With so many kinds of arthritis out there, it can be confusing to know which foods are good, and which are bad, for your condition. While the cause and symptoms of arthritis may vary by type, there is one constant in the over 100 different diagnoses: the disease damages your joint cartilage.
Because the results are similar, this means that many of the suggested diets, foods and nutrients that can ease the pain associated with the condition are also similar. Overall, foods that reduce inflammation tend to carry the most benefit for those experiencing symptoms of arthritis.
Why Worry About My Diet?
With all of the options out there, from pain medications, to over-the-counter solutions and alternative therapies, some may ask “why worry about your diet at all?” Does what you eat truly impact your arthritis?
The answer is a resounding yes! From easing symptoms to reducing your weight, what you put in your system matters. Joints like your knees and hips bear the brunt of your body’s mass. When you’re experiencing arthritis, taking some of the pressure off, by reducing your weight if you’re currently carrying excess pounds, can ease some of the ache.
Additionally, some foods are known to worsen inflammation, while others may help to alleviate it. Even the drinks you down each day can have an impact on your pain.
Foods to Ease Arthritis
When it comes to pain, it is likely you’ve tried a number of things to get rid of it as soon as possible. However, you may not have considered that food might be the answer.
Food is medicine! Let’s take a look at some of the top foods for alleviating or reducing arthritis pain.
A good rule of thumb for all produce is to “taste the rainbow.” No, don’t add Skittles. Instead, try to find a wide variety of colors when you select your fresh produce.
The Cleveland Clinic, for example, recommends selecting fruits like apples (red, yellow, or green) which are high in antioxidants and fiber, as well as berries and even pomegranates.
These choices are high in “tannins,” which have anti-inflammatory properties. Less inflammation can mean less damage to your joints.
Continue shopping for colors as you select your vegetables. Of course, green leafy vegetables are best, as they include vitamins E and C, not to mention collagen, which helps aid in joint flexibility.
“Grab bite-sized fruits and veggies like grapes and pre-cut carrots, or those you can easily cut and store, such as apples,” says the Arthritis Foundation’s “36 Tips for an Arthritis-Friendly Diet.”
3. Meats and Fish
The overall rule of thumb is to find the leanest cuts of meat when selecting your protein sources. Arthritic patients should avoid red meats, but should you choose to indulge, select lean cuts.
Fish, such as salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel, have the best sources of Omega-3 fatty acids which can decrease inflammation. It can be tough to keep straight the “good” fats versus the “bad,” but fish tend to include those healthy fats you actually want to include in your diet.
The Cleveland Clinic suggests that, since fresh fish can go bad quickly, canned options are acceptable, but try to find low sodium choices.
4. Grains and Carbohydrates
As you will soon read under “What Not to Eat,” gluten and carbs may trigger inflammation for some arthritis patients. If you do long for some in your diet, The Arthritis Foundation recommends those that are whole grain, high in fiber, and without added sugars or sodium.
5. Snacks and Sweets
Most doctors recommend cutting out sweets and snacks as much as possible. Realistically, however, most people enjoy the occasional treat. Some of the Cleveland Clinic’s top choices include healthy snacks, such as nuts, dark chocolate, and salsa.
“Just keep portions small to limit the saturated fat and calories,” recommends the Clinic’s Andrea Dunn, RD.
6. Added Bonuses
Herbs, spices and drinks can enhance meals and enhance your health.,. Spices such as ginger and turmeric can not only add flavor, but also provide anti-inflammatory properties.
Drinks, such as green tea, or even water, can help keep joints moving. Green tea is known to be an anti-inflammatory, though experts advise making sure you choose natural products and not the processed versions.
Another great way to incorporate foods that fight inflammation is to switch up your cooking oils. Ditch the vegetable and corn oil in favor of olive or canola oil. These are better sources of Omega-3 and -6 acids and have antiinflammatory properties.
What Not To Eat With Arthritis
While the aforementioned foods can certainly help by easing inflammation, there are foods which do the opposite and increase inflammation, thus worsening arthritis symptoms. The Rheumatology and Allergy Institute of Connecticut, LLC says that you should limit your intake of the following foods to reduce painful arthritis symptoms.
