Approximately 25% of people experience arthritis in their lifetime, but most people don’t realize that diet plays a role in the risk and severity of arthritis.
Even if you don’t suffer from painful, inflamed joints, it pays to eat nourishing, anti-inflammatory foods that can keep your joints healthy.
In this article, you’ll learn all the ways food can affect arthritis, plus the 9 best foods for arthritis pain.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis simply means inflammation of the joints. If you have arthritis, it can affect one joint or multiple joints.
The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition, meaning the cause is wear and tear of joints over time.
Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune condition. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, your body attacks your joints, resulting in pain and inflammation.
Generally speaking, joint pain, stiffness, and swelling are the most common symptoms people with arthritis experience. Along with those, some people notice a decreased range of motion and skin redness.
Nearly a quarter of all people get arthritis during their lives. A recent study found that over a 15 year period, the prevalence of osteoarthritis more than doubled, while rheumatoid arthritis fell by almost half[*].
What’s Food Got to Do With Arthritis?
While it’s true that your environment and family history strongly influence your risk of developing arthritis and the severity of symptoms, your diet also plays a role[*].
At the most basic level, being overweight or obese increases your risk of arthritis by 300-400%[*][*]. So it’s no surprise that going keto and using diet and exercise to maintain a healthy body weight is an excellent way to lower your arthritis risk.
However, the foods you eat can also affect arthritis risk and symptoms in other ways.
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- Inflammation and high blood sugar levels from processed foods and desserts increase risk and symptom severity[*][*].
- Antioxidants and polyphenols in food may reduce arthritis symptoms[*].
- Food sensitivities and allergies can trigger autoimmunity or inflammation, which may increase arthritis risk and worsen symptoms[*].
- Probiotic foods can rebalance your gut microbiome and may reduce the severity of arthritis symptoms[*].
Keep reading to learn the best foods to soothe your arthritis pain!
9 Best Foods for Arthritis Pain
#1: Fatty Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Fatty fish and omega-3 fatty acid supplements can decrease joint pain, swelling, stiffness, and inflammation in people with arthritis[*][*][*].
US government dietary guidelines recommend eating fish twice per week[*].
However, the evidence demonstrates that your ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids can affect your inflammation levels and arthritis risk, and fish twice a week may not be enough[*].
Therefore, if you have arthritis, it’s worth experimenting with daily omega-3s. Another way to improve your “omega ratio” is to eat fewer processed foods, since grains and industrial cooking oils are high in omega-6s.
You can eat whole foods like oysters, sardines, mackerel, or salmon to obtain this anti-inflammatory staple, but supplements like krill oil are also a great way to get enough omega-3s.
#2: Extra Virgin Olive Oil
The eating patterns of people in the Mediterranean region correlate with lower levels of arthritis and inflammation, and scientists think olive oil may be the main reason[*].
For example, one study found that eating lots of vegetables cooked in extra virgin olive oil resulted in a lower risk of arthritis in Greek people[*].
Eating olive oil can also reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, promote repair, and protecting bone cells[*].
Surprisingly, rubbing olive oil directly on your arthritic joints also appears to reduce pain and stiffness according to research[*].
Whether you want to eat it or apply it topically, remember always to buy extra virgin olive oil.
Non-virgin olive oil is lower in the phenolic compounds and antioxidants that help decrease inflammation and relieve arthritis symptoms[*][*]. It’s more likely to contain inflammatory compounds due to high-heat processing, too.
That’s also why you should only cook with olive oil at a low temperature, or better yet, drizzle it on foods after cooking.
#3: Beef Bone Broth or Collagen Protein
Arthritis results from damaged or inflamed cartilage, and cartilage is made of collagen.
Collagen is a unique protein that makes up about 27% of your body, with a high concentration of the amino acids glycine and proline.
Research suggests that eating 10 grams of collagen protein every day can improve joint discomfort in people with arthritis[*].
When you eat collagen, it goes straight to damaged tissue sites and helps your body repair them[*].
Collagen is very safe, and by all measures appears to be effective for easing arthritis pain and increasing mobility[*][*].
The only catch? You need to consume it daily to realize the benefits.
Beef bone broth is a delicious way to get extra collagen in your diet. Unfortunately, it’s time-consuming to make every day (and not exactly cheap if you purchase high-quality bone broth instead).
However, you can use collagen protein supplements daily instead to get all the benefits of collagen protein, easily and conveniently.
If you love garlic, good news: garlic is a fantastic functional food to help your body cope with arthritis.
Human and animal studies suggest that garlic contains many active anti-inflammatory compounds, including organosulfur compounds and thiacremonone[*][*].
Research shows that regular garlic consumption can strengthen your immune system, reduce pain and inflammation levels in joints, and even lower your risk of arthritis[*][*][*][*][*].
