Is there a juvenile arthritis diet?

There is no special diet that can cure juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) — but there are ways of eating that may help curb inflammation.

Eating a balanced diet is important for supporting the health and immune system of all growing children. Parents may look to a certain diet in the hopes that it may lessen JIA symptoms for their child. Unfortunately, there is no special diet that can cure JIA. There’s also no evidence that certain foods or nutrients can stave off JIA complications. Is there anything that children with JIA can eat to ease inflammation?

What to eat for JIA

A balanced diet that includes whole foods can help a child with JIA with their overall health, but it’s important to note that there is no evidence supporting it will help with inflammation.

“There is no evidence-based data to show that diet has an effect on JIA,” said Kenneth N. Schikler, M.D., pediatric rheumatologist with Norton Children’s Rheumatology, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. “Unless a child with JIA has another underlying health condition, elimination of any foods or adding supplements have not been shown in valid placebo-controlled studies to have an effect on JIA. Based on either medications used or other problems, some children may need certain vitamin or dietary supplements.”

Dr. Schikler emphasizes that it’s important for all children to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.

Foods that make up a healthy, well-balanced diet can include:

  • Calcium- and vitamin D-rich foods: Calcium and vitamin D are important for all growing children to help build strong bones. For children with JIA, medicines such as corticosteroids and methotrexate may limit calcium absorption. A pediatric rheumatologist can help families understand if their child should take supplements.
  • Foods high in fiber: Eating enough fiber can help with inflammation by aiding the body to filter out toxins and keep important nutrients. Consider foods such as quinoa; sweet potatoes; beans and lentils; and whole grain bread over processed grains such as white rice or white bread.
  • Fruits and vegetables: Eating a variety of different fruits and vegetables can help children get essential vitamins and nutrients. Studies show that the darker and more colorful a fruit or veggie is, the more disease-fighting properties it has. Good examples include dark, leafy greens such as kale, beets, berries, tomatoes, cherries and broccoli.
  • Herbs and spices: There are many herbs and spices that include anti-inflammatory benefits, such as ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and rosemary. Herbs and spices also help with giving dishes flavor, which can help limit the amount of sugar and salt you use as well as keep your diet from feeling bland.
  • Omega-3s: Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna and sardines are heart-healthy and anti-inflammatory. Omega-3s can come from plant sources that include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a precursor of omega-3s. Examples include walnuts and seeds (such as flax, chia and hemp).
  • Protein: Protein is essential for growth and development as a building block of muscle and tissue. Good examples include legumes, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, fatty fish (i.e., salmon) and lean cuts of poultry and grass-fed beef.

Norton Children’s Rheumatology, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine

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What to avoid with JIA

Inflammation can be caused by certain foods, including:

  • Artificial ingredients: Things such as high-fructose corn syrup, as well as artificial dyes and sweeteners, can be confusing for the overloaded immune systems of children with JIA. Convenience foods with a few ingredients, up to six listed, are usually better than those with a long ingredient list.
  • Charred food: While a staple of summer dinners, grilled food that is charred, especially meats, have more compounds that cause inflammation. Broiling, steaming and baking foods are all good substitutions.
  • Sugar: Sugar can lead to too much bacterial growth in the gut and heightened blood sugar, which can cause more inflammation.
  • Trans and saturated fats: The fats, found in animal products, coconut oil, butter and processed meats can release inflammatory proteins into the bloodstream.