arthritis food versus supplements

Supplements Vs. Food for Arthritis

Good-for-you foods provide a vast spectrum of nutrients important to battling arthritis inflammation, strengthening bones, fighting disease and generally helping you feel your best. So why not load up on vitamin and mineral supplements to make sure you’re getting enough of these nutrients? Food trumps supplements for several important reasons:

  • If you don’t eat a well-balanced diet, you’re missing out on countless nutrients you’d never get in a pill, or even a handful of different pills. For example, “Fatty fish also gives you other types of fat, protein, iron, zinc – you’re getting all these other lovely nutrients that are also important from an inflammation perspective and from a whole-health perspective,” explains registered dietitian Heidi Turner, medical nutrition therapist at Seattle Arthritis Clinic.
  • Nutrients are most beneficial when they work in concert with other nutrients. For instance, vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, and vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron.
  • The body absorbs nutrients from food much better than from supplements.
  • Plant-based foods supply an array of phytonutrients not found in supplements that feed good bacteria in our gut.

Three Exceptions

However, there are three nutrients that many people, especially with arthritis, simply can’t or don’t get enough of through food alone. Ask your doctor if you should consider these supplements:

Omega-3 fatty acids. “Most studies that have shown positive benefits involved larger amounts than we get in the diet,” says Turner. But don’t quit eating fish. Health experts recommend two servings per week of fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna or sardines. Turner recommends as much as 3,000 mg of fish oil per day to many of her patients, but it’s not for everybody. Ask your doctor if you might benefit from omega-3 supplements and at what dosage.

Calcium. If you avoid dairy, which seems to exacerbate arthritis symptoms for some people, getting sufficient calcium, which is important for bones and muscles, can be challenging. Other good food sources are green leafy vegetables and fortified beverages, such as almond milk. Turner’s clinic recommends 800 to 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day from supplements and food.

Vitamin D. Critical for bone and immune health, vitamin D is scant in food, and Turner says most of her patients are deficient. “If you’re going to supplement with anything, that’s the one to supplement with,” she says.

Sunlight is the best source of vitamin D; food sources include Portobello mushrooms and fatty fish. Turner advises asking your doctor to test to see if you need a supplement. The recommended daily dose is 600 IU, but different people need varying amounts.

Bottom line: “We want to try to make the diet as varied and nutrient-dense as possible so that we’re getting all of our nutrients from a variety of food sources,” says Turner. Supplements may have a role, but think “food first.”

Author: MARIANNE WAIT

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