Foods That Fight Osteoarthritis

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.