12 Foods That Help Fight Arthritis

A variety of healthful pantry staples fit within an arthritis-friendly diet

Anti-inflammatory diet foods

Verywell | Nusha Ashjaee 

If you are what you eat, then it goes without saying that diet can affect your health—for worse or for better. For decades, researchers have looked at diet in relation to health and well being. In particular, they have studied whether foods can impact arthritis treatment. Scientists have thought that dietary factors might trigger certain types of arthritis. Because of this, changing the foods you eat could have a strong impact on arthritis symptom relief. 

A diet rich in plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and beans, as well as fish, is not only great for overall health but can also help manage arthritis symptoms. Things as simple as cherries and almonds or tuna and broccoli can be helpful.

Foods can have powerful impacts on health. Potential benefits of healthful eating include anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and analgesic effects, strengthening bones, and boosting the immune system.

Food as Treatment for Arthritis

Arthritis symptoms can include joint swelling, pain, stiffness, and decreased range of motion. Some forms of arthritis, like rheumatoid arthritis, are inflammatory diseases—caused by inflammation in the body that affects the joints and other systems. Others, like osteoarthritis, are the causes of inflammation, particularly in the joints.

Either way, managing and reducing inflammation is essential to reducing pain, stiffness, and swelling for both types of conditions. Inflammation associated with arthritis is often targeted by medications with the aim to help improve symptoms and decrease pain. Certain foods also have inflammatory properties, making them a powerful complementary treatment for arthritis.

Researchers have found that the Mediterranean diet may provide benefits in reducing pain and swollen and tender joints in rheumatoid arthritis patients. One study looked at adherence to the Mediterranean diet and pain associated with osteoarthritis. It concluded that, within the study group of 4330 subjects, a lower risk of osteoarthritis symptoms and pain was associated with those who followed a Mediterranean diet pattern.

Other studies have looked at a general anti-inflammatory diet and its impact on arthritis. One research trial saw a positive effect of an anti-inflammatory diet on disease activity in people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Fruit

Many fruits are rich in compounds called flavonoids and polyphenols. Polyphenolic flavonoids are associated with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties. Berries and pomegranates are rich sources of a variety of dietary polyphenolic flavonoids. Recent research shows a protective role of fruits and their polyphenols in studies of both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

In particular, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and pomegranates have shown promising results in reducing pain and inflammation in human clinical studies of arthritis. Other fruit polyphenols, such as quercetin, anthocyanins, and citrus flavonoids have also been studied in easing symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

Shop for colorful fruits like cherries, berries, apples, pomegranates, grapes, oranges, and grapefruit. These all contain beneficial polyphenolic compounds that can help fight inflammation associated with arthritis. The USDA dietary guidelines recommend eating 1 to 2 cups of fruit each day. Whole fruits and juices have been most commonly studied, but other forms of fruit such as dried and frozen may also be beneficial.

Fruits to Include
Strawberries  Apples
Blueberries Pomegranates
Raspberries Grapes 
Cherries Oranges
Cranberries Grapefruit

Vegetables 

Vegetables are an excellent addition to any diet, but colorful vegetables, such as dark leafy greens, broccoli, beets, sweet potatoes, and cabbage are especially good for people with arthritis. They are loaded with good-for-you nutrients, such as antioxidants, polyphenols, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

The antioxidant activity of nutrients in vegetables is associated with immune function and anti-inflammatory processes. Vitamin A and carotenoids play a role in immune function, which may benefit people with arthritis. Carotenoids are abundant in red and orange-hued vegetables like sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, and red bell peppers.

Vitamin K deficiency has been associated with an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis of the knee. Dark leafy green vegetables are often rich in vitamin K, which has a role in bone and cartilage mineralization. This is important, especially for people with osteoarthritis. Collard and turnip greens, spinach, kale, and broccoli are all good sources of vitamin K. 

Lightly cook your vegetables or eat them raw to avoid breaking down nutrients. Try lightly steaming or sautéing vegetables, rather than using high heat cooking techniques, such as boiling or roasting. Further, the carotenoid compounds and vitamin K in vegetables are better absorbed with some fat, like olive oil, so drizzle some onto your skillet before sautéing your spinach or dip your carrot sticks into some hummus.

Stock your arthritis-friendly pantry with dark leafy greens, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cauliflower, carrots, beets, onions, peas, winter squash, red bell peppers, corn, and sweet potatoes. The average adult needs about two and a half cups of vegetables each day.

