’ section. Pay particular attention to:
- Protein: key to maintenance of healthy muscles. The average adult needs ~0.8g or protein per kg of body weight, but discuss with a dietician or nutritionist what is right for you.
- Fat: for strictly low- fat diets, choose items under 3g per 100g. Anything up to 10g per 100g is considered a healthy choice, but target ‘healthy’ fats such as monounsaturated and polysaturated fats. Limit saturated fats, and steer clear from trans fats altogether as both of these can raise your cholesterol.
- Carbohydrate: an important part of any healthy diet, however opt for items containing a low ‘of which sugars’ Under 5g/100g of sugars is the best choice.
- Sodium: this is the salt content. In high amounts this raises blood pressure so aim for products under 400mg/100g, and under 120mg/100g for a strictly low-sodium diet.
Whilst it is best to choose and compare foods based on the granular nutritional level, above if you are looking for a quick comparison you can look at the health stars displayed on the front of food packaging. The ratings are out of 5, and compare foods at a broad level based on overall nutrients. Opt for the choice with a higher star rating, but remember that it is only comparative to items within the same food category.
In addition to understanding ingredients to avoid, also look out for the essential nutrients to support your bones and cartilage such as omega-3, calcium, magnesium and vitamin D. If these are not listed on the foods you are reaching for, then ensure to build them into your diets via supplements.