Arthritis causes inflammation, pain and limited mobility in nearly 21 million adults in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making it the most common cause of disability as of 2011. Factors that increase your risk for developing an arthritic disease include family history of arthritis, aging, injuries, obesity and a high-fat or meat-rich diet. Gaining understanding regarding the relationship between meat and arthritis may inspire you to make wise dietary decisions.
Relationship and Risks
Although meat is not known to cause arthritis, a meat-rich diet may trigger or worsen your symptoms. Because meat contains more natural substances known as purines than other foods, it can more easily lead to high uric acid levels, which increases your risk for a flareup of gout, which is a form of arthritis. Some people with rheumatoid arthritis have experienced symptom improvements after switching from a typical Western diet, rich in meat and processed foods, to a natural plant-based diet, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Fatty meats, such as red and processed meats, are high in saturated fat, which may increase inflammation and leave less room in your diet for foods with anti-inflammatory properties, such as cold-water fish. A high-fat, high-calorie diet often leads to weight gain, which can increase strain on your joints.
Degenerative forms of arthritis involve the gradual reduction of cartilage and bone within your joints. In a study published in the "Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging" in February 2006, researchers analyzed the meat consumption and symptoms of degenerative arthritis and soft tissue disorders among participants of the Adventist Health Study, which tracks the dietary habits and wellness of roughly 96,000 people. The 22.6 percent of participants who exhibited arthritis and soft tissue disorders were much more likely to consume meat regularly, or more than once per week, compared to the participants who did not. Researchers concluded that greater meat consumption is associated with an increased prevalence degenerative arthritis and soft tissue problems in men and women.
Meat can serve as a valuable source of protein and nutrients, such as iron, zinc and B vitamins, in your diet. The importance of protein cannot be underestimated in older adults' diets, according to a report published in the "Journal of American College of Nutrition" in December 2004. Older adults need more protein than younger adults and consuming too little increases skin fragility, poor immune function, poor healing and delayed healing from illness. In many cases, saturated fat and cholesterol in meat are the most problematic. Unless your arthritis symptoms derive from high uric acid levels, you may tolerate and benefit from eating lean meats, such as skinless white-meat poultry, as part of a nutritious, balanced diet.
If you have gout, MayoClinic.com recommends limiting animal protein to 6 oz. or less per day. Rely on plant-based protein sources, such as beans, lentils and tofu, most often. As fiber-rich foods, beans and lentils also promote positive cholesterol levels and appetite control, which may ease the process of weight management and guard against all forms of arthritis pain. For enhanced wellness, limit unhealthy fat sources, including fatty meats and cheeses, fried foods and commercially prepared pastries, chips and frosting. Consume moderate amounts of healthy fat sources, such as nuts, seeds, salmon and avocados, instead. Additional arthritis-friendly foods include whole grains, such as oats, barley and brown rice, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Arthritis; May 2011
- MayoClinic.com; Gout diet; March 2010
- University of Maryland Medical Center; Rheumatoid arthritis; Steven D. Ehrlich, N.M.D.; December 2009
- "Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging"; Associations Between Meat Consumption and the Prevalence of Degenerative Arthritis and Soft Tissue Disorders in the Adventist Health Study, California ; A Hailu et al.; Feb. 2006
- "Journal of the American College of Nutrition"; Protein and Older Adults; Ronni Chernoff; Dec. 2004