Open Accessibility Menu

Understanding the Link Between Arthritis and Diet

Understanding the Link Between Arthritis and Diet

When you have arthritis, you are no stranger to agonizing joint pain. Physical therapy, orthopedic specialists, and certain medications can definitely be your allies when it comes to managing arthritic pain. However, did you know that the contents of your pantry and refrigerator can also influence your arthritic pain?

At Lompoc Valley Medical Center, we believe that knowledge is power. We are committed to helping our patients with chronic medical conditions enjoy their highest possible quality of life, and knowing how to best manage conditions like arthritis is a big part of this goal. There is a strong connection between arthritis and diet. Make sure to read on to learn more about this relationship, as well as the best foods and recipes for joint health.

What is the Connection Between Arthritis and Diet?

The connection between arthritis and diet begins with the very word “arthritis,” itself. The term “arthritis” refers to inflammation (“-itis”) of the joints (“arth-“). While there are many different types of arthritis, ranging from gouty arthritis to osteoarthritis, to rheumatoid arthritis, the underlying factor that unites them is that they represent an inflammatory state in your joints. When your joints are inflamed, they can be very painful. Reducing the inflammation of your joints, in turn, can help improve your pain. Following a specific anti-inflammatory diet can help ensure that you are keeping the underlying inflammation in your body and joints as low as possible.

What Does Science Say About How Diet Can Help Improve Your Arthritis?

Several researchers have evaluated the connection between diet and arthritis and found that specific foods seem to be more anti-inflammatory than others. For example, a study in Sweden found that when people were encouraged to eat anti-inflammatory foods for at least half of their meals for four months, they experienced less pain from rheumatoid arthritis. Other studies of diet in people with rheumatoid arthritis have found that a Mediterranean diet can be beneficial for some people, resulting in significantly lower pain levels when compared to people eating an ordinary diet.

What Foods Are Best For Joint Health?

Researchers have identified many specific foods that are beneficial for your joint health. These include the following, many of which are components of the Mediterranean diet.


Eating fish can help your body reduce inflammation because fish contains high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. These so-called “good fats” can help you fight inflammation and reduce inflammatory joint pain. Experts from the Arthritis Foundation note that people who eat omega-3 fatty acids have measurably lower levels of inflammatory markers in their blood. Aim for at least two servings of fish per week. Look for the following types of fish to help reduce your joint pain:

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Sardines
  • Herring
  • Anchovies
  • Scallops

If you can’t stomach the idea of fish, or if you’d like to maximize your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, you can also take a fish oil supplement. The Arthritis Foundation recommends 600 to 1000mg of fish oil daily to help relieve arthritis joint pain and swelling.

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts play a big part in helping your body fight inflammation, particularly when it comes to arthritis. In fact, according to experts from the Arthritis Foundation, a study found that people who ate the most nuts over 15 years had a 51 percent lower chance of dying from an inflammatory condition like rheumatoid arthritis compared to people who ate the fewest nuts. Eating nuts can help fill you up fast, and provide you with the fat and calories that you need to sustain you throughout the day. Aim to eat about a handful of nuts such as walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios or almonds each day.

Fruits and Vegetables

Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables can have a significant anti-inflammatory effect. This is because fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidants, which help your body fend off the effects of inflammatory cells. Examples of high-antioxidant fruits and vegetables include blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, broccoli, garlic, spinach, carrots, and potatoes, among many others.


Spices are some of the foods with the highest antioxidant levels of all. One easy way to make your food more anti-inflammatory, and to help relieve your joint pain, is to incorporate more spices into your recipes. Research shows that spices such as basil, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mint, oregano, rosemary, and saffron all have high antioxidant levels. One spice in particular, curcumin (also known as turmeric) has been particularly touted for its anti-inflammatory effects. Curcumin has even been studied as a pharmacologic drug to help people suffering from inflammatory conditions. Curcumin, or turmeric, is found in many curry recipes, and it can also be taken as a supplement.

Mediterranean Diet

The Arthritis Foundation has labeled the Mediterranean Diet the “ultimate arthritis diet.” But, what exactly is the Mediterranean diet? A Mediterranean diet includes high amounts of fibrous foods such as vegetables, fruit, unrefined grains and legumes, as well as olive oil and fish. In a Mediterranean diet, you may also eat moderate amounts of dairy, poultry, and eggs, while limiting red meat and refined sugar. According to the American Heart Association, the Mediterranean diet’s anti-inflammatory effects go beyond helping with conditions like arthritis. They can also help reduce inflammation in your heart, leading to lower rates of cardiovascular disease.

