What Is an Arthritis Diet?

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An arthritis diet focuses on incorporating foods that can help reduce the production of inflammation-producing chemicals in your body. Whether you have an inflammatory form of the disease, like rheumatoid arthritis, or a type that causes, but is not caused by inflammation, like osteoarthritis, controlling and reducing inflammation is essential to reducing pain, stiffness, and swelling.

As a blueprint for a long-term healthy eating pattern, an arthritis diet can be a helpful way to help manage arthritis and its symptoms, especially when used in combination with medication and other lifestyle changes. It is so helpful in reducing inflammation that it is also sometimes used for other conditions. When it is, this way of eating is referred to by its more general name, the anti-inflammatory diet.

Benefits

Though following an arthritis diet has become an increasingly popular way to manage the condition, there is actually a lack of high-quality research on its effects. Most of the research has been done on animals and individual components of the diet rather than controlled studies and those that pair a control group with a test group.

Some human studies have found that adding more foods from an arthritis diet can be helpful in reducing pain and other symptoms of inflammation, but not all research has found that doing so improves inflammatory markers in the blood. The Anti-Inflammatory Diet in Rheumatoid Arthritis (ADIRA) study is currently in progress to quantify how well an arthritis diet works to manage the condition and improve quality of life.

That said, a large study called the MOLI-SANI study did find beneficial effects of a Mediterranean-style eating (a type of anti-inflammatory diet). After assessing dietary behaviors of 24,325 men and women in the Molise region of southern Italy, researchers found that those who closely followed the Mediterranean diet had lower levels of inflammatory markers in their blood than those who followed other diet patterns, including a Western-style diet.

A review of research studies on the benefits of the Mediterranean diet for rheumatoid arthritis found that it is helpful for reducing pain and increasing physical function in those with the disease.

The Arthritis Foundation says there is no specific diet that someone with rheumatoid arthritis should follow, but they do suggest that incorporating more foods from the Mediterranean diet may help to control inflammation.

Aside from the possible benefits of easing symptoms and reducing inflammatory markers, an arthritis diet may also help you lose a bit of weight simply by way of the fact that it encourages you to eat healthier.

How It Works

An arthritis diet focuses on foods that reduce the activity of inflammation-producing chemicals your body produces. There are no strict rules or schedules to follow, just a focus on striking a better balance of certain fats and incorporating foods that are rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals.

Duration

An arthritis diet is a long-term and, ideally, lifelong way of eating. While it's often promoted as a way to manage inflammatory diseases, it's also a healthy eating pattern for everyone.

What to Eat

Compliant Foods

  • Fruits: Any fresh or unsweetened frozen fruits, especially berries

  • Vegetables: Any (raw or cooked)

  • Beans and legumes

  • Whole and cracked grains

  • Healthy fats like nuts, avocado, olive oil

  • Whole soy foods like tofu or tempeh

  • Fish and seafood

  • Spices, herbs, herbal teas

  • Cooked Asian mushrooms

  • Red wine, dark chocolate (in moderation)

Non-Compliant Foods


  • Frozen or packaged dinner meals


  • Packaged snack foods

  • Desserts, sweets, baked goods, ice cream

  • Fast food, fried foods

  • Soda or soft drinks sweetened with sugar or artificial sweeteners

  • Foods made with white flour or sugar

  • Margarine and foods made with omega-6 oils

  • Red meat and diary products (only OK in moderation)

There is no one-size-fits-all anti-inflammatory or arthritis diet. It's meant to be a flexible eating pattern that incorporates the healthy inflammation-reducing foods you prefer.