#5: Turmeric and Ginger
Turmeric and ginger are both pungent rhizomes from the Zingiberaceae family (try saying that a few times fast!).
Curcumin is the star player when it comes to turmeric. It has anti-inflammatory properties similar to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) but with far fewer side-effects.
One large scientific review from 2016 concluded that “scientific evidence…supports the efficacy of turmeric extract (about 1000 mg/day of curcumin) in the treatment of arthritis”[*].
You can cook with fresh turmeric, make a tea out of it, add dried turmeric powder to dishes, or take standardized curcumin supplements.
If you aren’t taking it in supplement form, make sure to use plenty of turmeric in your food or tea to get enough curcumin,
And if you aren’t a big fan of the earthy flavor of turmeric, you can get similar pain relief benefits from ginger.
Ginger can reduce the expression of inflammatory genes, decrease pain, and improve function in people with arthritis[*][*]. It even works topically when applied via self-massage[*][*].
Apply fresh ginger or ginger essential oil topically, cook with fresh ginger or ginger powder, make fresh ginger tea, or try standardized ginger supplements.
#6: Green Tea
Green tea is rich in polyphenols and other antioxidants, which can help reduce pain and inflammation in arthritis.
Many traditional drugs for arthritis may lose their efficacy over time.
But EGCG (epigallocatechin-gallate, a catechin found in green tea) may have similar effects, fewer side-effects, and retain its ability to reduce arthritis symptoms for longer compared to conventional drugs[*].
Other research suggests EGCG could even change the response of cells and help inhibit the development or progression of arthritis[*].
A 2018 randomized clinical trial found that in patients taking arthritis drugs for knee pain, adding green tea improved pain and other symptoms of arthritis more than the drugs alone[*].
For best results, make green tea at home using high-quality, loose leaves.
Low-temperature steeping between about 165-180 degrees Fahrenheit (about 73-82 degrees Celsius) preserves more of the beneficial compounds, or you can cold brew it overnight then strain.
#7: Kale and Other Leafy Greens
Kale is a superfood you can add to smoothies, cook, bake into chips, or enjoy raw in salads.
Like other cruciferous veggies, kale contains the anti-inflammatory components sulforaphane and DIM (diindolylmethane). These compounds have been shown in studies to possibly reduce the symptoms and risk of arthritis[*][*][*].
Deficiencies in vitamins C and A can increase your risk of developing arthritis, but a 100-gram serving of kale contains 93 milligrams of vitamin C and a whopping 4,812 IU of vitamin A[*].
If you don’t dig the complex and slightly bitter flavor profile of kale, spinach is also rich in vitamin C and A. According to one study, many people with joint pain self-report that spinach reduces their arthritis symptoms[*].
Blueberries are high in fiber and relatively low in net carbs, making them a keto-friendly fruit.
However, when it comes to arthritis, the real reason to eat blueberries is their high concentration of beneficial flavonoid antioxidants known as anthocyanins.
Anthocyanins are responsible for the beautiful color of blueberries, and they can also reduce pain and swelling, decrease inflammatory markers, and possibly even reverse the progression of arthritis[*].
Along with spinach, blueberries are also the food most often self-reported by arthritis patients to relieve symptoms[*].
#9: Fermented and Probiotic Foods (and Supplements)
Your body contains approximately an equal number of bacterial “buddies,” called your microbiome, as it does human cells[*].
The microbiome, especially your gut microbiome, plays an essential role in health and disease.
Arthritis is no exception, and researchers have found that people who develop arthritis may have different gut bacteria that contribute to inflammation and increase the risk of the condition[*][*].
That’s why it’s no shocker that probiotic foods and supplements are a promising way to treat arthritis, resulting in reduced pain and stiffness[*][*].
These functional foods work two ways: first by increasing the number of “good” bacteria, and second by increasing levels of anti-inflammatory chemicals produced in your gut.
You can boost your beneficial bacteria population by taking probiotic supplements. However, it’s tastier and less expensive to explore homemade options like fermented veggies, yogurt, and kefir.
Because the probiotic strains in yogurt and kefir convert lactose into lactic acid, these dairy foods are low-carb, keto-friendly, and are usually even well-tolerated by people with lactose intolerance[*]!
Takeaway: Experiment to Discover Your Own Best Foods for Arthritis
Environmental factors and family history are important when it comes to arthritis, but so is diet.
Your diet influences your body’s inflammation, blood sugar levels, immune response, and gut microbiome. All of these factors can decrease your arthritis risk or symptom severity.
If you want to find relief from arthritis, you don’t have to eat every food on the list every single day. Instead, you can add one or two at a time, eat them daily for a while, then gauge the results.
Have you noticed a difference in arthritis symptoms from changing your diet? What’s your favorite food on the list? Please let us know in the comments!