This article will look at which foods people with osteoarthritis should include in their diet and which they should avoid. We also bust some common food myths regarding arthritis.
How can diet help with osteoarthritis?
Consuming a balanced and nutritious diet may help prevent further damage to the joints.
It is not possible for specific foods or nutritional supplements to cure osteoarthritis, but, according to the Arthritis Foundation, certain diets can improve people’s symptoms.
Some foods have anti-inflammatory capabilities which can help reduce symptoms while other foods may amplify them.
The right diet can help to improve osteoarthritis in the following ways:
Reducing inflammation and preventing damage
A balanced, nutritious diet will give the body the tools it needs to prevent further damage to the joints, which is essential for people with osteoarthritis.
Some foods are known to reduce inflammation in the body, and following an anti-inflammatory diet can improve symptoms. Eating enough antioxidants, including vitamins A, C, and E, may help to prevent further damage to the joints.
People with osteoarthritis are more likely to have high blood cholesterol, and reducing cholesterol may improve the symptoms of this disease. On the right diet, people can quickly improve their cholesterol levels.
Maintaining a healthy weight
Being overweight can put extra pressure on the joints, and excess fat stores in the body can cause further inflammation. Maintaining a healthy weight can lessen the symptoms of osteoarthritis.
Keeping to a healthy weight can be difficult for some people, especially those who have a medical condition that reduces their mobility, such as osteoarthritis. A doctor or dietitian will be able to provide advice.
Eight foods to eat and why
Including specific foods in the diet can strengthen the bones, muscles, and joints and help the body to fight inflammation and disease.
People with osteoarthritis can try adding the following eight foods to their diet to ease their symptoms:
1. Oily fish
Salmon contains lots of omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties.
Oily fish contain lots of healthful omega-3 fatty acids. These polyunsaturated fats have anti-inflammatory properties so they may benefit people with osteoarthritis.
People with osteoarthritis should aim to eat at least one portion of oily fish per week. Oily fish include:
- fresh tuna
Those who prefer not to eat fish can take supplements that contain omega-3 instead, such as fish oil, krill oil, or flaxseed oil.
Other sources of omega-3 include chia seeds, flaxseed oil, and walnuts. These foods can also help to fight inflammation.
In addition to oily fish, some other oils can reduce inflammation. Extra virgin olive oil contains high levels of oleocanthal, which may have similar properties to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Avocado and safflower oils are healthful options and may also help to lower cholesterol.
Dairy also contains proteins that can help to build muscle. People who are aiming to manage their weight can choose low-fat options.
4. Dark leafy greens
Dark leafy greens are rich in Vitamin D and stress-fighting phytochemicals and antioxidants. Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption and can also boost the immune system, helping the body to fight off infection.
Dark leafy greens include:
- collard greens
Broccoli contains a compound called sulforaphane, which researchers believe could slow the progression of osteoarthritis.
This vegetable is also rich in vitamins K and C, as well as bone-strengthening calcium.
6. Green tea
Scientists believe that a compound called diallyl disulfide that occurs in garlic may work against the enzymes in the body that damage cartilage.
Nuts are good for the heart and contain high levels of calcium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin E, and fiber. They also contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which boosts the immune system.
What about the Mediterranean diet?
As well as helping to reduce the pain associated with osteoarthritis, eating a Mediterranean-style diet offers many other health benefits, including weight loss.
Following a Mediterranean diet may also reduce the risk of:
- heart disease and stroke
- muscle weakness in older age
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- premature death
The diet consists of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, yogurt, and healthful fats, such as olive oil and nuts.
People can make simple changes to their diet to make it more like the Mediterranean one. These may include:
- eating high-fiber, starchy foods, such as sweet potatoes, potatoes, beans, lentils, and whole-grain bread and pasta
- eating plenty of fruit and vegetables
- including fish in the diet
- eating less meat
- choosing products made from vegetable and plant oils, such as olive oil
- selecting wholemeal options over those containing refined flour
Three types of food to avoid and why
People should avoid processed sugars as they may contribute to inflammation.
When someone is living with osteoarthritis, their body is in an inflammatory state.
While foods with anti-inflammatory properties may reduce symptoms, some foods contain substances that actively contribute to this inflammation. It is best to avoid or restrict these dietary choices.
The types of food to avoid are those that include the following:
Processed sugars can prompt the release of cytokines, which act as inflammatory messengers in the body. The sugars that manufacturers add to sweetened beverages, including soda, sweet tea, flavored coffees, and some juice drinks, are the most likely to worsen inflammatory conditions.
2. Saturated fat
Foods high in saturated fat, such as pizza and red meat, can cause inflammation in the fat tissue. As well as contributing to the risk of developing obesity, heart disease, and other conditions, this can make arthritis inflammation worse.
3. Refined carbohydrates
Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, white rice, and potato chips, fuel the production of advanced glycation end (AGE) oxidants. These can stimulate inflammation in the body.
Busting three arthritis food myths
Many people claim that certain types of food can make osteoarthritis worse, but there is not always scientific evidence to support their theories.
Below, we discuss three common myths:
1. Citrus fruits cause inflammation
Some people believe that they should avoid citrus fruits because the acidity is inflammatory. However, this is not the case. In fact, citrus fruits have anti-inflammatory benefits, as well as being rich in vitamin C and antioxidants.
Grapefruit juice can, however, interact with some medicines that doctors use to treat arthritis. People who are undergoing treatment should check with a doctor before incorporating it into their diet.
2. Avoiding dairy helps with osteoarthritis
There are also claims that avoiding dairy can help with osteoarthritis. Although milk, cheese, and other dairy products can be problematic for some people, these foods can have anti-inflammatory effects in others.
An elimination diet can help people to determine whether or not their symptoms improve or worsen with dairy intake.
3. Nightshade vegetables cause inflammation
Tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and peppers all contain the chemical solanine, which some blame for arthritis pain. However, the Arthritis Foundation say that there is no scientific evidence for this. Adding these nutritious vegetables to the diet can have many benefits for chronic health conditions.
There is evidence that certain foods and nutrients can improve the symptoms of osteoarthritis. They do this by fighting inflammation, providing nutrition, and boosting bone, muscle, and immune system function.
People may also benefit from avoiding or restricting foods that contribute to inflammation.
Being overweight or obese places extra pressure on the joints, which can make the symptoms of osteoarthritis worse.
Eating a balanced diet rich in plants, fiber, and anti-inflammatory fats, such as those that the Mediterranean diet includes, can help people living with osteoarthritis to maintain a healthy weight.
This will help to ease symptoms, such as pain and swelling.