Best Choices

  • Fruits (three to four servings a day): Colorful fruits are antioxidant-rich and high in anthocyanidins, both of which can help reduce inflammation. Fill your grocery cart with deep red, blue, and purple berries, grapes, pomegranates, plums, cherries, oranges, peaches, nectarines, cantaloupe, apples, and pears. Cantaloupe, papaya, tangerines, apricots, and persimmons are other great choices.
  • Vegetables (four to five servings a day): All vegetables are good for you, but dark leafy greens, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cauliflower, carrots, beets, onions, peas, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes are among the better choices for an arthritis diet because of their beta-carotene content. Foods rich in beta-cryptoxanthin, such as winter squash, red peppers, and corn should also be included.
  • Beans and legumes (one to two servings a day): Legumes are a great way to add more fiber and replace meat or animal proteinsGood choices include Anasazi, adzuki, black, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, and lentils. When cooking dried beans, make a large batch and keep extras in the freezer to use in soups or hummus.
  • Pasta: Go for quality over quantity. Organic pasta, rice noodles, bean thread noodles, whole wheat, and buckwheat noodles are good choices.
  • Whole and cracked grains (three to five small servings a day): Sorghum, millet, farro, brown or wild rice, quinoa, and steel-cut oats are suggested. They're good sources of fiber and inflammation-fighting antioxidants.
  • Healthy fats: Replace saturated fats in meat and dairy with omega-3 fats found in nuts (particularly walnuts), flaxseeds, hemp seeds, and chia seeds, and monounsaturated fats found in avocados, olives, and extra-virgin olive oil.
  • Fish and seafood: These are packed with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. Salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, and black cod are especially good sources of healthy fat and lean protein.
  • Whole soy foods: Choose minimally processed, organic soy. Tofu, tempeh, soymilk, edamame (immature soybeans in the pod), and soy nuts are good selections. Whole soy foods provide isoflavones that may reduce inflammation.
  • Selenium-rich foods: Selenium is an important antioxidant mineral, so add these foods to your meals and snacks. Good sources include Brazil nuts, tuna, crab, oysters, tilapia, cod, shrimp, lean beef, turkey, wheat germ, and whole grains.
  • Tea (two to four cups a day): White, green, and oolong are best. Also, drink abundant amounts of water throughout the day.
  • Spices: Spice you your meals with turmeric, curry powder, ginger, garlic, chili peppers, basil, cinnamon, rosemary, and thyme. All of these contain powerful plant compounds that can reduce inflammation.
  • High-quality multivitamin and supplements: Ask your doctor or a dietitian if you should take a supplement. A multivitamin, vitamin D, and fish oil may be used.

What to Limit

The standard American (or Western) diet can be summarized by everything on the non-compliant foods list above. It's known to be high in saturated fats, sugar, refined carbohydrates, and man-made ingredients. This eating pattern is associated with increased weight and body fat, especially visceral abdominal fat, which promotes low-grade inflammation throughout the body.

To make a change toward a more anti-inflammatory, arthritis-friendly diet:

  • Work on preparing more meals at home from whole ingredients.
  • Take steps to cut down on packaged highly processed foods like frozen or packaged dinners and fast food, which are high in unhealthy saturated fat.
  • Purchase fewer snack foods like chips, crackers, cookies, and foods made with inflammation-promoting omega-6 fats from soybean, corn, and other vegetable oils.
  • Avoid simple refined carbohydrates from sweets, desserts, baked goods, and foods made with white flour.
  • Replace fatty cuts of meat with cold water fish or other seafood.

Cooking Tips

When cooking or preparing foods for an arthritis diet, make sure you use healthy fats like olive oil or avocado oil instead of saturated fats like butter or lard, or corn oil which is high in omega-6. Foods should be prepared using healthier cooking methods, which include sautéing, grilling, roasting, braising, or air frying, rather than deep-fat frying.

Since you'll want to incorporate more vegetables into your diet, cook them lightly or eat them raw to preserve more of their nutrients. Rather than boiling or roasting vegetables at very high heat, prepare them by lightly sautéing or steaming them. In addition, the carotene compounds in your vegetables will be better absorbed if add some olive oil, so add a splash to your leafy greens or carrots.

Finally, be creative and experiment with fresh and dried herbs and spices. They're super-concentrated sources of antioxidants and can add variety to your meals.

Considerations

An arthritis diet offers much in the way of flexibility, variety, and options. The most important thing is to build your meals and snacks around a wide of colorful, whole foods and limit fast foods and highly processed choices that come in packages with long ingredient lists.

While this diet can be helpful in minimizing symptoms of arthritis, it can also reduce the risk of chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Another important point is that most aspects of this diet correspond with healthy eating patterns as outlined in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

A Word From Verywell

All forms of arthritis can be painful and debilitating, but lifestyle changes along with medication therapy can help. If you have arthritis or any other type of inflammatory disease, adding more anti-inflammatory foods is a delicious and effective way to help manage your symptoms and prevent chronic diseases.

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