Arthritis: what foods do (and don’t) help?


Arthritis is a general term encompassing conditions that share joint pain and inflammation. Typical treatment involves pain-reducing medication. While there is no definitive arthritis diet, research suggests including anti-inflammatory foods in your diet and limiting foods that may trigger joint pain. 

Fuel up on Fish

Certain types of fish are packed with inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids, experts recommend at least 3 to 4 ounces of fish, twice a week. Omega-3-rich fish include salmon, tuna, mackerel and herring.

Step up to Soy

Not a fan of fish but still want the inflammation-busting benefits of omega-3 fatty acids? Try heart-healthy soybeans (tofu or edamame). Soybeans are also low in fat, high in protein and fiber and an all-around good-for-you food.

Opt for oils

Extra virgin olive oil is loaded with heart-healthy fats, as well as oleocanthal, which has properties similar to non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs. But it’s not the only oil with health benefits. Avocado and safflower oils have shown cholesterol-lowering properties, while walnut oil has 10 times the omega-3s that olive oil has.

Check out Cherries

Studies have shown cherries help reduce the frequency of gout attacks. Research has shown that the anthocyanins found in cherries have an anti-inflammatory effect. Anthocyanins can also be found in other red and purple fruits like strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries.

Don’t ditch the dairy

Low-fat dairy products, like milk, yogurt and cheese are packed with calcium and vitamin D, both found to increase bone strength. Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption, and it has been shown to boost the immune system. If dairy doesn’t agree with you, aim for other calcium and vitamin D-rich foods like leafy green vegetables.

Bet on Broccoli

Rich in vitamins K and C, broccoli also contains a compound called sulforaphane, which researchers have found could help prevent or slow the progression of osteoarthritis (OA). Broccoli is also rich in calcium, which is known for its bone-building benefits.

Go Green tea

Green tea is packed with polyphenols, antioxidants believed to reduce inflammation and slow cartilage destruction. Studies also show that another antioxidant in green tea called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) blocks the production of molecules that cause joint damage in people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Sink into some citrus

Citrus fruits – like oranges, grapefruits and limes – are rich in vitamin C. Research shows that getting the right amount of vitamin aids in preventing inflammatory arthritis and maintaining healthy joints with osteoarthritis (OA).

Go with whole grains

Whole grains lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) in the blood. CRP is a marker of inflammation associated with heart disease, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Foods like oatmeal, brown rice and whole-grain cereals are excellent sources of whole grains.

Break out the beans

Beans are packed with fiber, a nutrient that helps lower CRP. Beans are also an excellent – and inexpensive – source of protein, which is important for muscle health. Some beans are rich in folic acid, magnesium, iron, zinc and potassium, all known for their heart and immune system benefits. Look for red beans, kidney beans and pinto beans.

Grab the garlic

Studies have shown that people who regularly ate foods from the allium family – such as garlic, onions and leeks – showed fewer signs of early osteoarthritis (OA). Researchers believe the compound diallyl disulphine found in garlic may limit cartilage-damaging enzymes in human cells.

Nosh on nuts

Nuts are rich in protein, calcium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin E and immune-boosting alpha linolenic acid (ALA), as well as filling protein and fiber. They are heart-healthy and beneficial for weight loss. Try walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios and almonds.

What to avoid

  • Cutting back on the consumption of fried and processed foods, such as fried meats and prepared frozen meals, can reduce inflammation and actually help restore the body’s natural defenses. Cut down on the amount of fried and processed foods you consume, and include more vegetables and fruits in your diet.
  • AGE doesn’t refer to how many birthdays you’ve celebrated. An advanced glycation end product (AGE), is a toxin that appears when foods are heated, grilled, fried, or pasteurized. AGEs damage certain proteins in the body, and the body tries to break these AGEs apart by using cytokines, which are inflammatory messengers. Depending on where the AGEs occur, they may result in arthritis or other forms of inflammation. Reducing the amount of foods cooked at high temperatures in your diet could potentially help reduce blood AGE levels.
  • High amounts of sugar in the diet result in an increase in AGEs, which can result in inflammation. Cut out lollies, processed foods, white flour baked goods, and sodas to reduce your arthritis pain.
  • Dairy products may contribute to arthritis pain due to the type of protein they contain. For some people this protein may irritate the tissue around the joints. Some sufferers of arthritis pain have success switching to a vegan diet—which contains no animal products whatsoever. Rather than getting protein from meat and dairy, get the bulk of your protein sources from vegetables like spinach, nut butters, tofu, beans, lentils, and quinoa.
  • Tobacco and alcohol use can lead to a number of health problems, including some that may affect your joints. Smokers are more at risk for developing rheumatoid arthritis, while those who consume alcohol have a higher risk for developing gout. Healthy joints require a balanced diet, physical activity, and an adequate amount of rest—all of which can be compromised by alcohol and tobacco use. Cut back on drinking and smoking and ramp up your eating habits with healthy choices, regular exercise, and good quality sleep.
  • Know what’s in your food. Many foods contain excessive salt and other preservatives to promote longer shelf lives. For some people, excess consumption of salt may result in inflammation of the joints. It may be worth trying to reduce your salt intake to as modest an amount as is reasonable. Read the label to avoid preservatives and additives. Less salt may help you manage your arthritis, so avoid prepared meals. Though they’re convenient, microwavable meals are often very high in sodium.
  • Many baked goods and snacks contain corn or other oils high in omega-6 fatty acids. While these treats may satisfy your taste buds, they may trigger inflammation. Some studies have looked at the pain-relieving effects of omega-3s on individuals with rheumatoid arthritis, and have found that fish oil, which contains omega-3s, may help with joint pain relief in certain people. Replace foods containing omega-6 fatty acids with healthy, anti-inflammatory omega-3 alternatives such as olive oil, nuts, flax seeds, and pumpkin seeds.

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