Medically reviewed by Shahzadi Devje, Registered Dietitian (RD) & Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)
There are certain foods that have been shown to help ease the symptoms of arthritis. In this blog post, we discuss specific anti-inflammatory foods that may help manage pain and control inflammation. Plus, we answer your most probing questions about diet for arthritis.
One of the most common questions I get asked as a Registered Dietitian is, "What can I eat to help my joints?" Although there isn't a specific diet for arthritis, particular foods have shown to ward off inflammation, strengthen bones and promote a healthy and robust immune system. Including these foods to achieve a healthy, well-balanced diet may help ease the symptoms of your arthritis.
What is Arthritis?
When we talk about arthritis, we're not just referring to one condition. In fact, arthritis is a bundle of around 100 diseases characterized by inflammation in the joints or other parts of the body. Common areas affected by arthritis include hips, knees, spine, or fingers. As you can imagine, because of the varying levels of swelling, pain and stiffness, arthritis can affect mobility, energy levels and quality of life. And like any other chronic condition, arthritis needs to be managed.
What Foods Make Arthritis Worse?
No one food will make your arthritis worse or better. Instead, it's more about your pattern of eating. You want to make sure that you limit your intake of processed foods; that are high in refined sugars, salt and certain types of fats. These types of foods may promote inflammation and aggravate arthritis pain.
Sources of refined sugar and carbohydrates include:
- Sugary drinks
- White bread
- Instant mashed potatoes and rice
- Baked goods
- Candies and sweets
Instead of regularly choosing highly processed grains, opt for nourishing fibre-rich choices such as:
- Whole-grain oats
- Whole-grain breads and cereals
- Brown rice
We know whole grains contain heaps of fibre - which some studies have shown can lower blood levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein.
Let's talk about fat for a minute when it comes to diet for arthritis.
Saturated fats found in animal foods such as red meat, butter, lard and cream, and trans fats found in packaged baked goods, crackers and fast food have also shown to promote inflammation.
Luckily, there are healthier fat options that can shield you from inflammation. Healthy fats include omega 3 fats, and these are typically found in:
- Fish and seafood
- Persian and English Walnuts
- Ground flaxseeds and flaxseed oil
- Chia seeds
- Omega 3 fortified eggs
- Canola oil
Healthier unsaturated fats are also helpful. These are commonly found in:
- Olive oil
- Canola oil
- Nuts and seeds
Striving for healthier food choices "most of the time" and making room for "treat" foods in moderation may help reduce inflammation and arthritis pain.
Can You Cure Arthritis With Diet?
Although there is no diet for arthritis, there is some evidence that specific dietary patterns can reduce inflammation and arthritis pain. Also, keep in mind that managing Arthritis is a holistic process. Talk to your doctor about your options and make sure to follow any recommendations that are provided on medications and physical activity.
What Is Good For Arthritis Pain?
In terms of food and diet, the Mediterranean diet - rich in fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, fish and olive oil, has shown to have benefits for those living with arthritis. In fact, research confirms that following the Mediterranean diet may have a role in reducing inflammation and improving the quality of life of people living with osteoarthritis.
The Mediterranean diet promotes eating fish 2-3 times a week, which provides a good amount of omega-3 fatty acids. We did find some evidence that omega-3 can reduce markers of inflammation in people living with rheumatoid arthritis.
A diet similar to the Mediterranean diet, known as the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension) diet, has shown to be effective in lowering the risk of gout. This is a type of arthritis; characterized by a build-up of uric acid crystals in the joints. Like the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet promotes a plant-based pattern of eating.
Should You Avoid Nightshades To Reduce Pain?
Eggplant, tomatoes, red bell peppers and potatoes belong to the family of nightshade vegetables. They also contain a chemical known as solanine, often condemned for causing arthritis pain. What's interesting is that there isn't sufficient evidence to suggest that nightshades trigger flare-ups. In fact, some experts argue that these vegetables contain a powerful mix of nutrients that may help repress arthritis pain.
However, many people report significant symptom relief when they avoid nightshade vegetables. We'd suggest that if you notice your arthritis gets worse after eating these - do an elimination test. Avoid these vegetables for a couple of weeks and see if it helps.
Diet For Arthritis: How To Protect Your Bones?
It's essential to keep your bones strong and healthy to prevent osteoporosis. Calcium and vitamin D play an essential role in keeping your bones strong. Sources of calcium in the diet include:
- Dairy products & non-dairy alternatives such as fortified soy and almond beverages,
- Canned salmon with the bones
- Dark leafy greens
Getting vitamin D from your diet can pose a bit of a challenge. Sources of vitamin D include:
- Milk & fortified soy beverage
You may need a supplement to ensure that you are getting an adequate amount of vitamin D.
In addition to getting enough calcium and vitamin D, following a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of foods can help you get all the other nutrients, including magnesium and phosphorus, needed to keep bones healthy.
Healthy patterns of eating not only help reduce arthritis pain but can also help prevent other conditions, including diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.
This blog was written in collaboration with Niloufar Deilami RD
I'd love to hear your thoughts on diet for arthritis. What have you tried to help manage your symptoms? Leave me a comment below!
Shahzadi is an award-winning registered dietitian (RD) regulated by the College of Dietitians of Ontario and certified diabetes educator (CDE), approved by the Canadian Diabetes Educator Certification Board. A YouTuber and notorious foodie, she's dedicated to helping you end your cooking wars, transform your health, and be the best version of yourself! Shahzadi is an on-air nutrition expert for CTV Your Morning and a regular contributor for Global News and other national media outlets.