The Best and Worst Arthritis Foods

There are approximately 10 million people in the UK alone suffering from some form of arthritis. This disease of the musculoskeletal system presents itself in a wide range of form, with over 100 different classifications.

In general, arthritis symptoms include joint inflammation, stiffness, pain, and impaired function. There are a wide range of joints and surrounding tissues that can be affected, eventually leading to joint instability, deformation, and lack of mobility if not properly managed.

Unfortunately, at this stage there is no 100% cure for any type of arthritis, including the prevalent osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Nevertheless, there has been significant research into combination therapies that are making living with arthritis more manageable. In addition to medications, occupational therapy, and natural supplements, more people are subscribing to an arthritis diet consciously eating more of some foods and less of others.

How Important Is Diet For Arthritis?

Like many diseases, our diet affects our body’s ability to deal with arthritis. There are some foods which exasperate symptoms, while others can help to alleviate symptoms.  By paying attention to the types of foods consumed, it’s possible to better manage arthritis.

There are several key dietary recommendations for people with arthritis:

  • Maintain a well-balanced diet to support general health. A poor diet will not only negatively affect arthritis symptoms, it may also accelerate the progression of the disease and make the body more susceptible to other health problems.
  • Avoid fasting or crash diets that place added strain on the body
  • Increase calcium intake to minimise the risk of developing osteoporosis
  • Maintain healthy fluid intake, drinking plenty of water.
  • Keep bodyweight within a healthy range. Too much weight places extra stress on the joints, especially the hips and knees.


While these are good general guidelines, any arthritis diet should also focus on reducing inflammation, strengthening bones and cartilage, and reducing oxidative stress by elevating antioxidant intake.

The Problem With Inflammation

One of the key considerations in any arthritis diet plan is to avoid foods that promote inflammation. This especially applies to people already diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, gout, lupus, or ankylosing spondylitis.

OVERVIEW: Rheumatoid Arthritis, Gout, Psoriatic Arthritis, Lupus and Ankylosing Spondylitis

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory type of arthritis that usually affects knees. Rheumatoid arthritis of the knee the auto immune disease. The body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory type of arthritis that usually affects knees. Rheumatoid arthritis of the knee the auto immune disease. The body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

After osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is the most common form of arthritis in the UK, affecting approximately 400, 000 people. Symptoms of this disease usually start to present themselves when the patient is aged between 40 and 50, although adults of any age can be affected. Rheumatoid arthritis affects more women than men1.

Although the exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not fully understood, it’s known that the immune system has an abnormal response that promotes joint inflammation, attacking cartilage and other tissues around the joint. This progressively damages the joint and causes stiffness and discomfort, ultimately impeding function and movement


This form of inflammatory arthritis develops in response to an abnormal build-up of uric acid. The body is unable to effectively expel this substance, leading to crystallisation and deposition within the joints. Gout is typically associated with the big toe; however the ankles, insteps, fingers, knees, wrists, heels, and elbows may also be affected.

Psoriatic Arthritis

People that have the skin condition psoriasis are at risk of developing psoriatic arthritis. Although there are variations in symptoms, inflammation is very common and can cause significant pain and discomfort.


There are several classifications of lupus, although they all related to tissue swelling associated with an abnormal auto-immune response. Systemic lupus erythematosus is especially detrimental to joint health.

Ankylosing Spondylitis

Predominately associated with the spine, ankylosing spondylitis is a chronic inflammatory arthritis characterised by back stiffness and pain. Over time it can lead to ankylosis. Often other parts of the body are also affected by inflammation including the hip, shoulders, ribs, and hand and feet joints.

What Causes Inflammation?

One of the underlying causes of these arthritic diseases is inflammation. When joints become inflamed they attract more inflammatory agents and white blood cells that cause further irritation. This causes the synovium (joint lining) to swell and leak into the surrounding tissues.

MEDICAL VIDEOS: Inflammation Explained

Medical videos

This is an excellent video explaining the body’s general inflammatory response:

And this is a technical video explaining in great detail specifically the pathology of joint inflammation:

illustration of joints most commonly affected by rheumatoid arthritisThis swelling causes the joints to become stiff, restricting movement and causing pain and discomfort. As a result the cartilage and bone can start to breakdown and thin, further aggravating the joints and leading to disease progression.

By gaining greater control over inflammation, it’s possible to reduce swelling. This will naturally reduce pain and discomfort, improving mobility and slowing joint degradation.

Controlling COX-1 & COX-2 with NSAIDs

One of the major underlying causes of joint inflammation are the enzymes cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2). These enzymes trigger the release of prostaglandins, key hormones that elevate inflammation.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are prescribed to block COX-2, acting as inhibitors to inflammation. However, long-term use of these drugs has detrimental side effects.