It likely is no surprise that sugar isn’t good for you. When you have arthritis, sugar in amounts as small as 40 grams (for reference, one can of Pepsi has 39 grams) can trigger inflammation.
Additionally, added sugars have been shown to actually increase your risk of developing arthritis. People who drank fructose-sweetened beverages five times or more per week were three times more likely to have arthritis than those who consumed two or fewer, according to a study of 1209 adults ages 20-30.
An even larger study conducted in 2016 of 20,000 women associated with a regular intake of sugar-sweetened soda were 63 percent more likely to develop seropositive RA (a common type of RA in which the blood’s antibodies attack the joints) .
Dairy can also be harmful for those with inflammation. Foods like yogurt and cheese often contain good nutrients such as protein and calcium, but also include “casein,” which can add to inflammation. Studies show those suffering from inflammation can benefit from reducing their intake of dairy..
3. Fatty Foods
Another alert not likely to shock you: Foods full of trans fats are bad for you! While there are “good fats,” like the Omega-3 fats we noted in many fish, trans fats are not good for any condition. Trans fats, like those found in processed, fried, or fast foods are ones you’ll want to avoid. They trigger inflammation.
Much like fats, carbs come in different shapes and sizes, with some being healthy options, while others not so much. Refined carbs are the ones you want to reduce the consumption of if you suffer from arthritis. Refined foods like bread, crackers, white rice, or white potatoes include carbs that can cause inflammation. They’re also known to add to weight gain, another challenge for those with joint pain.
5. Advanced Glycation End (AGE) Products
The name is more than a mouthful, and so is the food it describes. Grilling or frying foods at high temperatures brings more to the table than extra flavor. When you consume these foods, your body makes a toxin called AGE. AGE damages proteins in your body, which triggers your immune system to destroy the AGE cells with something called “cytokines.” Cytokines then damage your joints.
Though it takes a few chemical reactions inside your body to get there, the bottom line is to avoid fried, toasted, or grilled foods cooked at high temperatures.
If you are cutting unhealthy carbs, you may also want to consider eliminating gluten from your diet. Gluten, which is often found in foods like wheat, barley, and rye, can lead to joint inflammation.
Many packaged foods contain additives such as MSGs, aspartame, salt and other preservatives, which can cause inflammation. Choose whole foods that come as close as possible to the state they’d be found in in nature.
8. Tobacco and Alcohol
Another item on this list that should be no surprise are products that include tobacco and alcohol. While not great for your health regardless of any chronic conditions, these chemical compounds are also known inflammatories. Smoking, for example, has been known to increase a risk for RA, while alcohol can contribute to gout.
9. Red or Processed Meats
Red and processed meats often include interleukin-6 (IL-6), C-reactive protein (CRP), and homocysteine, which all cause inflammation.
What About Those Nightshades?
For many years, those with arthritis were told to avoid foods known as “Nightshades.” These foods, which include items like white potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, cayenne pepper, and paprika.
However, a study in 2020 in the United Kingdom found that these foods did not tend to make a major difference in those suffering from the condition. Instead, organizations such as the UK’s “Versus Arthritis” argue that a well-balanced diet is more likely to be the key to relieving the pain. Versus notes that “what works for one person may not work for another,” and thus does not encourage complete elimination of any one single food. Instead, moderation is key.
Change is tough, and immediately telling a person they can’t ever eat a food again is nearly impossible to abide by long term. Another nightshades study, conducted in 2020 noted that, while some foods are pro-inflammatory and some are anti-inflammatory, making major changes to diet is nearly impossible for most tested participants.
In short, the study found that drastic diet changes were difficult for patients to stick to, and while eliminating all pro-inflammation foods may be best, it did not present a realistic treatment.
“… Patients might adhere better to a small change or addition of just supplements than a complete change in their diet,” said the study.
Overall, the Arthritis Foundation states that there is no definitive proof that nightshade foods should be avoided. Instead,
“[Eliminating nightshades] certainly might be true for some people, there are no scientific studies done to prove that they actually cause inflammation or make symptoms worse,” Kim Larson, a Seattle-based dietitian and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson told the Arthritis Foundation.