The Best Foods for Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA), also referred to as degenerative arthritis, is one of the most common types of arthritis. OA happens when cartilage surrounding the joints begins to break down, causing the bones to rub against one another. Primary OA often comes with age and is caused by changes in the composition of cartilage, while secondary OA occurs as the result of injury or other medical conditions, including obesity.

Osteoarthritis commonly occurs in the weight-bearing joints such as the hips, knees, and spine, but can also affect the lower back, neck, shoulders, hands, and feet. Symptoms of OA include joint stiffness, pain, and loss of mobility that may become worse after under-use or overuse. Symptoms range from mild to severe and may worsen toward the end of the day and improve with rest or gentle movement.

The right treatment plan for OA includes regular physical exercise and wise nutrition. While there is no specific diet recommended for OA, knowing which foods to include and which to avoid is key to improving your symptoms. Here are a few pointers:

Increase consumption of fruits and vegetables: The antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables are important for more than good basic nutrition; naturally occurring vitamin E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C can help decrease the progression of OA. Vitamin C, in particular, might also decrease cartilage loss characteristic of the disease. Best sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit, as well as strawberries, cantaloupe, kiwi, broccoli, bell peppers, and tomatoes. Try my Strawberry-Kiwi Smoothie to give your vitamin C intake a lift.

Spice up your diet: Many fresh and dried herbs and spices have been used for their medicinal properties. But flavor enhancers such as cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric, like in my Tandoori Cauliflower, may also relieve the inflammation of OA. A study in the Journal of Clinical Interventions in Aging, for example, found that turmeric extract was as effective in relieving OA knee pain as ibuprofen, with the benefit of fewer gastrointestinal side effects.

Embrace a milk mustache: Research is finding that milk’s benefits may extend far beyond osteoporosis prevention. A study in the journal Arthritis Care & Research found that OA disease progression decreased as milk consumption increased. More studies are needed to confirm this relationship but in the mean time, why not settle in with a cup of my Hot Spiced Tea.

Invite good fats to the party: The source of fat in your diet can make a big difference in the severity of OA symptoms. Nix trans fats, limit saturated fats, and instead opt for monounsaturated and omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, which may actually decrease inflammation. A compound found in virgin olive oil called oleocanthal has been found to be as effective as ibuprofen in decreasing inflammation. And a study comparing omega-3 fatty acids with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) for arthritis pain found the two were equally effective pain relievers. Best sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish like salmon, herring, and sardines, as well as flax, hemp, and chia seeds and walnuts. For a punch of both olive oil and omega-3s, try my Pesto Salmon with Roasted Artichoke Hearts.

Be mindful of your cooking methods: Healthful eating for OA is more than just what you eat: how you prepare food is also important. Cooking methods that use high heat levels like deep frying or char broiling decrease the antioxidant content of foods and increase pro-oxidant compounds called advanced glycation endpoints (AGEs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs). This doesn’t mean you need to cancel the BBQ. But when cooking meats in particular, try not to over-cook or char, and use lower-heat cooking methods like baking, steaming, braising, and grilling the majority of the time.

Keep you weight in check: Many of the changes listed will automatically help you to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, which is important not only for the prevention of many health conditions, including heart disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes, but for the prevention and management of OA as well. Just a 10% weight loss has been shown to cut OA risk in half and to decrease the pain of existing OA. That’s a huge payback for a small commitment.

Learn more about anti-inflammatory remedies in your home and pantry.