An anti arthritis diet may reduce chronic pain caused by osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis as well as other types of inflammatory arthritis, such as psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis
Arthritis is a general term that refers to over 150 different conditions. The accurate term for this group of conditions is musculoskeletal conditions, as they affect the muscles, bones and joints.
While 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.
Arthritis is a common health condition involving chronic inflammation in your joints. It causes pain and damage to joints, bones, and other body parts depending on the type.
Osteoarthritis, which is noninflammatory, is the most common — though over 100 types exist. In fact, up to 40% of men and 47% of women may be diagnosed with osteoarthritis during their lifetime
One example of anti arthritis diet is the popular Mediterranean diet. No matter what it is labeled, An anti arthritis diet discourages eating processed foods and encourages eating vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, and foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, such as wild salmon and anchovies canned in oil.
No magic diet is going to make your arthritis disappear — whether it’s osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or another form. But, there’s good news: If you’re realistic about your goals, paying attention to your anti arthritis diet can help ease your symptoms.
Best Foods for an Anti Arthritis Diet
Is There A Diet To Cure Arthritis?
No diet has been proven by research to cure arthritis. Be very cautious of special diets or supplements that claim to cure arthritis. The best diet for arthritis is a healthy, balanced one to maintain your general health and prevent other medical problems.
Green tea is known to be high in nutrients and antioxidants and has the ability to reduce inflammation, says Dunn. Studies performed on animals also found that it can help reduce the incidence and severity of rheumatoid arthritis.
“To reap the benefits, aim for two servings a day, either hot or cold,” Dunn notes. “Be sure to use tea bags and not the powdered tea mixes, which are more processed. If you drink the decaffeinated variety, make sure the process is all natural.”
Salmon, Tuna, Sardines And Mackerel
These fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which studies have found can decrease inflammation. According to the Arthritis Foundation, eating a 3 to 4 ounce serving of these fish two or more times a week is recommended for protecting the heart and reducing inflammation.
While fresh fish can get pricey quickly, one tip to make it more affordable is by looking in the freezer section or buying canned sardines, salmon or tuna. Be sure to choose lower sodium options when purchasing canned items if you need to keep your sodium in check.
Berries, Apples And Pomegranates
Berries are rich in antioxidants and the Arthritis Foundation notes that blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, raspberries and boysenberries all provide arthritis-fighting power. You’ll get health benefits no matter if you eat them frozen, fresh or dehydrated (without added sugar), so be sure to eat a variety of berries throughout the week.
Apples are also high in antioxidants and a good source of fiber. Plus, they provide crunch and can help curb your appetite for unhealthy snacks, Dunn says.
Pomegranates, which are classified as berry fruits, are rich in tannins which can fight the inflammation of arthritis. Add these to a salad or stir into plain yogurt for some added benefits.
Take it a step further and include anti-inflammatory vegetables in your daily anti arthritis diet such as cauliflower, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts and broccoli in either frozen or fresh form. Add them into your stir-fry, salads or as healthy side dishes.
While making big changes to your anti arthritis diet won’t happen overnight, adding a variety of arthritis-friendly foods little by little will help you with your overall health and how well you manage your arthritis pain.
Canola And Olive Oils
Skip the vegetable oil or corn oil and reach for these two varieties, which have a good balance of the omega-3 and omega-6 acids, both of which are essential fatty acids. Studies have found that a component in olive oil called oleocanthal has anti-inflammatory properties and is known to be especially good for heart health, too,
Ginger And Turmeric
Thanks to the chemicals in these plants, ginger and turmeric are also known to have anti-inflammatory properties. Both are widely used in Chinese and Indian cuisine.
The scientific data on recommended daily or weekly intakes of ginger or turmeric are mainly with supplemented doses, but a healthy sprinkling of these spices on foods or in beverages could bring limited health benefits, Dunn says. They’ll even add a little kick to your favorite dishes. Moreover, small amounts of ginger can help settle an upset stomach.
All nuts are high in protein, low in saturated fats and contain no cholesterol, unlike animal proteins. Eat them alone or add them to your favorite yogurt, salad or healthy dish for an extra boost of protein.