There is now a large shift towards natural compounds that can help reduce inflammation in combination therapies to treat arthritis.

Preventing Inflammation With An Arthritis Diet

The relationship between diet and arthritis inflammation is a very important consideration in any patient’s diet plan. Food contains different nutrients and other compounds that can impact inflammation both positively and negatively.

Some substances will aggravate inflammation, while others can help to minimise inflammation. Understanding which foods to avoid and which foods to include in your diet for arthritis can make a significant difference.

Foods That Reduce Inflammation

Foods That Reduce Inflammation

Omega-3 fatty acids

One key nutrient that is proving to be effective in reducing inflammation in sufferers of arthritis is omega-3 fatty acids. Many studies have confirmed that supplementation with this nutrient can help to ease inflammation of the joints without negative side effects2 3 4 5.

Fatty fish are the best sources of omega-3s. However, there are also vegetarian sources, especially nuts and seeds.

Omega-3-Rich Foods
• Flaxseeds • Walnuts • Sardines • Salmon • Beef • Soybeans • Tofu • Shrimps • Brussels Sprouts • Cauliflower


Foods rich in fibre help to fight inflammation by reducing the concentration of c-reactive protein. This protein is a marker of acute inflammation. Not only are high levels of c-reactive protein associated with patients suffering from arthritis, studies show that this protein is an important predictive marker for diabetes and cardiovascular disease6.

For these reasons alone, it’s highly recommended to have a high fibre diet7. This will help to elevate arthritis symptoms, and it will also help to protect the body against other health problems.

Fibre-Rich Foods
• Whole grains • Apples • Bananas • Oranges • Strawberries • Pear • Beans • Pulses • Almonds • Broccoli

Vitamin B6

There has been a lot of research into the relationship between arthritis and B6. Also known and pyridoxine, this is one of eight B vitamins. The body is unable to store B vitamins because they are water soluble. Some studies have shown that people with rheumatoid arthritis have a higher requirement for B6 because inflammation reduces availablity8. Supplementation with vitamin B6 has been found to significantly reduce the levels of pro-inflammatory compounds tumor necrosis factor –alpha (TNF-alpha) and interleukin-6 (IL-6)9.

Vitamin B6-Rich Foods
• Pork • Beef • Fish • Turkey • Sunflower Seeds • Pistachio Nuts • Prunes • Bananas • Avocadoes • Spinach

These nutrients can all be sourced from high quality whole foods. However, foods supplements are more time-efficient and cost-effective at supplying the nutrients. Of course, patients should do their utmost to follow a healthy arthritis-friendly diet in any case.


Strengthening Bones and Joints

cheesesMany people that suffer from arthritis are also at risk of developing osteoporosis. Therefore, any arthritis diet foods should contain nutrients that support the strengthening of the joints and bones.

Calcium, vitamin K2 (menaquinone), vitamin D, phosphorus, magnesium, and manganese are all important nutrients that support healthy bones and joints.

Calcium is essential for maintaining bone mass. However, for the body to effectively utilise calcium it needs the support of other nutrients.


Key nutrients that support calcium absorption

Nutrients Needed To Absorb Calcium

Vitamin K2

This vitamin plays a key role in calcium metabolism, with several studies confirming that menaquinone is important for protecting bone health10,11,12. Menaquinone is found in certain animal foods and fermented foods. Unfortunately, K2-rich foods are typically high in fat. So while it is important to included foods containing K2 in an arthritis diet, they should be consumed in moderation.

Vitamin D

This pseudo-vitamin is needed to help increase the absorption rate of calcium within the gastrointestinal tract. Without vitamin D, calcitriol cannot be formed, preventing the insufficient calcium availability and weakening of the bones.


The second most abundant mineral in the body after calcium, phosphorus also plays an important role in building strong bones and teeth. Most people get sufficient phosphorus in their diet.

Magnesium and Manganese

The trace elements magnesium and manganese are needed to absorb calcium. Studies show that deficiencies in these nutrients cause bone degradation and can increase the risk of osteoporosis13,14.

Foods that promote strong bones & joints

Foods for Strong Bones and Joints


While most people associated dairy foods with calcium, many leafy greens, legumes, fruit, and seafood also contain this important mineral.

Calcium-Rich Foods
• Collard greens • Broccoli • Kale • Soy beans • Bok Choy • Figs • Oranges • Sardines • Salmon • Shrimp • Ricotta • Yogurt • Milk • Mozzarella • Cheddar cheese • Feta cheese • Cottage cheese • Parmesan cheese

Vitamin K

The primary sources of this vitamin are meat derived, especially organ meat. This is because animals have the ability to synthesise this vitamin from vitamin K1 they aquire from eating grass. Consequently, meats, dairy and eggs derived from grass-fed animals have a richer concentration of vitamin K2 compared with animals that are grain fed15.

