Choose these foods and spices to ease your arthritis symptoms.

By Lisa Esposito and K. Aleisha Fetters

LIVING WITH ARTHRITIS is no picnic. Depending on the type and severity, this disease can make everyday tasks such as tying shoes or even walking impossible.

If you suffer from arthritis pain, foods to reduce inflammation may help. If overweight or obesity increases the pressure on your joints, weight-loss plans offer an added possibility for improving your symptoms.

Joint-Friendly Foods to Try

Incorporating these foods into your diet can help reduce inflammation:

  • Leafy green veggies.
  • Citrus fruit, berries and cherries.
  • Whole grains.
  • Pulses.
  • Herbs and spices.
  • Nuts.
  • Seeds.
  • Fatty fish.
  • Soy foods.
  • Beans (dark-colored).
  • Olive oil and fish oil.


Inflammatory Foods to Avoid

Avoiding or limiting the following foods from your diet might help decrease joint pain:

  • Sweets.
  • High-fructose corn syrup.
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Refined carbs.
  • Red and processed meats.
  • Processed snack foods.
  • Deep-fried foods.
  • Alcohol in excess.


Food-Inflammation Connection

While there are many different types of arthritis, chronic low-grade inflammation plays a role in virtually all of them, including the two most common forms: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

A growing body of research shows that the foods you eat and the spices you use to give them flavor can ease inflammation and subsequent chronic pain in a big way, says Dr. M. Elaine Husni, vice chair of rheumatology and director of the arthritis and musculoskeletal center at the Cleveland Clinic.

Many spices contain antioxidants and chemical compounds that disrupt of the body’s inflammation-signaling pathways and lower the body’s levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, explains registered dietitian nutritionist Kim Larson, founder of Total Body in Seattle and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.

“Foods high in anti-inflammatory compounds can help to ‘put out the fire’ and potentially improve joint pain,” says Cassie Vanderwall, a registered dietitian in the department of clinical nutrition at UW Health in Wisconsin.

Fatty fish choices high in omega-3 acids – sardines, salmon, tuna, herring and anchovies – are among the most effective foods for reducing inflammation related to joint pain and arthritis, Vanderwall says. “Olive oil and fish oil are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which the body uses to create anti-inflammatory chemicals,” says Dr. Vinicius Domingues, a rheumatologist in Daytona Beach, Florida, and medical advisor to CreakyJoints, a digital community for arthritis patients and caregivers. “Studies show that fish oil can relieve joint tenderness and morning stiffness, reduce the duration of morning stiffness and reduce disease activity in people with rheumatoid arthritis.”

Dark green veggies, citrus fruits, berries and cherries are packed with antioxidants. Nuts and seeds such as walnuts, pistachios and almonds are also good sources, as are flax, chia and hemp seeds. Whole-grain rice, pasta and whole-wheat bread can replace inflammation-provoking refined grain products like white flour or white bread.

Pulses such as beans, dry peas, chickpeas and lentils are also helpful. Black, red and kidney beans are high in fiber and bioactive compounds that reduce inflammation, Vanderwall says.

Spice Up Your Anti-Arthritis Diet

Decreasing inflammation doesn’t always require a diet overhaul – help is as close as your spice rack. Feel free to use fresh or dried spices, but just keep in mind that dried spices can begin to lose their health potency after six months, Larson says.

Be sure to tell your doctor if you’re using certain spices on a daily basis or taking them in high-dose supplement form, Husni says. Even though spices are natural, they are still powerful, and it’s important to eliminate any chance of drug interactions.

Shore up your health and reduce arthritic pain by incorporating these eight spices into your daily diet:

  1. Turmeric.Turmeric contains the powerful anti-inflammatory compound curcumin. Our bodies depend on compounds in other spices, like black pepper, to most effectively absorb curcumin, Larson says. So, to get the biggest anti-inflammatory benefits, use them together.
  2. Black pepper.Black pepper can be used to add heat and flavor to just about any dish so don’t be shy with the pepper grinder.
  3. Garlic.Sulfur compounds in garlic are believed to help prevent inflammation.
  4. Cinnamon. Cinnamaldehyde, the compound that gives cinnamon its distinct flavor and smell, has anti-inflammatory action.
  5. Cayenne.Capsaicin, the active ingredient that gives peppers their characteristic heat, is also what gives them – and their respective spices – anti-inflammatory properties.
  6. Ginger. Polyphenols in ginger, such as gingerol (the compound that gives ginger its flavor) and shogaol, are thought to prevent the formation of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
  7. Cloves.When University of Florida researchers had participants consume cloves on a daily basis, they found that it took only seven days for cloves to significantly lower one specific pro-inflammatory cytokine.
  8. Saffron.Saffron relies on compounds responsible for the spice’s intense color for its anti-inflammatory effects.

Diets to Lessen Joint Pain

“Western diet patterns – rich in highly processed foods and low in plant foods – have been linked with chronic inflammation,” says Sharon Palmer, a dietitian nutritionist who’s known as the Plant-Powered Dietitian. “Diets filled with whole plant foods are linked with lower chronic inflammation.”

Consider if any of these eating plans might fit your lifestyle:

  • Mediterranean diet: The Mediterranean diet pyramid encourages plenty of fruits and veggies, berries, whole grains, legumes, beans, nuts and tasty herbs and spices. Fish and seafood are included as well, along with moderate amounts of poultry, eggs, yogurt and cheese and an (optional) glass of red wine with dinner. “It’s important to speak with your physician before starting any new diet plan,” Domingues says. “However, the Mediterranean diet is well-studied and recommended for people looking to reduce their risk of inflammation.”
  • Plant-based diets: The Flexitarian, Nutritarian and vegetarian diets all focus on plant-based foods, with varying degrees of non-plant foods allowed. The Flexitarian Diet merges flexible and vegetarian eating so you can still eat meat every so often. The Nutritarian Diet focuses on raw or cooked veggies with limited white meat allowed. Vegetarian diets come in several versions.
  • Anti-inflammatory diets. Dr. Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Diet is based on the Mediterranean diet with an added emphasis on green tea and chocolate for their antioxidant effects. The Autoimmune Protocol is a strict diet that works by temporary eliminating foods to pinpoint triggers for symptoms like joint pain. AIP encourages nutrient-rich foods including organ meats, bone broth and seafood and a wide variety of veggies.
  • Weight-loss diets. Weight-loss plans that experts deem to be safe, balanced and healthy include Volumetrics diet and commercial plans like WW (Weight Watchers). The Volumetrics Diet encourages foods with higher water contents, such as soup, fruits and veggies, yogurt and pasta. WW uses its SmartPoints system to assign nutritional values to foods.



Vinicius Domingues, MD

Domingues is a rheumatologist in Daytona Beach, Florida, and medical advisor to CreakyJoints, a digital community for arthritis patients and caregivers.

  1. Elaine Husni, MD, MPH

Husni is vice chair of rheumatology and director of the arthritis and musculoskeletal center at the Cleveland Clinic.

Kim Larson, RDN, NBC-HWC

Larson is the founder of Total Body in Seattle and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.