Arthritis is a general term that refers to over 150 different conditions. The condition affects over 54 million Americans and is one of the leading causes of disability in the United States. Arthritis occurs when the cartilage between the joints wears down, causing pain, swelling, and stiffness. 

While there is no known cure for arthritis, the good news is that you can manage the symptoms through your diet. There is no special diet or ‘miracle food’ that can cure arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions, everyone can benefit from eating a healthy, well-balanced diet to maintain general good health.

Foods can help with arthritis in several ways. Most obviously, our food choices play a large role in weight management. Foods can supply healthy fats that improve joint function, provide vitamins and minerals, and decrease inflammatory responses in our bodies.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis means inflammation or swelling of one or more joints. It describes more than 100 conditions that affect the joints, tissues around the joint, and other connective tissues. Specific symptoms vary depending on the type of arthritis, but usually include joint pain and stiffness.

Arthritis causes damage in your joints (places in your body where two bones meet). Some joints naturally wear down as you age. Many people develop arthritis after normal lifelong wear and tear. Some types of arthritis happen after injuries that damage a joint. Certain health conditions also cause arthritis.

Types of Arthritis

There are several types of arthritis. Common ones include the following.

  • Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis that causes inflammation in the joints and ligaments of the spine.
  • Gout is a type of arthritis that occurs as flares, typically in your big toe or a lower limb.
  • Juvenile idiopathic arthritis is the most common type of chronic arthritis that affects children.
  • Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis and is more common in older people. 
  • Psoriatic arthritis can occur in people who have psoriasis (scaly red and white skin patches). It affects the skin, joints, and areas where tissues attach to bone.
  • Reactive arthritis is caused by an infection in your body. Symptoms often clear up on their own within a few weeks or months.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune form of arthritis where the immune system attacks the healthy joint tissues.

Nutrition and Arthritis

We all know that a healthy diet is important, but what is not always so clear is how our diet could be affecting how our bodies function. With arthritis, what you eat could affect your symptoms.

Weight Management

If you are overweight or obese, the extra load on your joints may be making your arthritis symptoms worse, especially if the affected joints include your hips, knees, feet or spine. Those extra pounds create a lot of pressure on your legs’ joints,  and most importantly on the protective cartilage that lines them. In healthy joints, this cartilage layer helps your joints bend and flex smoothly, keeping friction to a minimum. 

Excess weight increases the strain on your cartilage, causing the protective layer to break down over time. That means more friction inside your joints, leading to pain and inflammation. In turn, the increase in inflammation leads to more arthritic damage, which leads to more pain — and so on, in an ongoing cycle. Not surprisingly, losing weight can have the opposite effect, decreasing the stress and strain inside your joints to help preserve cartilage and improve joint function 

Foods that Cause Inflammation

Research shows some arthritis symptoms can be exasperated with some specific foods. If you suffer from this painful malady, you can avoid those that make flare-ups more common and eat foods that will lessen the symptoms.

Cut back on:

  • Fried and processed foods
  • Red meat, such as burgers and steaks
  • Processed meats like hot dogs, brats and other sausages
  • Refined carbohydrates like the ones you find in breads and pastries
  • Dairy products, because for many people, casein, a protein common in milk, ice cream and cheese, has been shown to irritate the tissue around joints
  • Alcohol and tobacco
  • Excessive salt
  • Vegetable oils
  • Margarines
  • Soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages

Whole Foods Reduce Arthritis Inflammation

For many of us, taking these items out of our diet may leave you wondering what you can eat. That’s easy: keep it simple with whole foods.

These foods can help reduce inflammation:

  • Tomatoes
  • Fruits
  • Nuts
  • Olive oil
  • Leafy greens
  • Fatty fish

Fats and Cholesterol

Saturated fats and high cholesterol contribute to inflammatory levels and cartilage degeneration throughout our entire bodies.

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats have been found to reduce inflammation and thus arthritis progression. Increasing our dietary fiber intake can also help to lower cholesterol.