“By replacing a serving of meat with just a quarter cup of nuts can help you avoid the inflammation you may experience when eating red meat,” Dunn notes. “Unlike meat, nuts also are a good source of fiber. Choose unsalted nuts to limit the amount of sodium in your anti arthritis diet.”
Whole grains don’t have to be boring. From quinoa to farro to bulgur, there’s plenty of variety to choose from and incorporate into your anti arthritis diet. These varieties add extra nutrients and fiber that only whole grains can offer naturally. To reap the benefits, the Arthritis Foundation recommends eating between three and six ounces of grains a day.
Try them as side dishes instead of more common choices, such as white rice, Dunn says. Some more diverse whole grain options include freekeh, a Middle Eastern cuisine staple, or teff, used to make Ethiopian flatbread.
Mixing salsa into your daily diet is a great way to increase your intake of vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants, thanks to its rich mix of tomatoes, onions, and other vegetables. Dunn recommends using it for a vegetable dip in place of high calorie dressings commonly found in the grocery store.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Dietary fats can influence inflammation, a major factor in rheumatoid arthritis. This is the type of arthritis that occurs as a result of the body’s immune system mistakenly launching an attack on the joints. Omega-3 rich fish oil may show some benefit in inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
They can cause unpleasant stomach and intestinal side effects, are high in calories and rather expensive. In addition, an excess of omega-3 fatty acids potentially can lower the amount of omega-6 fatty acids from sources such as corn, safflower and cottonseed oils. This imbalance actually may promote inflammation.
It is too soon to know if foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids also will be helpful. However, these foods have other health benefits, especially in the prevention of heart disease. The best sources are from fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring and tuna. Other omega-3 sources (less potent than fish, however) include ground flax, flaxseed oil, walnuts and, to a limited degree, green leafy vegetables.
Saturated and Trans Fats
Some studies suggest a possible link between chronic inflammation and saturated fats found in red meats, full-fat dairy foods, butter and poultry skin. Similar suggestions have been made for trans fats, found in hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils, some margarine brands, French fries and other fried foods.
Monounsaturated fats, namely olive oil, seem less likely to increase inflammation. So far there are no clinical trials that prove this type of heart-healthy diet is good for arthritis.
Research studies have linked low blood levels of D with increased risk of both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Additional research shows that osteoarthritis gets worse three times faster in people with inadequate vitamin D in their anti arthritis diet compared with those who have sufficient D. Currently, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends that adults get 600 to 800 International Units (IU) per day. Many experts advise 1,000 IU per day. According to the IOM, doses up to 4,000 IU per day are safe.
Only a few foods are particularly rich in vitamin D. These include oily fish and fortified milk and orange juice. Hence, most people need to supplement their anti arthritis diet with extra vitamin D. A multivitamin typically provides 400 IU. Seeking out some “safe sun” — 10 minutes without sunscreen a few times per week — provides a nice D dose too.
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 fruits and vegetables per day.
An unfounded myth that has circulated for years involves eliminating the so-called nightshade vegetables to help cure arthritis. The nightshade vegetables include tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant. The premise is that avoiding these foods eases joint pain and inflammation. Medical evidence does not support this claim.
Worst Foods to Avoid
You should limit your sugar intake no matter what, but especially if you have arthritis. Added sugars are found in candy, soda, ice cream, and numerous other foods, including less obvious items like barbecue sauce.
A study in 217 people with rheumatoid arthritis noted that among 20 foods, sugar-sweetened soda and desserts were the most frequently reported to worsen RA symptoms.
What’s more, sugary beverages like soda may significantly increase your risk of arthritis.
For example, in a study in 1,209 adults ages 20–30, those who drank fructose-sweetened beverages 5 times per week or more were 3 times likelier to have arthritis than those who consumed few to no fructose-sweetened drinks.
Furthermore, a large study in nearly 200,000 women associated a regular intake of sugar-sweetened soda with an increased risk of RA.
Processed And Red Meats
Some research links red and processed meat to inflammation, which may increase arthritis symptoms.
For example, diets heavy in processed and red meats demonstrate high levels of inflammatory markers like interleukin-6 (IL-6), C-reactive protein (CRP), and homocysteine .
The study in 217 people with RA mentioned above also found that red meat commonly worsened RA symptoms. Additionally, a study in 25,630 people determined that high red meat intake may be a risk factor for inflammatory arthritis .
