Best Diet for Arthritis

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Wed Oct 18 2023.

Hands drawing.

Arthritis can make even simple activities, like getting into the car and vacuuming painful. But that doesn’t mean you have to suffer. Healthy lifestyle changes, like eating nutritious food, can go a long way toward relieving inflammation and restoring your mobility. 

Since we regularly get calls and comments about arthritis, we wanted to take a closer look at nutrition. More specifically, we wanted to see if eating certain foods or following a particular diet can help ease arthritis symptoms. To get more information, we connected with Catherine Gervacio, RDN, a certified nutrition coach with the National Coalition on Healthcare (NCHC), and Kimberly Gomer, MS, RD/LDN, a registered dietitian and licensed dietitian nutritionist with more than 25 years of experience. Both provided excellent tips and suggestions for family caregivers and their loved ones. 

What Is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a group of diseases that cause joint stiffness and inflammation. There are more than 100 different types, but most people have osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. It causes the immune system to attack the joints, resulting in stiffness, tenderness, and fatigue.

Osteoarthritis (OA)

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that affects the cartilage. Cartilage is a connective tissue that helps pad the joints. It wears down over time, causing the bones to rub against each other, resulting in pain and stiffness.

How Does Diet Contribute to Arthritis Symptoms?

Arthritis is a complex disease affected by various factors. There’s no food guaranteed to relieve uncomfortable symptoms. However, getting the right nutrients can reduce inflammation and support your general health. For example, avoiding sugar and red meat helps prevent the release of cytokines that cause inflammation. 

What You’ll Need:

Consider working with a registered dietitian (RDN) if you or your loved one is living with arthritis. 

“Dietary changes have varying impacts on arthritis,” explains Gomer. “Some of my clients feel better in days, others in weeks or months. Some experience no difference in their arthritis pain. There are a lot of factors involved, but the main consideration is how each person’s symptoms respond to dietary changes. Since all arthritis is an inflammatory response, you want to eat foods that are anti-inflammatory and avoid those that aren't.”

Anti-inflammatory Foods to Include in an Arthritis Diet

Many foods are anti-inflammatory, but Gervacio recommends the following:

1) Fatty Fish

“Salmon, mackerel, sardines, and other fatty fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to reduce inflammation,” she explains. “These foods can also support joint health by maintaining the lubrication of joints.”

Not everyone enjoys seafood. Can you relate? If so, a fish oil or krill oil supplement can provide similar benefits without the fishy taste. 

2) Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Fresh fruits and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They also have fiber which helps reduce inflammation

“Nutrients that are good for joint health include vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium, and potassium,” Gervachio says. “Antioxidants found in berries, spinach, and broccoli help combat inflammation. And, their fiber content can help you achieve or maintain a healthy weight, especially if your joint pain is exacerbated by carrying around extra pounds.” 

3) Whole grains

Whole grains are rich in nutrients, like fruits and vegetables. They contain dietary fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals (beneficial plant properties). These compounds fight inflammation, support cartilage health, and make it easier to maintain a healthy weight.

Inflammatory Foods to Avoid in an Arthritis Diet

Alternatively, there are certain foods that people with arthritis should avoid. These include:

1) Sugar

Eating lots of sugar makes it easier to gain weight, a common cause of joint inflammation. It also alters your gut bacteria, increasing the release of inflammation-causing cytokines. 

“The most powerful thing you can do to decrease arthritis inflammation is to read the food labels on anything you’re going to eat,” Gomer says. “If the ingredients include sugar, corn syrup, fructose, dextrose, sucrose (or other sweeteners) put it back on the shelf.” 

2) Seed oils

“All seed oils cause inflammation in the body,” Gomer explains. “These include soybean oil, corn oil, cotton seed oil, peanut oil, sesame oil, sunflower oil, canola oil, and rice bran oil. The problem occurs when these oils are exposed to heat, light, and chemicals. They produce transfats and lipid peroxides as their byproducts, which make inflammation worse.”

3) Alcohol and Other Sugary Beverages

Alcohol is loaded with empty calories and sugar. While the buzz might feel nice for an hour or two, drinking regularly causes lasting damage. Alcohol affects liver function, throws gut bacteria out of balance, and triggers inflammation throughout the body.

Gervachio agrees, noting that there are other drinks with added sugar. “These beverages include sweetened tea, fruit juice from concentrate, and soda. Sugar can make arthritis more painful by increasing your blood glucose levels, which causes inflammation.” 

4) Salty foods

Salt adds flavor to any meal, but too much makes inflammation worse.

“High-sodium foods, like processed meats, chips, and fast food lead to water retention and cause your joints to swell,” explains Gervachio. “As a result, it’s best to avoid these foods.” 

5) Dairy

Dairy products, like milk, cheese, and yogurt have beneficial properties, like calcium and vitamin D. But they may present potential risks for people with arthritis, especially those who are lactose intolerant. 

You don’t have to avoid these foods altogether if you have arthritis, but consuming them in moderation can help you feel your best.

The Best Diet for Arthritis - The Bottom Line

Gervachio and Gomer both agree that there isn’t a specific diet they would recommend to people with arthritis.

“Everyone with arthritis has unique needs,” Gervachio explains. “For example, a person who has arthritis due to an immune system issue has different needs than those with have it due to general wear and tear or a traumatic injury.” 

Gomer concurs, noting that “In my 25 years of experience coaching clients (and many have had challenges with arthritis) I’ve learned that treating arthritis with nutrition is a very individual process. A diet that will help one client won’t necessarily help another. Additionally, going on a specific diet can be tricky, as it may not align with a person’s lifestyle or food preferences.”

Adds Gervacio, “One common factor of all arthritis diets is a focus on anti-inflammatory foods with a reduction in sugar and saturated fats.”

Have Questions About Anti-Inflammatory Foods?

Transitioning to an anti-inflammatory diet takes time and effort, but if you have arthritis, it’s worth making the change. Admittedly, the process can be challenging. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions or concerns. Our friendly Care Specialists have experience in all aspects of family caregiving and regularly field food and nutrition-related inquiries. Call (800) 696-CARE or send an email to

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.