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How to Eat for Arthritis

Updated: Jan 28, 2023

By Kebbie Stine, Master Nutrition Therapist

Do you suffer from stiff or painful joints, or have you been diagnosed with arthritis? Arthritis is an inflammatory response in the joints that can cause swelling, pain, stiffness, and can often limit normal activity. Inflammation is the body's natural way of fighting off invaders or healing wounds, but sometimes inflammation becomes chronic and this is when it can become harmful, such as with arthritis. There are many treatments for arthritis including medication, physical therapy, chiropractic care, massage and acupuncture. But did you know that your diet can have a huge impact on inflammation and joint pain?

Certain foods can cause an inflammatory response in the body, and the Standard American Diet (SAD) is full of foods that aggravate joint pain. Here are a few foods to avoid if you suffer from arthritis:

  • Sugar: Sugar is hands down the most inflammatory food, and it is in everything! The average person consumes 17 teaspoons of sugar per day, which is roughly 68g per day, 476g per week, or 54 pounds per year! Just by eliminating sugar from your diet you could see major improvement

  • Highly Processed Foods: Highly processed foods like cookies, crackers, cereal, chips, candy, soda, etc have additives that make them taste better or last longer on grocery store shelves. These additives cause inflammation in the body and exacerbate joint pain

  • Trans Fats: Trans fats are fats that have been altered to make them more stable, they are found in fried foods, fast foods, highly processed foods and donuts. These fats not only cause inflammation in the body, but can also lead to heart disease, obesity and diabetes

  • Gluten: Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and spelt. It can cause inflammation in susceptible individuals even if you do not have celiac disease. If you have a lot of joint pain, consider giving up gluten for six months to see if your symptoms improve

  • Dairy: Dairy products include milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and whey protein. Dairy contains a protein called casein that can be inflammatory for many people. Like gluten, you may consider avoiding it for several months to see if you notice improvement in your pain

These are the most common inflammatory foods, but the best way to know if you are sensitive to a particular food is to do a food sensitivity test, or an elimination diet. Almost any food can be inflammatory on an individual basis.

On the flip side, there are also foods that can actually reduce inflammation in the body and improve symptoms of joint pain! Some anti-inflammatory foods to include in your diet are:

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are fats found in fatty fish like salmon or tuna, walnuts, chia seeds and flaxseeds. Omega-3’s are anti-inflammatory, and support brain and heart health

  • Healthy Fats: There are many healthy fats that fight inflammation that you should include in your diet such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados, eggs, fish and pastured meats

  • Fruits and Veggies: Colorful fruits and vegetables are nutrient rich, full of antioxidants, and have numerous health benefits. A diet full of fresh produce will keep inflammation at bay

  • Herbs and Spices: Many herbs and spices have been shown to decrease inflammation and some can even be as effective as ibuprofen for pain! Some heavy hitters include turmeric, ginger, rosemary, oregano, garlic and cinnamon. Start using fresh herbs daily in your recipes and reap the benefits!

  • Antioxidants: Antioxidants are substances that can prevent or slow cell damage caused by oxidative stress due to free radicals (caused by stressors like inflammation). Foods rich in antioxidants include brightly colored fruits and vegetables (eat a rainbow every day!), dark chocolate, dark leafy greens, and green tea

In addition to eating an anti-inflammatory diet, make sure to move your body every single day, incorporate good sleep habits and manage stress to keep arthritis pain at bay. Supplementation can also be a effective way to incorporate anti-inflammatory nutrients and antioxidants into your diet.

Kebbie Stine is a Master Nutrition Therapist in the Denver area. She practices nutrition therapy at Washington Park Chiropractic and is Dietician Assistant in the Clinical Nutrition Department at Children's Hospital of Colorado. Contact Kebbie at


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