Conversely, plant-based diets that exclude red meat have been shown to improve arthritis symptoms.
Gluten is a group of proteins in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). Some research links it to increased inflammation and suggests that going gluten-free may ease arthritis symptoms .
What’s more, people with celiac disease are at a greater risk of developing RA. Likewise, those with autoimmune diseases like RA have a significantly higher prevalence of celiac disease than the general population .
Notably, an older, 1-year study in 66 people with RA found that a gluten-free, vegan diet significantly reduced disease activity and improved inflammation .
Although these findings are promising, more research is needed to confirm whether a gluten-free diet alone benefits people with arthritis.
Highly Processed Foods
Ultra-processed items like fast food, breakfast cereal, and baked goods are typically high in refined grains, added sugar, preservatives, and other potentially inflammatory ingredients, all of which may worsen arthritis symptoms.
Research suggests that Western diets rich in heavily processed foods may increase your risk of RA by contributing to inflammation and risk factors like obesity .
What’s more, in a study in 56 people with RA, those who ate higher amounts of ultra-processed food showed increased heart disease risk factors, including higher levels of glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c), a long-term marker of blood sugar control .
As such, processed foods may worsen your overall health and increase your risk of other diseases.
As alcohol may worsen arthritis symptoms, anyone with inflammatory arthritis should restrict or avoid it.
A study in 278 people with axial spondyloarthritis — inflammatory arthritis that primarily affects the spinal cord and sacroiliac (SI) joints — tied alcohol intake to increased spinal structural damage.
Studies have also shown that alcohol intake may increase the frequency and severity of gout
Moreover, chronic alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk of osteoarthritis, though not all studies have found a significant link .
Certain Vegetable Oils
anti arthritis diet high in omega-6 fats and low in omega-3 fats may worsen symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis .
These fats are necessary for health. However, the imbalanced ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s in most Western diets may increase inflammation .
Reducing your intake of foods high in omega-6 fats, such as vegetable oils, while increasing your intake of omega-3-rich foods like fatty fish may improve arthritis symptom
Foods High In Salt
Cutting back on salt may be a good choice for people with arthritis. Foods high in salt include shrimp, canned soup, pizza, certain cheeses, processed meats, and numerous other processed items.
A mouse study found that arthritis was more severe in mice fed a high salt diet than in those on a anti arthritis diet containing normal salt levels .
Additionally, a 62-day mouse study revealed that a low salt diet decreased the severity of RA, compared with a high salt diet. Mice on the low salt diet had less cartilage breakdown and bone destruction, as well as lower inflammatory markers, than mice on the high salt diet (28).
Interestingly, researchers have suggested that high sodium intake may be a risk factor for autoimmune diseases like inflammatory arthritis .
A study in 18,555 people tied high sodium intake to an increased risk of RA
Foods High In Ages
Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are molecules created through reactions between sugars and proteins or fats. They naturally exist in uncooked animal foods and are formed through certain cooking methods.
High protein, high fat animal foods that are fried, roasted, grilled, seared, or broiled are among the richest dietary sources of AGEs. These include bacon, pan-fried or grilled steak, roasted or fried chicken, and broiled hot dogs .
French fries, American cheese, margarine, and mayonnaise are also rich in AGEs .
When AGEs accumulate in high amounts in your body, oxidative stress and inflammation may occur. Oxidative stress and AGE formation are tied to disease progression in people with arthritis .
In fact, people with inflammatory arthritis have been shown to have higher levels of AGEs in their bodies than people without arthritis. AGE accumulation in bones and joints may also play a role in the development and progression of osteoarthritis.
Replacing high AGE foods with nutritious, whole foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes, and fish may reduce the total AGE load in your body
Dietary changes should not be made instead of following your prescription, however some people with RA may find the above tips beneficial. It is important to maintain a healthy weight, and healthy eating combined with regular exercise will assist the loss of body fat. Reduce the amount of saturated fat, eat more omega-3 and monounsaturated fats (such as olive oil) to benefit your joint and heart health. Following a Mediterranean style anti arthritis diet may improve your symptoms. It is always sensible to discuss any changes in your diet with your rheumatologist and dietitian.