Back to top of page

Arthritis and your Nutrition

By Ellie B. Graphic Designer  Wednesday 18th May, 2016
Arthritis and your Nutrition

Arthritis is an extremely common condition that causes joint pain, stiffness and loss of mobility. More than 8.5 million people in the UK suffer from a common form of arthritis called osteoarthritis, and 400,000 people are thought to be affected by a less common form called rheumatoid arthritis.

While there is no diet to cure arthritis, certain foods can help to fight inflammation and relieve symptoms.

GOOD: The anti-inflammatory diet 

The anti-inflammatory diet has grown in popularity over recent years for its ability to reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, and promote weight loss. Similar to the Mediterranean diet, it involves eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, fish, nuts and beans, while limiting processed foods and saturated fats. Eating the following anti-inflammatory foods can go a long way towards reducing painful symptoms:


The omega 3 fatty acids found in fresh fish have been shown to be as effective as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) at relieving arthritis pain and joint stiffness. Omega 3 fights inflammation and is particularly beneficial for rheumatoid arthritis. You should aim to eat two portions of oily fish per week, such as salmon, mackerel and herring. If you have arthritis you may need to take a higher level of fish than is recommended to the general public so a fish oil supplement may be beneficial.

Extra virgin olive oil

Olive oil rich in good monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and contains a compound called oleocanthal that inhibits the activity of COX enzymes. It is believed to block the same inflammatory pathways as ibuprofen and aspirin, so may offer some relief from arthritis related inflammation.

Extra virgin olive oil is less refined and processed than other oils, so retains a greater nutritional value. Aim to consume two to three tablespoons a day.


Tart cherries have been shown to reduce the frequency of gout attacks and osteoarthritis flare ups. They contain powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins that inhibit the production of certain inflammatory chemicals, lower uric acid levels and reduce pain. A 2012 study published in Arthritis & Rheumatism involved 633 adults with gout. It found that eating a t least ten cherries a day reduced the risk of recurrent gout attacks by over 50%.


The pineapple fruit contains a group of enzymes called bromelain, which help to break down proteins. Bromelain has also been shown to inhibit the production of inflammatory chemicals, and it was first used medicinally to reduce swelling and inflammation following surgery. Many people find that bromelain supplements can help to reduce joint inflammation and improve healing time from arthritis, tendinitis, and sprains.


Ginger and turmeric have both been shown to reduce inflammation and knee pain caused by osteoarthritis. Ginger appears to offer anti-inflammatory properties similar to Ibuprofen and prescription pain killers. It is thought that ginger helps to suppress the production of inflammatory molecules called leukotrienes.  Turmeric works in a similar way by blocking the inflammatory cytokines and enzymes, including COX-2. So get creative and spice up your meals for additional relief from pain.


It is a common myth that dairy makes arthritis worse. Studies have repeatedly shown that following a dairy free diet does not relieve symptoms. In fact, a 2014 study found that women who drank milk on a daily basis had a lower risk of osteoarthritis progression, while another study found that milk reduced the frequency of gout attacks. Low-fat dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and cheese are good sources of calcium and vitamin D. As a result, they provide valuable support for bone health, muscle function and the immune system.

Green tea

Tea leaves are packed with powerful antioxidants, particularly green and white varieties. It is thought that these antioxidants can block the production of cartilage-damaging molecules and reduce inflammation. As a result, they preserve joints and slow the deterioration of cartilage. Green tea is abundant in a particularly powerful type of antioxidant called EGCG.

Whole grains

Whole grains such as oatmeal, brown rice, and quinoa are rich in fibre to support weight loss. They also help to lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) in the blood. This is an indicator of inflammation and high levels are commonly associated with heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Aim to consume around 6 ounces of grains per day. If you are gluten intolerant you may need to avoid grains as they can trigger inflammation and instead consume fibre from fruits and vegetables.


Broccoli, along with other cruciferous vegetables, is rich in vitamin K and calcium, which can help to strengthen bones and slow the progression of osteoarthritis. It also contains a compound called sulforaphane, which is believed to block the production of enzymes linked to joint destruction and inhibit inflammation.


Coffee contains powerful antioxidants that may offer a protective effect against certain types of arthritis, particularly gout. However, studies have found mixed results. People who are more sensitive to caffeine than others may find that it exacerbates symptoms, and more than three cups a day may increase your risk of rheumatoid arthritis. So it’s best to limit your intake to 1 to 2 cups a day to help relieve inflammation.

BAD: Foods that make your arthritis worse

Certain foods can trigger inflammation and worsen symptoms of arthritis, so try to avoid these common trigger foods:


Aside from causing weight gain, refined sugar is problematic for those with rheumatoid arthritis and gout as it triggers the release of inflammatory messengers called cytokines. Plus it has absolutely no nutritional value. Added sugar can be tricky to spot on food labels; as a general rule, any ingredients ending in ‘ose’ are types of sugar.


Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that is often added to fizzy drinks and desserts. However, several large scale studies have shown that aspartame negatively affects the brain. The body’s immune system appears to attack aspartame as a foreign substance, which triggers an inflammatory response, and there is evidence to suggest that removing aspartame from the diet can relieve rheumatoid arthritis.

Saturated fats

Saturated fats are primarily found in animal products, such red meat, cheese and full-fat dairy. In the body, saturated fats metabolise into pro-inflammatory chemicals, which can cause painful inflammation and swelling. Red meat contains high levels of substances called purines, which lead to high uric acid levels and gout flare ups. Try to limit animal protein to 6 ounces a day and reduce your intake of unhealthy fats in cheese and commercially prepared foods.

Trans fats

Trans fats were created to extend the shelf life of processed foods and snacks. Their safety has repeatedly been questioned as they may trigger systematic inflammation throughout the body. Many food manufacturers have now reformulated their products to remove all trans fats,  but they can still be found in some cookies, crackers, and margarine. Look out for partially any hydrogenated oils on the label.

Refined carbohydrates

Refined carbohydrates found in white flour, white rice and many cereals score highly on the glycaemic index and trigger the production of advanced glycation end (AGE) products that stimulate inflammation. Study findings suggest that they are particularly problematic for people with rheumatoid arthritis. Refined carbohydrates are also a leading cause of rising obesity levels, so switch to healthier whole grain options.


Excessive salt intake accelerates the loss of calcium from bones and increases the risk of osteoporosis and fractures. For some people, salt may also cause inflammation of the joints.

Aim to consume around 6 grams of salt on a daily basis, and limit your intake of processed foods which are a common source of salt.


A high alcohol intake burdens the liver and can lead to a number of health problems, including increased weight gain and inflammation. It has also been shown to increase your risk of gout. While alcohol doesn’t need to be avoided completely, it is best consumed in moderation.

Omega 6 oils

Omega 6 fatty acids are important for good health, but it is important to keep the ratio of omega 3:6 stable as too much omega 6 can increase your risk of inflammation and obesity. Omega 6 is commonly found in sunflower and safflower oils, and snacks and fried foods, which means that many of us consume more omega 6 than omega 3, which puts us at risk.

Nightshade vegetables

There is some evidence that nightshade vegetables such as aubergine, tomatoes, bell peppers and potatoes can increase arthritis pain. These vegetables contain a chemical called solanine, which may trigger inflammation in some people. While this has been disputed by some members of the scientific community, some arthritis patients do report relief from symptoms after reducing their intake of nightshade vegetables, so it may be worth a try.

Early Warning Signs of Arthritis

Early Warning Signs of Arthritis

Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain and inflammation within a joint. Use this infographic to catch symptoms early.

Subscribe to our latest health tips and offers