In the United States, 54 million people are living with arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For those with arthritis, one in four will experience severe joint pain. That joint pain and stiffness often affects quality of life by limiting your ability to do the things you love.

When you suffer from arthritis, your body is in what is known as an inflammatory state. In this state, the old adage “you are what you eat” is quite true: some foods may trigger more inflammation while others can help reduce it.

If you’re suffering from aching joints due to inflammation, changes to your diet can help.

Three Foods to Limit

Limit these three things in your diet to reduce inflammation:

1. Added sugar. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating foods high in sugar can cause inflammation in the body. When we eat processed sugars, it triggers the release of what we call “inflammatory messengers” known as cytokines. Always check the food labels and ingredients lists for sources of added sugars. Aim for no more than 10 percent of daily calories from added sugars. Hidden sources of added sugars include flavored coffees, yogurts, granola bars, instant oatmeal and breakfast cereals.

2. Saturated Fat. Research studies have proven that saturated fats trigger inflammation in fat cells called adipose tissue, which increases the inflammation associated with arthritis. Saturated fats are those that are usually solid at room temperate. Sources of saturated fats include meat (especially red meat), pizza, desserts, cheeses and other full-fat dairy products like butter.

3. Refined Carbohydrates. Not only has most of their fiber been removed from this kind of food, but “refined carbohydrates” provide little in the way of nutrition. They have also been linked to higher levels of inflammatory markers in the blood. Remember, inflammation in the body also increases the risk for other chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease. Foods that are considered refined carbohydrates include white bread, white rice, cookies and cakes.

Additions to Your Diet

Add these high-quality foods to your diet. They can help to fill nutritional gaps and reduce joint pain:

  1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. This healthy fat is found in foods such as fish, nuts and in dietary supplements such as fish oil. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and stiffness. Studies show that those who ate omega-3 rich foods or took a fish oil supplement had a reduction in joint pain. If you’re not a fan of fish, try plant-based sources of Omega-3 foods such as ground flax, flaxseed oil and walnuts.
  2. Vitamin D. The “sunshine vitamin” is important for bone and muscle function. Research studies have linked low blood levels of vitamin D with increased risk of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Sources include sunlight, egg yolk, salmon, cod liver oil and fortified foods such as milk and orange juice. Read your medication labels and talk to your doctor or pharmacist to find out if any of your medicines put you at risk for developing vitamin D deficiency. And be sure your provider orders a vitamin D test as part of the bloodwork for your annual check-up.
  3. Turmeric. This spice contains a chemical called curcumin that can reduce joint pain and swelling by blocking inflammatory cytokines and enzymes. Clinical trials using turmeric showed long-term improvement in chronic inflammatory-related joint disease. Add turmeric to smoothies, eggs, or sauces for added flavor and an anti-inflammatory boost.
  4. Ginger Root Extract. Ginger extract is the dried or fresh root of the ginger plant. It is said to decrease joint pain and reduces inflammation in people with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Ginger has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties similar to ibuprofen.
  5. Fruits, Vegetables and Whole Grains. Fruits, veggies and whole grains, as part of a healthy diet, fight inflammation naturally and can also help control your weight. Maintaining a healthy weight relieves stress on the joints. Excess body fat also creates and releases chemicals which promote inflammation in the body. Studies have found that for every pound of weight you lose, you reduce the load on your knee joint by 4 pounds. In addition to a healthy diet, regular physical activity is important to maintain a desirable weight. Engage in regular physical activity that includes both aerobic and strength training exercises.

For more information and other nutritional tips, visit the Nourishing section of our Lifespan Living health and wellness blog.


Lisha Andrew, MS, RD, LDN

Lisha Andrew is a bariatric dietitian of the Center for Bariatric Surgery at The Miriam Hospital. She received her bachelor of science in food and nutrition/dietetics at Framingham State University and a master of science in nutrition and health promotion at Simmons University.