Rebecca Shafer, Villa St. Francis Registered Dietitian |
Last month, I teamed up with our Health and Wellness Coordinator to talk with our residents about how nutrition and exercise can help with arthritis symptoms. Arthritis is caused by cartilage breakdown, swelling, and inflammation in the joints. Many of our residents experience the painful symptoms of arthritis, and I know many of those in the community do as well. Here are three simple nutrition points the residents and I discussed to help ease the symptoms of arthritis and keep joints healthy:
1. Choose your calories wisely.
Weight plays a big role in arthritis symptoms; more weight equals more pressure on the joints which can lead to pain and discomfort. Maintaining a healthy weight by making healthy calorie choices can help ease the pain of arthritis. And it’s more than just counting calories - choosing the right calories is very important. I used the example of a 100-calorie pack of chips compared to a fresh apple. Both contain 100 calories, and if you are simply counting calories, would appear equal. However, there are many more nutrients packed into the 100 calories in an apple than the 100 calories in chips. This is usually referred to as choosing nutrient-dense foods versus energy-dense food. The apple is nutrient-dense, because you are getting more nutrients per calorie, or more “bang for your buck.” Energy-dense foods are high in calories and low in nutrients. A diet of mostly nutrient-dense foods can help with weight maintenance, leading to less pressure on joints affected by arthritis. One of our residents commented during our talk that energy-dense options look more processed and nutrient-dense options are usually fresh food options—I liked that observation!
2. Build up bones & joints.
Calcium and vitamin D are the big players in bone health, and these vitamins are common in dairy products, dark leafy greens, and eggs. Vitamin C works to promote collagen, which is a main part of cartilage in our joints. Peppers, tomatoes, citrus fruits, and strawberries are good sources of vitamin C. A diet rich in calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin C can help keep bones and joints healthy as a person ages.
3. Ease the inflammation.
Inflammation is present in rheumatoid arthritis and can occur in osteoarthritis with cartilage breakdown. Omega 3 fatty acids and zinc both help to decrease inflammation in the body, therefore helping decrease the pain and stiffness associated with arthritis. Zinc is found in meats, beans, and dairy products. Omega 3 fatty acids are common in fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna), flaxseed, walnuts, and olive oil. Adopting the Mediterranean diet is very common and very helpful for those with arthritis due to increased intake of fresh fruits, vegetables and omega 3 fatty acids. Another common anti-inflammatory is green tea, which is what we drank during our arthritis discussion here at Villa!
Consuming more nutrient-dense foods with a good source of the vitamins mentioned above can help those with arthritis to keep moving!