Vegetables to Include
Dark leafy greens Cauliflower
Carrots Beets 
Broccoli Winter squash 
Onions Red bell peppers 
Cabbage Corn 
Peas Sweet potatoes
Brussels sprouts Bok choy

Legumes

Legumes are plentiful in the Mediterranean diet and a great source of fiber and plant-based protein. Beans, peas, and lentils make excellent alternatives when trying to decrease meat consumption. Legumes are also good sources of iron, folate, potassium, and magnesium.

Anasazi, adzuki, black, chickpeas (garbanzo), black-eyed peas, soybeans, and lentils are all good choices. Canned or dried, they all confer nutritional benefits. If choosing canned, opt for low- or no-sodium added varieties, and be sure to rinse with water.

Legumes make great pantry staples, as they are inexpensive, shelf-stable, and easy to prepare. Legumes are considered as part of both the protein food group and the vegetable group. Adding one to two servings per day of legumes to your diet is recommended.

Add more beans to your diet by topping your salad with black beans, tossing peas or lentils into soups and casseroles, making homemade hummus with chickpeas, or stuffing beans into your tacos.

Legumes to Include
Black beans Anasazi beans
Chickpeas (garbanzo beans)  Adzuki beans 
Kidney beans  Black-eyed peas
Pinto beans  Soybeans 
Lima beans  Lentils 

Whole Grains

Whole grains contain more antioxidants, fiber, and other nutrients compared to refined grains. A 2017 review found that results from two longitudinal studies showed that higher total fiber intake was related to a lower risk of osteoarthritis symptoms.

Antioxidants and other phytochemicals in whole grains, such as vitamin E, B vitamins, selenium, and magnesium, and also offer inflammation-fighting power for people with arthritis.

Load your grocery cart with whole grains like oats, brown rice, quinoa, whole grain cereals, bulgur, farro, barley, and whole cornmeal. Three to six servings per day of whole grains are recommended.

Whole Grains to Include
Oats Barley
Brown rice  Bulgur 
Whole grain cereals  Farro 
Whole cornmeal  Millet 
Quinoa  Sorghum 

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds are a foundational part of the Mediterranean diet. Many varieties of nuts and seeds are great sources of healthy fats, like anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Nuts belong to the protein food group, making them a good source of plant-based protein and fiber.

Enjoy a small handful of nuts or seeds daily, including walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, pistachios, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, and chia seeds. Choose raw, lightly roasted, and unsalted varieties of nuts.

Mix flaxseeds into batters for baked goods, sprinkle chia seeds into smoothies, top your salads with sliced almonds, or add some crushed pistachios onto your pasta.

Nuts and Seeds to Include
Walnuts Flaxseeds
Almonds  Chia seeds 
Pine nuts  Hemp seeds 
Pistachios   

Low-Fat Dairy

Dairy products are one of the best sources of calcium in our diet. In addition, thanks to fortification, milk and some yogurts are also good sources of vitamins A and D. A 2015 review found that, among people with arthritis, there is no evidence for a benefit to avoid consuming dairy and that dairy intake appears to be safe and may be beneficial for bone health.

Vitamin D and calcium work together in the body to build and preserve bone health, which is important for both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Probiotics are healthy bacteria commonly found in dairy foods like yogurt and kefir. Several randomized controlled trials have shown a relationship between probiotics and improvements in inflammatory activity in rheumatoid arthritis. 

Low-fat milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, and kefir are all good dairy foods to keep handy in your fridge. Serve up three servings of dairy each day to help get in your daily calcium, vitamin D, and probiotic needs.

Low-Fat Dairy to Include
Low-fat milk
Low-fat yogurt 
Part-skim cheest 
Cottage cheese 
Kefir 

Fish and Seafood

Fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which inhibit inflammation. EPA (eicosapetaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaeonic acid) are two important omega-3 fatty acids found in fish.

A 2018 study of 176 people found that those who consumed fish at least two times per week had a significantly lower disease activity compared with people who ate fish less than 1 time per month or never ate it. Disease activity significantly reduced even further for each additional serving of fish consumed per week.

The amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in fish varies. Herring, salmon, scallops, sardines, anchovies, and trout usually contain higher amounts.

Mackerel is also a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. However, king mackerel is high in mercury and the FDA recommends that people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, as well as young children to avoid king mackerel. Pacific chub mackerel and Spanish mackerel are both lower mercury alternatives. Other good seafood sources of omega-3’s include tuna, crab, mussels, and sea bass.

In addition to the omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood, vitamin D is also found in fatty fish including salmon, sardines, trout, and tuna. Vitamin D has been shown to affect autoimmunity and decrease disease activity in rheumatoid arthritis.