One of the most significant foods in the Mediterranean diet is olive oil. Olive oil has a powerful anti-inflammatory effect because it is high in omega-3 fatty acids. You can use olive oil as part of a salad dressing, drizzled over foods like hummus, pasta, or meats, and you can even cook with olive oil at low temperatures.

What Foods May Decrease Joint Health?

In the same way that researchers have identified foods that are anti-inflammatory, or that can help lower inflammation within your body, researchers have also identified pro-inflammatory foods, or that actually increase inflammation within the body. These foods include red meat, refined sugar, and fried and processed foods, all of which are very common in the Western diet. Eating excessive amounts of food can also be pro-inflammatory, increasing inflammation within the body.

What Recipes Can Help With Joint Health?

When it comes to recipes for joint health, one of the most important factors is making sure that the majority of any given meal is fruits, vegetables, unrefined grains, and healthy fats. Look for simple recipes that are easy to replicate—choosing one that has too many new ingredients or steps can make it harder for you to stick to a cooking routine.

Here are a couple of recipes to get you started, taken directly from the Arthritis Foundation.

Cowboy Caviar Pasta Salad

Ingredients:1 can black beans 1 can garbanzo beans 1 cup corn kernels 1 of each: yellow bell pepper, orange bell pepper, large avocado, green onion 1-pint cherry tomatoes 6 oz (1/2 box) whole wheat rotini noodles ¼ cup chopped cilantro ½ red onion 6 tbsp crushed pineapple (canned) 3 large limes 1 tbsp red wine vinegar 3 tbsp olive oil 2 tbsp minced garlic 1 tsp each: chili powder, coriander, cumin, garlic salt, onion powder, sea salt, black pepper 2 chicken breasts (grilled or rotisserie)

Steps:1. Boil pasta until al dente 8 to 10 minutes. Drain, rinse, and refrigerate. 2. Rinse and drain beans. Add to a large bowl. Slice tomatoes in half and add to beans. 3. Chop peppers, onion, and avocado into ¼” pieces. Add to bean mixture. 4. Add in corn kernels and cilantro. 5. Slice limes in half and juice them into a small bowl. Include zest of 1 lime into the juice. 6. Add red wine vinegar, olive oil, and chopped pineapple to lime juice. 7. Add minced garlic and all dried spices to lime juice mixtures. Mix well. 8. Shred chicken breasts and add to vegetables and beans. Then add in pasta noodles. 9. Pour lime juice dressing over everything and mix well. Refrigerate for one hour. Mix well before serving.

Salmon, Potato and Asparagus with Dill Sauce


¾ pound baby potatoes

3 teaspoons olive oil

½ teaspoon salt

4 center-cut salmon fillets

One bunch asparagus

1 cup plain yogurt

¼ cup chopped dill

1 tablespoon prepared horseradish

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice


  1. Heat oven to 400 F.
  2. Halve ¾ pound baby potatoes and toss with 2 teaspoons oil and ¼ teaspoon salt.
  3. Place on a sheet pan and bake until tender, about 20 minutes.
  4. Toss one bunch of asparagus with 1 teaspoon oil and 1/8 teaspoon salt; place on pan with potatoes and bake for 5 minutes.
  5. Season 4 center-cut salmon fillets with salt and pepper and place on pan with veggies
  6. Bake until salmon is cooked through, about 12 minutes.
  7. For dill sauce, stir together 1 cup plain yogurt, ¼ cup chopped dill and 1 tablespoon each prepared horseradish and fresh lemon juice. Serve with salmon and veggies.

For more recipe inspiration, make sure to check out the recipe archive from the Arthritis Foundation.

Other Tips For Managing Arthritis With Diet

Incorporating the above-named foods into your diet can be very helpful when it comes to controlling chronic inflammation and improving your joint health. However, when you’re in the midst of an arthritic flare, the mere thought of cutting up vegetables can be painful. Repetitive chopping motions can increase the pain of arthritis. However, buying pre-cut vegetables at the store can be a helpful way to reduce your agony. If there are no fresh options available, or if pre-cut vegetables put undue strain on your pocketbook, look for pre-cut frozen vegetables. Whether fresh or frozen, vegetables can be your best friend when it comes to managing arthritis—experts note that there’s no significant difference in the nutrition content of fresh versus frozen foods. Frozen vegetables may sometimes contain even more nutrients.

How to Learn More About the Connection Between Arthritis and Joint Health

When you have arthritis, even simple activities can be painful. While no single treatment method can take away all of your arthritis pain forever, many tools can help. That’s why it’s important to stay up to date on arthritis care with your regular healthcare team—and why adding a nutritionist can help you manage your pain even further. At Lompoc Valley Medical Center, we are here to help, and we are pleased to include nutritionists as part of our multidisciplinary approach to health care. To learn more about how Lompoc can help, contact us to make an appointment today.