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Foods That Fight Osteoarthritis

Learn Which Nutrients Benefit Your Joints

Unlike other forms of forms of arthritis, your risk of developing osteoarthritis is largely related to lifestyle factors like diet, weight, exercise, and previous injury. In fact, dietary and lifestyle changes can have a huge affect on the prevention and management of osteoarthritis. But where do you begin? There exists only preliminary research on the effects of nutrition on osteoarthritis, but these results are promising. At the same time, there are many claims about dietary supplements, foods, and other substances that have no research to back them up. This article will help you separate the facts from the fiction when it comes to fighting osteoarthritis with dietary changes. Keep in mind that nutrition is just one of the many factors affecting osteoarthritis, and you should always create a prevention or treatment plan along with your doctor's recommendations.

Fighting Osteoarthritis with the Right Food Choices

According to preliminary nutrition research, the following nutrients and substances in foods may benefit osteoarthritis.

Vitamin C may help reduce the progression of osteoarthritis. Vitamin C is involved in the formation of both collagen and proteoglycans (two major components of cartilage, which cushions the joints). Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant that helps to counteract the effects of free radicals in the body, which can damage cartilage.
  • Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, strawberries, peppers, kiwi, cantaloupe, green-leafy vegetables, cauliflower, tomatoes, potatoes, and pineapple.
  • While most adults need between 75 mg (women) and 90 mg (men) of vitamin C each day, osteoarthritis experts suggest consuming 200 milligrams of vitamin C daily. Use the following chart as a reference guide to meet your needs.
Vitamin C Sources mg
 Acerola cherries, 1 cup  820
 Red bell pepper, 1 cup  280
 Guava, 1 medium  165
 Broccoli, 1 cup  120
 Orange, 1 medium  120
 Green bell pepper, 1 cup  120
 Cauliflower (cooked), 1 cup  100
 Papaya, 1 medium  95
 Strawberries, 1 cup  90
 Kale (cooked), 1 cup  85
 Cabbage greens (boiled), 1 cup  80
 Orange juice, 3/4 cup  75
 Cantaloupe, 1 cup  70
 Kiwi, 1 medium  60
 Grapefruit juice, 3/4 cup  60

Beta-carotene is another antioxidant that also seems to help reduce the risk of osteoarthritis progression.
  • Beta-carotene is found in red, yellow, and orange fruits and vegetables (pumpkin, cantaloupe, peppers, carrots) and many dark-green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, Romaine lettuce).
  • While most adults need about 2,330 International Units (IU) of beta-carotene each day, osteoarthritis experts recommend 9,000 IU of beta-carotene daily. Use the following chart as a reference guide to meet your needs. (Please note that while some foods have high levels of beta-carotene, it is non-toxic. Your body will only utilize what it needs.)
 Beta Carotene Sources  IU
 Sweet potato (baked), 1 medium  28,058
 Carrots (cooked), 1 cup  26,835
 Spinach (boiled), 1 cup  22,916
 Kale (boiled), 1 cup  19,116
 Pumpkin pie, 1 slice  12,431
 Carrot (raw), 1 medium  8,666
 Butternut Squash (boiled), 1 cup  8,014
 Spinach (raw), 1 cup  2,813
 Mango, 1 cup sliced  1,262
 Oatmeal, 1 pack instant  947
 Tomato juice, 6 oz  819
 Peach, 1 medium  319
 Red pepper, 3" ring  313

Vitamin D is necessary for proper calcium absorption and bone structure, which are crucial in proper joint functioning. A low intake of vitamin D appears to increase cartilage loss.
  • Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin because your body can make it when your skin is exposed to ultraviolet sunlight—all you need is 15 minutes of exposure (face, arms and legs), without wearing SPF (it blocks your ability to make this conversion), three to four times a week. However, it may be difficult for some to meet the suggested daily exposure, including people who do not get outdoors much, people who are bundled up during the winter months with little sun exposure, and for older people whose skin is less efficient at this conversion.
  • Fortified milk and cereals, eggs, tuna, and fish-liver oils all help the body obtain vitamin D. Supplements are another option, but always discuss that with your health care provider first.
  • Recommended vitamin D intake ranges from 600 IU (for adults up to age 70) to 800 IU (for adults over age 70), but osteoarthritis experts suggest at least 600 International Units (IU) daily. Use the following chart as a reference guide to meet your needs.
 Vitamin D Sources  IU
 Cod liver oil, 1 Tbsp  1,360
 Salmon, 3.5 oz  360
 Mackerel, 3.5 oz  345
 Tuna (canned), 3 oz  200
 Sardines (canned), 1.75 oz  250
 Milk, D-fortified, 1 cup  100
Egg (or egg yolk), 1 medium  41
 Cereals, D-fortified, 1 cup  40
 Vitamin D supplement  200-400