In general, it is recommended to consume 3 to 4 ounces of fish, twice a week. However, more might be better for people with arthritis. If you do not like fish or don’t consume it, try taking a fish oil supplement. Studies show that taking fish oil daily can help ease joint stiffness, tenderness, pain, and swelling.

Fish and Seafood to Include
Tuna Herring 
Salmon  Sardines 
Scallops  Anchovies 
Crab  Trout 
Mussels Sea bass 
Mackerel (Pacific chum or Spanish)   

Fats

Olive oil is a staple in the Mediterranean diet, being one of the main sources of fats consumed. It is mostly made up of healthful monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. A 2019 review of studies concluded that higher polyunsaturated fatty acid intake was beneficial for people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Swap out saturated fats, such as butter, in cooking and baking with healthier plant-derived oils including olive, avocado, canola, safflower, sesame, and walnut oils. Besides oils, other sources of healthy fats in the diet include nuts, seeds, and fatty fish. 

Fats to Include
Extra-virgin olive oil Avocado oil
Canola oil  Sesame seed oil 
Safflower oil  Walnut oil 

Spices and Herbs

Instead of adding a dash or two of salt to all your meals, flavor your meals with other spices and herbs. Many herbs and spices contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. A little goes a long way with many herbs and spices and can make a difference in inflammation if consumed regularly. 

Keeping your cupboard stocked with a few staple herbs and spices will not only make your food flavorful but can help fight against inflammation related to arthritis. Turmeric, ginger, garlic, onion, cinnamon and chili powder all contain powerful plant compounds that can reduce inflammation and ease symptoms of arthritis.

Sprinkle some cinnamon in your oatmeal, add chili powder to marinades, stir crushed garlic into sauces and soups, or blend together a fruit, ginger & turmeric smoothie.

Spices and Herbs to Include
Turmeric Onion
Ginger Cinnamon
Garlic  Cayenne pepper 

Sweets

You might think that sweets are off-limits on a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet, however, there are certain sweets that can be included in moderation. Cocoa and dark chocolate have been studied extensively for their role as an antioxidant as well as for potential anti-inflammatory properties. Cocoa contains flavonoids that can protect against inflammation and oxidative damage.

Eating a square of dark chocolate each day may help satisfy your sweet tooth while providing some health benefits, too. Other sweet options include eating arthritis-friendly fruits as a treat. Enjoy a berry and yogurt parfait, dark chocolate covered blueberries, or a fruit salad with pomegranate and citrus fruits drizzled with a bit of honey.

Sweets to Include
Dark chocolate
Cacao 
Berries 
Citrus fruits 

Fermented Foods

Fermented foods contain beneficial probiotics, which help maintain a healthy balance between the “good” and “bad” bacteria in your body. They also reduce bad bacteria that often cause infections and illnesses and impact inflammation.

A 2015 review found that processed soy food compounds play a role in immune system response, as well as in overcoming inflammation. A 2014 randomized controlled trial looked at probiotic use in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers concluded that probiotics improved disease activity and inflammatory status.

Common fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, kefir, kombucha, and pickles. Top your sandwiches with sauerkraut and pickles, sip on kombucha in the morning, or add kimchi into a stew for dinner.

Fermented Foods to Include
Sauerkraut Tempeh
Pickles  Kefir 
Kimchi  Kombucha 
Miso   

Green Tea and Other Beverages

Many teas contain bioactive polyphenolic compounds that contribute significant antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties, which may benefit people with arthritis. A 2016 study of people with arthritis found that green tea supplementation improved disease activity. Another 2018 study found that green tea extract might control pain and improve knee joint physical function in adults with osteoarthritis.

Instead of sipping on soda, drink green or oolong teas, which are both made from the leaves of the plant Camellia sinensis. Also, be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Additionally, if you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. If you do choose to have an alcoholic drink, opt for red wine, which may have anti-inflammatory effects.

Beverages to Include
Water Oolong tea
Green tea  Red wine (in moderation) 

A Word From Verywell

 Aside from the beneficial effects on arthritis, eating a healthy balanced diet confers additional benefits, too. The Mediterranean diet has been studied for its potential beneficial role in numerous health conditions, including heart health, cognitive function, diabetes, and cancer.

An arthritis-friendly diet offers much in the way of flexibility and variety. In addition, you probably already have many staples of an arthritis diet in your kitchen already. The main points are to build your meals and snacks around a wide variety of colorful, whole foods while limiting highly processed foods.

Before changing your diet, be sure to talk with your doctor first to ensure it is the right choice for you.

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