It is estimated about 70 million Americans suffer from arthritis, and arthritis is the leading cause of disability in older adults.
Preventing, treating and alleviating symptoms associated with arthritis can help improve the quality of life for millions of sufferers from arthritis.
While there can be many factors that influence arthritis risk and severity, diet is a component that can be used in treatment and possibly even play a role in prevention.
According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) (1), there is an increasing volume of research suggesting dietary changes can help with arthritis management.
Making dietary changes may not completely cure arthritis, but it may help lessen inflammatory markers in the body which could translate to alleviating symptoms of arthritis.
Increasing natural sources of antioxidants and omega 3 sources can help lower inflammation in the body.
Some evidence suggests lowering meat intake may also be beneficial for arthritis. Sugar is considered a pro-inflammatory food, so cutting back on sweets, sugary beverages and processed snacks is also recommended.
Sugary beverages, sweets and refined carbohydrates
The Arthritis Foundation (2) suggests cutting out sugar in your diet if you have arthritis. Eating a diet high in sugar, which is common for most Americans, can promote inflammation in the body.
Arthritis can already be an inflammatory condition, so it is recommended to make dietary changes that promote anti-inflammation.
Cutting out sugary beverages, sweets and refined carbohydrates can help lower sugar intake.
Keep in mind sugar can be hidden in other packaged foods you may not suspect such as: canned soups, frozen dinners, bread, etc.
High dairy and meat intake
PCRM suggests dairy and meat intake to be major trigger foods for arthritis. Research studies have shown people with arthritis following a vegan or vegetarian diet can improve symptoms with arthritis.
One of the reasons for this is because meats and dairy are a source of arachidonic acid (AA). AA is a precursor for pro-inflammatory agents in the body.
Western diets are high in AA intake because of the higher intake of animal products.
A 2002 study (3) found a diet low in AA helped alleviate symptoms associated with arthritis.
This and other studies suggest avoiding or cutting out meat and dairy intake from your diet may be beneficial for arthritis. If you have arthritis and are wondering if you should cut out meat and dairy, consult your physician and/or dietitian first.
Some people with arthritis may be able to tolerate small intakes of dairy and/or meat.
Low omega 3 fat sources
Omega 3 fatty acid is essential in the diet. Omega 3 does many important functions in the body, one if which is to lower inflammation.
Therefore, it is recommended to eat a diet high in omega 3’s if you have arthritis. You should avoid fatty foods that are not a good source of omega 3.
These can include: shortening, fried foods, packaged snacks, butter
Night shade vegetables
Vegetables in the night shade family can include peppers, potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant. It is recommended to eat a diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables because they are a source of numerous antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber.
However, some people with arthritis may have sensitivity to nightshade vegetables.
A compound in nightshade vegetables called solanine is thought to be a source of pain for some people with arthritis.
However, research linking nightshade vegetables to arthritis pain are lacking.
Some people may have sensitivity to nightshade vegetables, but they can also be an important source of antioxidants.
For example, Harvard Health (4) suggests tomatoes are a food that combats inflammation.
Therefore, speak with your healthcare team if you are wondering about nightshade vegetables and your arthritis pain.
What to eat if you have arthritis
Besides focusing on what you SHOULDN’T eat for arthritis, there are many foods that you should eat. In general, following a Mediterranean style diet or a vegetarian diet full of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and omega 3 sources can be beneficial.
Ultimately, you should consult your own healthcare team for what diet would best suit your needs and overall health.
Fish is a source of omega 3’s which are known to have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body.
A 2006 review (5) suggests omega 3’s may be therapeutic for acute and chronic inflammation like with arthritis.
Fish that are considered to be good sources of omega 3’s include: salmon, herring, tuna and sardines.
Recommended serving for fish is twice per week. This amount should ensure you are getting the recommended intake of omega 3’s for general health.
However, getting higher intake of omega 3’s may be recommended for arthritis. Other sources of omega 3 can include: nuts and olive oil.
Fruits and vegetables
Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables is a good way to help lower inflammation in the body because fruits and vegetables are good sources of antioxidants.
Incorporating any fruits and vegetables into your diet can be beneficial, but Harvard Health (6) suggests green leafy vegetables, berries and oranges can be good foods for lowering inflammation.
Besides fruits and vegetables, spices are another quality source of antioxidants in the diet. Curcumin, the main compound in turmeric, has been associated as being anti-inflammatory and because of this may be beneficial for arthritis.
A 2009 review (7) of curcumin suggests curcumin may play a role in the prevention and treatment for chronic inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.
According to WebMD (8), a chemical in olive oil can help stop the production of inflammatory producing agents in the body.
Another component in olive oil that can be beneficial for arthritis is omega 3’s. It is recommended to choose extra virgin