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Managing Ankylosing Spondylitis With Diet


Marijke Vroomen Durning, RN

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In the last few decades, scientists have recognized that everything in our bodies is connected. Whereas we used to think individual body systems functioned relatively independently, now we know that decisions we make impact every organ and tissue.

And we’re learning that what we eat affects how each of the different parts of our bodies function. The good news is this knowledge can help us better manage chronic conditions, like ankylosing spondylitis (AS).

AS is a type of chronic inflammatory arthritis affecting the joints in the spine. It might not seem like a spine disease would be impacted by the food we eat, but it’s important to note that AS is an inflammatory condition, meaning it’s caused by inflammation. And while there are many factors that produce inflammation, food is a major one. Plus, what you eat contributes to your weight and overall health—two aspects that can affect your AS. That’s why being mindful of your diet choices can help you manage this chronic disease.

A well-balanced diet relieves pain and fatigue.

Part of managing AS is staying generally healthy. Regardless of your health condition, everyone should eat a well-balanced diet—but what is that exactly? The term means eating healthy foods sensibly. According to ChooseMyPlate, a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) initiative, half your plate should comprise fruits and vegetables, and the rest of the plate should be grain and proteins, with dairy alongside. Processed foods and foods high in fat, salt and sugar shouldn’t be a regular part of your diet.

Eating a balanced diet also means not overeating. According to the U.S. Department of Human and Health Services (HHS), the average American diet exceeds the number of required calories, mostly from added sugars, refined grains, sodium (salt), and saturated fat. This is a contributing factor to weight gain and carrying extra weight on your body puts stress on your joints and your back, which is an even bigger concern for people with AS. Excess weight may mean excess pain for AS patients. Additionally, being overweight can increase feelings of fatigue, already a key symptom of AS. To relieve pain and keep your energy up, you’ve got to eat nutrient-rich foods that keep you slim and awake all day.

Get to your ideal weight by choosing healthy foods and eating in moderation. To determine healthy portions, just use your hand as a measuring tool:

  • Your clenched fist is about the size of 1 cup. Use your fist to measure out a healthy serving size of vegetables (1 cup) or dry cereal, cooked pasta, or rice (1/2 cup).

  • The tip of your thumb is roughly 1 teaspoon. Stick to one teaspoon of high-fat foods like peanut butter and mayonnaise.

  • Your palm is about the size of 3 oz of meat. Try to eat two servings (6 oz) of lean meats like poultry, fish, and beef every day.

If you’re overweight and would like to lose weight, speak with your healthcare provider to review what methods would be best for you.

Decrease inflammation to decrease AS pain.

Managing AS means choosing to eat foods that don’t increase inflammation. To take control of your AS, avoid known inflammatory foods like:

  • Alcohol

  • Aspartame, an artificial sweetener found in many “sugar-free” products.

  • Mono-sodium glutamate (MSG), which adds flavor and is most commonly found in soy sauce and in Asian cuisine; however, it can also show up in processed foods, like deli meats.

  • Saturated fats, found in foods such as pizza, cheese, red meat, and full-fat dairy products.

  • Sugar, which may be listed on labels as fructose and sucrose.

  • Trans-fats (partially hydrogenated oils), found particularly in fast food, fried food, processed food, margarine, shortening, and lard.

  • Refined white flour and white rice, found in white breads and cereals.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Feb 23, 2017

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Medical References

  1. Questions and Answers about Ankylosing Spondylitis. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Part of the National Institutes of Health.
  2. Ankylosing Spondylitis. Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center.
  3. 8 Food Ingredients That Can Cause Inflammation. Arthritis Foundation.
  4. Foods that fight inflammation. Harvard Health Publications.
  5. Correct Portion Sizes: How to Keep Portion Distortion in Check. Dairy Council of California.
  6. USDA. ChooseMyPlate.
  7. President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition.
  8. Best Spices for Arthritis. Arthritis Foundation.
  9. The London AS/Low-Starch Diet. Spondylitis Association of America.

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