Omega-3 fatty acids suppress inflammation and are used to form the outer membranes of joint cells. Omega-6 fatty acids, on the other hand, promote inflammation which can contribute to the pain and stiffness of osteoarthritis. Most people consume approximately 10 times more of the inflammation-promoting omega-6's than they do the anti-inflammatory omega-3's.
  • Decrease your intake of omega-6 fatty acids by cutting back on corn, safflower and cottonseed oil. Limit your intake, as much as possible, of saturated fats and trans-fatty acids.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are found in cold-water fish (such as salmon, halibut, tuna and sardines), pecans, walnuts, soy foods (tofu, soybean oil), olive and canola oils, flaxseeds, and flaxseed oil.
  • Nutrition and health experts recognize that omega-3's are healthy and should be a part of your diet, but have not yet established a recommended daily intake. Osteoarthritis experts suggest three grams of omega-3 fatty acids daily (with 0.7 grams coming from fish sources). Use the following chart as a reference guide to meet your needs.
 Omega-3 Sources  Grams
 Flaxseeds (ground), 2 Tbsp  3.5
 Walnuts, 1/4 cup  2.3
 Atlantic salmon, 3.5 oz  2.0
 Albacore tuna, 3.5 oz  1.5
 Soybeans (cooked), 1 cup  1.0
 Halibut, 3.5 oz  0.5
 Tofu (raw), 4 oz  0.4
 Olive oil (uncooked), 2 Tbsp  0.2

Diet Claims That Don’t Help Osteoarthritis

There are many food and nutrition recommendations for arthritis that have no scientific proof that they actually work. Be sure to steer clear of these common claims.

The Nightshades Diet. One of the most common claims is that avoiding "nightshade" vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and most peppers, will relieve the symptoms of osteoarthritis. Although there is probably nothing harmful about following this advice, there are no studies to support its effectiveness.

The Alkaline Diet. The alkaline diet presumes that high levels of acid in your system bring on osteoarthritis symptoms. Proponents of this claim suggest eliminating sugar, coffee, red meat, most grains, nuts, citrus fruits and citrus foods from your diet for an entire month. Because followers of this diet are limited to such restrictive food guidelines, many people do lose weight and report feeling better (as a result of that weight loss). However, there are no studies to prove that this diet is effective.

The Dong Diet. This very restrictive diet relies heavily on the consumption of all vegetables except tomatoes, and eliminates many of the same foods as the alkaline diet (see above). No research or evidence exists to prove that this diet is effective in managing osteoarthritis.

Gin-Soaked Raisin Diet. Although grapes and raisins do contain some anti-inflammatory compounds, the actual amount is minimal. The gin that is used may help dull pain, but that is not a permanent fix. There is no research to support this diet claim.

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Member Comments

  • Good info to review as I help my hubby with his Osteoarthritis.
  • Becky's article stresses the importance of beta-carotene in your diet but the SparkPeople Nutrition tracker does not include beta-carotene. It is not even listed as an option that you can manually add to your tracker. Would it be possible to add beta-carotene to the tracker, SparkPeople?
    This is very good article , and give more knowledge about the desease and how to cure deseas .
  • This article was really helpful for me in identifying foods that will actually help my condition. Thanks SP!
  • I have been recently diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the knee.
    This article is helpful in knowing what to eat to help with this condition.
    Thanks, Becky!
  • a table full of omega-3-containin
    g food.... and chia seeds are not even mentioned????