Some good fiber options include oats, soy protein, beans, legumes, nuts, broccoli, brussels sprouts, asparagus, figs, etc.

Some Healthier Unsaturated Fats Include:

Oily fish- Trout, Salmon, Mackerel, or Sardines.

  • Nuts- Almonds, pecans, macadamia nuts, or hazelnuts.
  • Seeds- Pumpkin, sesame, or flax seeds.
  • Omega-3 Supplements


Antioxidants are compounds that help protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals. Antioxidants can help reduce inflammation, making them a useful tool in managing arthritis pain. Foods high in antioxidants include berries, cherries, dark chocolate, carrots, pumpkin, grapefruit, and leafy greens like spinach and kale.

Vitamin D is a vital nutrient that helps our bodies absorb calcium, which is necessary for bone health. Research has also shown that vitamin D can reduce inflammation in the body, making it an essential nutrient for those with arthritis. Foods high in vitamin D include fatty fish, mushrooms, egg yolks, and fortified dairy products such as milk and yogurt.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that our bodies cannot produce but can obtain through our diet. These essential fatty acids have been found to reduce inflammation, which makes them beneficial to those with arthritis. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts. Supplements can make up for any deficiency if you are not getting enough omega-3s through your diet.

Fruits and Vegetables

Brightly colored fruits and vegetables — such as oranges, bell peppers, pumpkins, tangerines and papayas — contain carotenoids called beta-cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin. Some studies suggest that diets rich in carotenoids decrease inflammation. A small Swedish study of rheumatoid arthritis sufferers who ate a Mediterranean diet (including lots of vegetables and fruits) for three months found that it reduced inflammation and enhanced joint function. Aim for seven to nine servings of fruit and vegetables per day.


Eating an excessive number of added sugars, also known as sugars from other sources than healthy fruits and carbohydrates, can create inflammation throughout our bodies. Instead of opting in for sugary foods, supplement with healthy food items. This includes some of the foods we previously listed above and other fruits, vegetables, nuts, and even cheese!

Some Healthy Snack Ideas Include:

  • Cheese, nuts, and an apple
  • Nut butter and rice cakes
  • Yogurt and berries
  • Carrots, celery, and hummus
  • Broccoli, cauliflower, and a Greek yogurt-based dip
  • Trail mix with nuts and seeds

Tips for Managing Your Diet If You Have Arthritis

Tips for managing your diet if you have arthritis include:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet to get all the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients you need
  • Try to include a variety of at least five portions of fruit and vegetables, higher fiber starchy foods (choose wholegrain or higher fiber versions with less added fat, salt and sugar), dairy and dairy alternatives (choose lower fat and lower sugar options), as well as beans, pulses, fish, eggs, lean meat and other protein sources
  • Include plenty of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, such as oily fish, linseeds, canola oil, walnuts or foods that are fortified with omega-3s (for example, eggs or margarine)
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Include adequate dietary calcium to reduce the risk of osteoporosis in later life
  • Reduce foods high in saturated fats in your diet like sausages, butter, biscuits, cake, pies, pastries and fatty meats, and replace with those containing unsaturated fats (mono- and polyunsaturated), like oily fish, avocados, nuts and seeds and small amounts of olive, rapeseed and sunflower oils and unsaturated spreads made from them
  • Keep your weight within your target range 
  • Keep a food diary so you can identify whether a particular food may aggravate your condition
  • Do not eliminate entire food groups from your diet without talking to your doctor, as you may miss out on important vitamins and minerals

Ask Your Doctor

If you are concerned about your bone health or think you may be at risk for osteoporosis, call us to set up an appointment. Your orthopedic surgeon may recommend a bone density test. The results will help your doctor evaluate your bone density and determine your rate of bone loss to assess whether you might be a candidate for medication to help slow bone loss.

To learn more about bone health or to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists, call us at 800-698-1280.

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