Expert Q&A: Is There a Special JA Diet?

An expert breaks down the best dietary choices for children with juvenile arthritis. 

Question: I’m interested in using nutrition to help improve my child’s symptoms. What’s the most effective diet for JA?

Answer: Unfortunately, there is not a specific diet for relieving JA symptoms. The best diet for a child with arthritis is one that gives them the calories, protein and other key nutrients for proper growth and development while living with a chronic disease. Current nutrition research supports following a Mediterranean diet pattern for lowering inflammation in the body. This diet consists of plenty of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats from vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, lean protein (especially from fatty fish such as tuna or salmon), whole grains such as oatmeal and low-fat dairy (i.e., yogurt). These foods contain healthy fats and vitamins that can help lower inflammation. The Mediterranean diet also gives your child plenty of options based on his or her likes and dislikes.

If you are concerned that certain foods may make symptoms worse, there are some things you can do. One, keep a food and symptom journal for two to three months to help identify if certain foods truly have an impact. JA symptoms can vary from day to day making it difficult to identify true symptoms caused by foods. Two, if you suspect your child has a food intolerance or allergy, make an appointment with a registered dietitian nutritionist and pediatric allergist. They can help identify problem foods and find alternative foods to assure your child is getting the nutrients they need. It is important to correctly identify food sensitivities and allergies to avoid overly restricting your child's diet. Highly restricted diets can cause nutrient deficiencies affecting your child's normal growth and development. 

Lastly, a diet that limits highly processed foods, sugary foods and foods high in saturated and trans fats is good for your child and everyone in your family. Prepare meals with fresh, whole ingredients as often as possible.  

Lona Sandon, PhD, RDN, LD
Program Director, Associate Professor
Department of Clinical Nutrition, School of Health Professions
UT Southwestern Medical Center

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