    chia has roughly 8-times more omega-3 than salmon (without the danger of mercury poisoning that seafood bears).
    i personally prefer adding a "small salmon steak" (=1 tbs chia seeds soaked for 15 mins in a cup of water) to my breakfast-cereal in the morning, that's my omega-3's done and i feel satisfied and content until noon and longer.
  • I will be 63 in a few days and was diagnosed with diabetes about 8 years ago so I have been gradually improving my eating habits. I don't eat sugary foods now, try to avoid gluten, and no longer eat meat all of which has been a great help for my blood sugars and health in general. However, I am still having trouble losing weight and the arthritis I have now in knees and hips makes it tough to get as much exercise as I used to. Before, I could walk 5k with no problem but not so easy now. I am going to get going on vitamins C, D, Beta Carotene, and Omega 3 fatty acids. I take glucosamine chondroitin-MSM now. I've read conflicting info on it but I still think it helps me feel better (less pain) after a few weeks of consistent use. TUBLADY--Big congrats on all your hard work! You inspire me!
  • I knew they would get meat and fish in the list somewhere. Too much meat and fish is what my doctor said caused my osteoarthritis. I feel much better after adopting a plant based diet.
    not impressed with tis website
    I am 51 year old female the first sign of osteoarttitis I got was swelling in my right knee when I was 43 had to give up work. Was treated with painkillers and had my knee drained once every two months. Xrays showed eventually my knee was almost worn away, I had it replaced April this year was very sucessful for about two months but its swollen and painfull again ! Going to start on my suppliments and try and loose the weight I'v gained, got results of my hip xrays last week and they are both looking bad. But I'm determined to take my suppliments and loose weight, this article has been very helpful. Any information would be very helpful, thank you.
  • I was healthy and fit most of my life, but diagnosed with RA at 30. I worked out, lots of exercise and pretty healthy eating till I injured my knee at 56, found I had osteoarthritis. I was out hiking and damaged my knee. Had operation, then another, then the other knee went.
    The other parts of my body were in constant pain. I became disabled, obese and for 14 years, could hardly get around. I then lost 200 lbs, for the doctor told me I was killing myself and would be dead in two years. I had my knees replaced and now get around very well.
    When I started exercising at 335 lbs , I had to lay on the bed and use a resistance band to help lift my leg. I had no strength. It was slow and sometimes painful, but I knew I had to do it. I walked with a walker, sometimes sitting down in the seat to rest.
    One has to cut calories, to lose weight, and do some form of exercise. Check out chair exercises. The rubber resistance bands were a my best exercise equipment for me. I still use them today.
    You should practice stretching every morning and evening too. Have to keep the body limber. I still suffer from RA and osteoarthritis , many morning I feel the pain, I am stiff, but I stretch, limber up, go for a walk and hit the gym for water aerobics. There is nothing probably better for achy joints than to work out in water. But if you can't , then do something else. If only 10 minutes a day. Then work up to 15, then 20. You should manage 30 minutes. It will make a big difference in how you feel.
    I am training for a 1/2 marathon next month. I am going to be 71 in December. It's never to late to change your life for the better.
  • I am 54 now, but was diagnosed several years ago with Osteoporosis, the one thing my Doctors keep stressing to me is to get out and walk. We all know the we can't do normal activities like everyone else and can't exercise like everyone else. So improvise, if your laid up in bed, do legs lifts, just use your imagination and mix it up. Stop if it hurts too much but somehow just get moving. I bought a bike, so I like to ride it when the weather gets cooler. The is a peddler thingy, lol I don't know what it's called , but you can sit in a chair and peddle it like a bike. swimming is good if you have access to a pool, it's easy on the joints. Just do whatever you want to get moving, just get moving. 10 minutes a day and increase as your body allows. Any exercise is better than no exercise.
    I am 50 years old and was diagnosed with Osteo Arthritis 4 years ago in my left knee. I went to the gym and worked out religiously on the treadmill and took aerobic classes , now I do not go and have gained 50 lbs. It can be depressing but I know I am the only one that can change this. I am now trying to eat healthier , and Sparkpeople has helped me with so much information. I take supplements and believe completely that change in diet can only help with inflammation and the pressure put on my knee. I know its a hard hill to climb because I can not work out like I did but with eating healthier and walking as much as I can , I hope to overcome this and try to prevent it from getting worse. To all those that are discouraged due to weight gain, we CAN do this with support from each other !!! :)

About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

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