Natto is the only vegetarian source of vitamin K2. The only reason natto contains vitamin K2 is due the bacterial strain used during the fermentation process. Vegetarians and vegans may need to take a dietary supplement to ensure that they are gaining enough vitamin K2 in their diet.

Since the richest sources of vitamin K2 also have a high concentration of saturated fat it’s important not to eat excessive amounts of these foods. This is another reason why a dietary supplement may be a better alternative.

Vitamin K2-Rich Foods
• Natto (fermented soybeans) • Hard cheese • Soft cheese • Egg yolk • Butter • Chicken liver • Salami • Chicken breast • Ground beef

Vitamin D

The body produces vitamin D when exposed to sufficient sunlight. There are also some food sources of vitamin D, but this is largely restricted to fish.

Vitamin D-Rich Foods
• Salmon • Tuna • Mackerel • Fish liver oil • Mushrooms • Beef liver • Cheese • Egg yolks


Fortunately phosphorus is found in just about all foods, so rarely are any changes needed in an arthritis diet to account for a deficiency.

Phosphorus-Rich Foods
• Salmon • Pumpkin Seeds • Shellfish • Cheese • Brazil Nuts • Pork • Beef • Veal • Pulses • Sardines • Soya Beans

Magnesium & Manganese

Seafood and plant-based foods tend to be the best sources of the trace elements magnesium and manganese.

Manganese & Magnesium-Rich Foods
• Shellfish • Nuts • Seeds • Tofu • Whole Gains • Beans • Fish • Spinach • Kale • Bananas • Yogurt

These nutrients can all be sourced from high quality whole foods. However, foods supplements are more time-efficient and cost-effective at supplying the nutrients. Of course, patients should do their utmost to follow a healthy arthritis-friendly diet in any case.


Increasing Antioxidant Availability

we have compared the best joint supplements with antioxidants for youResearch shows that there is increasing evidence that oxidative stress plays a major role in the degradation of joints affected by rheumatoid arthritis16. Chronic inflammation is closely linked to elevated reactive oxygen species (ROS) that cause cellular damage17.

Not only does oxidative stress promote inflammation, it also has a direct impact on the joints by attacking important components of the structural tissue, such as proteoglycans, and stoping their synthesis18. Therefore, any rheumatoid arthritis diet plan should include plenty of antioxidants to try and reduce free radical activity.

An easy way to naturally increase dietary antioxidant intake is to eat an assortment of colourful vegetables and fruits each day. These foods are rich in anti-inflammatory antioxidants such as vitamin E, A, and C.

Other key antioxidant is the trace element selenium, which can be found in lean meats, seafood, poultry, peas, beans, eggs, seeds, and nuts. Copper, zinc, manganese, and iron are also important nutrients that can have antioxidant benefits due to their associated enzymatic activity with superoxide dismutases.

Threating rheumatoid arthritis with antioxidant therapy

Antioxidant Therapy

cruciferousThe use of antioxidant therapy for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis has been a subject of many recent studies. Antioxidants such as vitamin E and superoxide dismutase have been successfully used in therapy to treat inflammation in animal experiments19,20.

In human clinical studies, high doses of vitamin E over several months have been shown to support better disease control in patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis21.

Other research has demonstrated that combination therapies using antioxidants together with conventional drugs22, or with omega-3 fatty acids23 can reduce the symptoms of inflammation and offer relief to people affected by rheumatoid arthritis.

While patients participating in these studies were given antioxidants via supplements, there is also evidence that natural dietary intakes of antioxidants can also help with the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. For example, patients that adopt a Mediterranean-type diet naturally increase antioxidant intake and subsequently experience less rheumatoid arthritis activity24.

Other studies have also found that a healthy dietary antioxidant nutrient intake can reduce free radical formation and enhance the antioxidant activity in rheumatoid arthritis patients25. Certain micronutrients, such as beta-cryptoxanthine and zinc, together with a diet rich in cruciferous vegetables and fruit can have a protective role against the development of rheumatoid arthritis26.

Dietary Supplements

In addition to eating antioxidant rich foods there are plenty of supplements available that are enriched with essential nutrients that can reduce oxidative stress and associated inflammation. These joint care supplements are an important aspect of an rheumatoid arthritis diet plan.


What Foods Should You Avoid With An Arthritis Diet?

Everybody will react differently to various foods and there is no “perfect” arthritis diet. However, many people with arthritis should foods that are known to irritate inflammation.

Arthritis Diet Foods To Avoid
• Sugar • Refined Carbohydrates • Alcohol • Saturated & Trans Fats • Gluten • Nightshades

Watch this short video for the 5 worst foods for arthritis



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