Are you or someone you know living with arthritis, searching for ways to manage pain and regain mobility? Arthritis can be a challenging condition, often affecting one's daily life and overall quality of life. While physical therapy is a valuable resource for individuals with arthritis, what you eat can also play a significant role in managing symptoms. Discover the foods to embrace and those to avoid as we embark on a journey toward improved joint health.
“Food as medicine,” a concept that traces back to Hippocrates, is the idea that what we eat and drink affect our overall health.
For people with arthritis, a condition characterized by inflammation in the joints, the connection between food and joint health is particularly significant, as there are foods we know can promote inflammation and those that can fight it.
There are more than 100 types of arthritis and related conditions, all with various causes and treatments. The most common, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, both involve inflammation of the joints. Symptoms range from mild to severe and often include swelling, pain, stiffness and reduction in range of motion in certain joints. Chronic pain caused by severe arthritis can significantly impact daily activities, from performing duties at work to walking without discomfort.
Can diet help with arthritis? "Physicians prescribe strong medications for inflammation, which is essential, but 'cleaning up' the diet is also important," says Sonya Angelone, a registered dietitian in the San Francisco Bay Area and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
As a result, most physicians promote healthy lifestyle adjustments as part of a successful treatment plan for arthritis, which includes eating a well-balanced diet that helps you manage your arthritis symptoms.
“There are lifestyle factors we can’t prescribe to a pharmacy,” says Dr. Amish J. Dave, a board-certified rheumatologist with Virginia Mason Franciscan Health in Seattle. “The medications will be most helpful when patients are eating right, exercising, sleeping well and managing their stress.”
There's a growing body of research that shows certain foods – simple carbs and foods high in saturated fat, sugar and sodium – can significantly worsen inflammation and subsequent chronic pain.
“We know more about the gut microbiome and what affects it,” Dave says. “Foods with excess sugar, preservatives or that are highly processed seem to increase amounts of ‘bad’ gut flora and worsen inflammation without adding beneficial nutrients.”
The first step is to reduce or eliminate foods that are known to increase inflammation in the joints, such as sugar and processed foods that contain high levels of saturated fats.
Worst foods for arthritis pain:
Other foods to avoid with arthritis:
Certain foods like gluten, dairy or foods from the nightshade family, such as eggplant and tomatoes, can have a negative effect on some people.
When it comes to promoting certain foods, Dave focuses on options that have been shown to have a positive impact on arthritis symptoms based on studies.
He favors the ITIS diet for his patients, created by Dr. Monica Guma, a rheumatologist and researcher at the University of California, San Diego. It’s a “supercharged” version of the classic Mediterranean diet that includes anti-inflammatory foods and herbs that may improve gut health and arthritis symptoms.
Similarly, Dr. Weil's anti-inflammatory diet is based on the Mediterranean diet with an added emphasis on green tea and chocolate for their antioxidant effects.
Foods to eat with arthritis:
Fruits. Antioxidant-rich fruits – like tart cherries, blueberries, raspberries and grapes – may help lower inflammation and prevent a number of conditions, like heart disease and certain cancers.
Vegetables. Dark green, leafy vegetables (think broccoli, spinach and Brussels sprouts) contain vitamins A, C and K, which protect cells against free radical damage linked to inflammation. Also, look to vegetables like sweet potatoes and carrots, red and green peppers and members of the allium family – such as onions, garlic and shallots – to help relieve inflammation.
Whole grains. Although there is no research to confirm a link between whole grains and inflammation, a 2022 review published in Nutrients found that eating whole-grain foods had a moderate effect on reducing inflammation. Whole grains contain cell-protecting vitamin B and antioxidants and are high in fiber, which can help lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol.
Herbs. Certain herbs like ginger can be powerful anti-inflammatories, but some need specific preparation to be properly absorbed. Polyphenols in ginger, such as gingerol (the compound that gives ginger its flavor) and shogaol, are thought to prevent the formation of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
Avocados. Avocados are a good source of vitamin E, which has anti-inflammatory effects, as well as a high concentration of anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fat. Studies show eating a daily avocado can also increase “good” levels of HDL cholesterol.
Nuts and seeds. Peanuts, almonds, pistachios and flaxseed (among others) are a good source of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which can help lower cholesterol, and contain antioxidant vitamins and minerals that can keep inflammation in check.
Turmeric. Curcumin, a naturally occurring substance found in turmeric, has anti-inflammatory properties, but more studies are needed to understand its full impact.
Green tea. Rich in antioxidants and polyphenols, plant compounds with significant anti-inflammatory effects, green tea is thought to be particularly impactful for those with arthritis.
Extra-virgin olive oil. Polyphenols in extra-virgin olive oil have been widely studied and have shown to effectively fight against inflammation and reduce joint pain.
Salmon. Fatty fish like salmon and tuna are high in omega-3s, which can calm inflammation. Research shows people who eat fish rich in omega-3s are less likely to develop inflammatory diseases, and it can reduce existing joint pain and swelling for those living with arthritis.
Garlic. Sulfur compounds in garlic are believed to help prevent inflammation and help slow down the damage of cartilage.
Take the next step toward a healthier, pain-free life. Our experienced physical therapists are here to guide you every step of the way. And did you know we have a nutritionist who can assist with your best and most powerful healing diet? Start your personalized arthritis management plan and call us today at (561) 278-6055. Follow us on Instagram @millerphysicaltherapy.