This article was medically reviewed by Elaine Husni, MD, MPH, at the Cleveland Clinic.
It has been estimated that over 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with some form of arthritis every year. Arthritis comes with pain that may vary in frequency but commonly goes unresolved for years or even a lifetime. Treatment for chronic pain, such as arthritis, begins by addressing overall health—including sleep, diet and mood. While just one component of treatment, eating the best foods for arthritis can play a role in easing pain and preventing some conditions often related to the presence of arthritis.
Related: How to Keep Your Joints Healthy
Can Diet Ease Arthritis Symptoms?
After an arthritis diagnosis, taking a look at what you eat is a common starting point. There are two main benefits to improved nutrition: easing pain by adding foods that relieve arthritis and removing foods that make arthritis worse and reaching a healthy body mass index (BMI). It is important to note that an arthritis-friendly diet shouldn’t replace medications, other therapies or recommendations from your rheumatologist.
“The medicines that you take [for arthritis] work better in a normal BMI; studies have shown when you are at a higher BMI, the medicines don’t work as well,” explains M. Elaine Husni MD, MPH, vice chair of the Department of Immunologic and Rheumatic Disease and director of the Arthritis Center at Cleveland Clinic. “In that case, diet becomes important not only for nutritional value but also for your treatment outcome. You will reduce a lot of comorbidities or complications of the disease.”
Even someone who had the cleanest diet before an arthritis diagnosis may find adding certain foods can help relieve pain and symptoms. Marcy O’Koon, senior director of consumer health at the Arthritis Foundation, explains that while food cannot cause or cure arthritis, it can hurt or help it.
What Is the Best Diet For Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting the joints as the cartilage wears down between the bones. In this case, the CDC notes that obesity can put extra pressure on joints, increasing swelling that is already a common cause of osteoarthritis.
As with all types of arthritis, doctors stress eating a healthy diet with as little processed food as possible. “What we generally recommend in any case is to have a nutrient-dense diet,” Dr. Husni says. “That means everything you put in your body we want to make sure it is healthy and packed full of nutrients; we don’t really want you to fill it with empty calories.”
The best foods for easing arthritis symptoms are actually foods that are good for everyone; however, from an arthritis standpoint, O’Koon recommends learning which foods are pro-inflammatory and which are anti-inflammatory—and steering away from foods that make arthritis worse. For example, processed salty and crunchy snacks—especially those containing gluten—are going to increase inflammation. Nutrient-dense foods such as blueberries contain antioxidants that reduce inflammation—and can help reduce the swelling that all types of arthritis cause.
When looking for a specific type of diet, the Mediterranean diet is often cited as a great starting point because it focuses on plant-based, minimally processed foods. Eating more whole foods can also help with weight management, which is often the focus of arthritis treatment that helps medications work better.
Related: What Does Arthritis Feel Like?
What Is the Best Diet for Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune form of arthritis that affects over a million Americans. “It triggers inflammatory chemicals that attack and damage the body’s own joints and tissues, rather than a viral or bacterial invader,” says O’Koon.
Obesity is actually a risk factor for RA, but there are other health issues that can be attributed to the disease. For example, those with RA have a higher risk of developing heart disease and diabetes, so nutrition, in this case, would be a vital part of managing life with arthritis.
Just as with osteoarthritis, you should be eating foods that are nutrient-rich and reducing processed foods in your diet. Dr. Husni stresses the importance of getting nutrients from your food versus supplements; taking a turmeric pill to get more omega-3 fatty acids isn’t the same as eating a piece of fresh salmon. Getting your nutrients in their most natural form is always the best. That means changing how you eat fruits and vegetables—like consuming them raw vs. cooked—can help your body get more nutrients.
Related: Psoriatic Arthritis vs Rheumatoid Arthritis, Explained
What is the Best Diet for Psoriatic Arthritis?
Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is an inflammatory disease that attacks where tendons and ligaments connect to the bone, causing inflammation in the joints. “For the same reasons, eating a healthy diet—which is also low in calories if weight loss is needed—is a smart part of an overall management plan,” adds O’Koon.
Just as with RA there is a risk of heart disease with PsA, however, the risk nearly doubles if you have a PsA diagnosis. Again, this is why people with PsA should follow the same guidelines for other types of arthritis. In this case, eating foods that are heart-healthy—such as berries, nuts and leafy, green vegetables—should be a focus.
Related: Know the 5 Types of Psoriatic Arthritis
20 Best Foods for Arthritis
Make sure you actually like whatever healthy foods you choose so your changes can be long-term and sustainable. Additionally, recognizing that other lifestyle factors go hand-in-hand with a healthy diet is important; what you eat is just a piece of the larger puzzle.
“If you are on the best diet but smoke a pack of cigarettes per day, your diet won’t matter,” notes Husni. “Stress, sleep, etc. is all intertwined; you have to be mindful of the other lifestyle factors that go along with having a good diet.”
If your doctor has spoken to you about ways to ease arthritis pain with some dietary changes, here are some of the best foods to add to your meals that can help keep inflammation down, manage weight and provide you with essential vitamins and minerals for a strong body (and bones).
5 Foods That Lower Inflammation:
5 Foods High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids:
5 Nutrient-Dense Fruits and Vegetables:
5 Staple Foods of the Mediterranean Diet:
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