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Talk Over RA: Busting Common Diet and Rheumatoid Arthritis Myths

Eileen Davidson, a charismatic Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) patient advocate and I discussed the most common misconceptions and diet trends around those living with Rheumatoid Arthritis for this campaign. Read her full blog post "Talk Over RA: Diet, Myths and Rheumatoid Arthritis with The Arthritis Dietitian." I am breaking down the information on four separate blogs:

Let's continue this series by Busting the Most Common Diet and RA Myths. The media is not short on nutrition advice for people living with rheumatoid arthritis, so how do we know which advice is fact or fiction? It can be overwhelming! I have rounded up the most common nutrition questions I hear from my clients with arthritis to help clear up some of the myths.

Will collagen powder relieve my joint pain?

Hydrolyzed collagen powder is a source of protein that has been broken down to be more easily digested by your body. Once digested, your body uses protein to help support cellular growth in all of our body systems. When it comes to the source, your body doesn't distinguish between a piece of chicken or collagen powder, and here's why. Protein is broken down by the body into amino acids used to build tissues or support your body's systems, such as hormone production or immunity. Some sources of protein provide all the essential amino acids required by the body. These are called complete proteins. Other sources provide some, but not all the amino acids we require. Collagen, while being a great source of protein, is not a complete protein because it is missing one of the 9 essential amino acids: tryptophan. Excellent sources of complete protein include chicken breasts, eggs, dairy products, fish, and soy products such as tofu.

While there has been some research looking at whether there is a benefit to consuming collagen powder for arthritis (1,2), the results have not been conclusive. There is no harm in using collagen powder, but it can be pretty pricey, and there are more affordable (and delicious!) ways to get protein into your diet.

Why not try adding light tuna to your salad? Check out this Fattoush Salad with a Digestive Friendly Twist

Can turmeric stop my flare-ups?

This vibrant spice has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that may help to reduce the pain and stiffness associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Turmeric contains curcumin, which is a compound that has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. This 2018 study analyzed 15 random control trials that studied the influence of curcumin on inflammatory biomarkers of participants and found that it may help in reducing them.

While curcumin has been shown to help reduce inflammation, it is not easily absorbed by our bodies. To increase the uptake of curcumin, it is recommended that it be consumed with black pepper as it contains the compound piperine, which aids in absorption. Oils such as olive, fish, seed and avocado are also recommended because curcumin is more easily absorbed when fats are present. Curcumin can be found in supplement form but exploring new recipes that include turmeric would be more delicious and fun! Check out my 30-minute Anti-inflammatory Spicy Shrimp for a tasty dish with turmeric and some kick!

Do I need to give up alcohol?

Are you wondering if your glass of wine with dinner or those beers on the patio are increasing your joint pain and swelling? There is no conclusive evidence suggesting that alcohol must be avoided for those of us with RA. However, if you find that your joints feel sore or are swelling after a drink or two, you might consider cutting down or eliminating it from your diet. Be sure to speak with your doctor if you are taking any medications. Some prescribed medications like Methotrexate and over-the-counter drugs such as anti-inflammatory NSAIDs have the potential for adverse interactions.

Are carbs really bad for my arthritis? I love carbs!

Not all carbs are created equal! When we think of carbohydrates, we often think of refined carbs such as fluffy white bread or pasta, but many of the foods we eat contain carbohydrates such as fruits, veggies, legumes, and whole grains. Refined carbs lose much of their vitamins, minerals, and fibre during processing. Fibre is vital for maintaining gut health, which may help reduce inflammatory biomarkers (3). Additionally, the vitamins and polyphenols found in many of these carbohydrates act as antioxidants in your body.

Choosing carbohydrates that are high in fibre and low on the glycemic index (low GI) can also help to reduce inflammation and the associated pain. The Glycemic Index helps you to understand which foods will cause a sharp rise and fall in blood sugar and which will digest more slowly, causing a more gradual increase in blood sugar and release of insulin. For more information on low GI foods, check out the Diabetes Canada Glycemic Index Food Guide and this amazing resource from the University of Sydney, AUS that helps to calculate the GI rating of your food choice: GI Search.

While most carbs are an important part of your anti-inflammatory diet, some carbs such as wheat, barley, and rye contain gluten. Gluten may increase the inflammatory response and joint pain if you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. If you think you may have either, please speak with your healthcare professional.

Will the keto diet cure my arthritis?

The ketogenic diet has gained popularity over the last few years as a miracle weight loss, cure-all diet. While there has been some initial research into whether this diet may help reduce pain and inflammation (4), there is not enough evidence to support the hypothesis at this time. In fact, restriction of carbohydrates, particularly whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, eliminates essential nutrients and fibre from your diet.

I discussed the keto and carnivore diets in my post On Trend: Is the carnivore diet an option for arthritis?. The main takeaway is that the risks often outweigh the benefits of this high-fat, low-fibre diet. If you think you could benefit from the keto diet, please speak with your healthcare professional and a Registered Dietitian (RD) to see if it is right for you.

Will eating nightshade vegetables make my arthritis worse?

Nightshade vegetables have a bad reputation, partly because of the alkaloid solanine found in them that can be toxic. However, the dose makes the poison. Solanine is only harmful in large quantities, not the amount consumed from a typical diet that includes nightshade veggies. Be sure to avoid green potatoes, though, because they have high levels of solanine.

As for nightshades aggravating your arthritis symptoms? Well, the research does not support this claim. In fact, some research is showing that the capsaicin found in some nightshades, such as peppers, may help relieve arthritis pain through topical use (5). Additionally, nightshade vegetables (eg. tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant) contain many vitamins and minerals that can benefit your health! If you find that after consuming nightshades pain or swelling increases, you may consider avoiding them and seeking the advice of an RD.

So, what is the best diet for Rheumatoid Arthritis?

The best diet is the one that makes you feel your best! This could be different for everyone, so it helps to seek an RD's advice. They will help you explore your trigger foods and what eating style works best for your lifestyle. Any diet that contains lots of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, gut health-promoting foods and Omega-3 fats tends to be most beneficial to your health and anti-inflammatory lifestyle.

Check out my blog posts on the Mediterranean and Anti-inflammatory diets for more info on ways to increase fibre and variety in your own diet!

Special thanks to Cheryl Anderson, Nutrition Communication MHSc student at Ryerson University who assisted with the research and writing for this post.

To learn more about Talk Over RA and how to engage in meaningful conversations with your health care provider, download the Talk Over RA discussion guide and check out their website.


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