Foods to Reduce Joint Pain
Living with joint pain can be difficult and tiresome. Disruptions to your daily routine and limitations resulting from pain and stiffness are unpleasant, making simple everyday tasks exhausting. When you are in pain, it can also be a challenge to stick to physical therapy, exercise regimens, and other treatment plans because you aren’t feeling your best.
But there are additional ways for you to help alleviate joint pain and inflammation. For example, by eating a diet rich in foods that support joint health.
Eating Healthy, Living Well
Whole foods refers to unprocessed and unrefined fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. In addition, a healthy diet should also include a regular intake of lean proteins, such as fish, chicken, and eggs, and limit fattier foods such as dairy and red meat.
Maintaining this type of diet has a wide range of benefits beyond joint health. A number of scientific studies have demonstrated that eating a whole-food, plant-based diet can contribute to long term improved health, including benefiting your joints. Some other benefits include:
- Lower blood pressure
- Some protection against chronic disease, like cancer
- Can support weight loss, which in turn benefits overall health including joint health
Eating healthful foods is a good habit that needs to be developed, especially for people who haven’t always watched what they eat. Figuring out how to shop and cook for your health needs while still finding recipes that are palate-pleasing may seem daunting, but there are some specific foods to look out for that can be particularly helpful for individuals living with joint pain.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are vital to the basic functioning of the human body, but they can only be found in food—your body doesn’t produce them on its own. There are two main EFAs, omega-6 and omega-3. Both of these EFAs are ‘healthy’ fat or unsaturated fat that our bodies need to support bone and skin health, brain function, and more. However, omega-6 should be consumed in moderation.
When it comes to joint health, getting at least two servings of EFA rich foods every week can help combat joint pain. According to a number of studies, physicians noticed a significant improvement in patients experiencing joint pain related to arthritis and other chronic illnesses when they took omega-3 supplements. This means less pain medication, better mobility, and overall wellness.
Some of the best sources of EFAs are fatty fish like salmon and sardines, so try to serve seafood twice a week to get your healthy fats and alleviate joint pain.
Green and Leafy Veggies
It’s commonly known that eating vegetables is an essential part of a balanced diet. This is because vegetables contain high levels of nutrients, such as folate, vitamins, calcium, and fiber—all of which will contribute to your body’s proper functioning.
In one study from the Imperial College London, researchers concluded that eating 10 portions of fruit and vegetables daily could potentially prevent 7.8 million premature deaths worldwide.
When it comes to joint pain, some of the best vegetables to integrate into your diet are cruciferous. These green, leafy vegetables such as broccoli, kale, spinach, and bok choy, are packed with vitamins and other essential nutrients, including a naturally occurring compound, called sulforaphane that has been found to reduce inflammation and may even slow cartilage damage.
When preparing your leafy greens, it’s important to remember that many nutrients are lost in the cooking process. The best way to serve leafy green vegetables to enhance nutritional value is to steam them lightly.
Whole Grains Out of the Box
If you haven’t already switched to whole grains instead of refined and processed flour and grains, then it’s high time. White flour is known to contribute to elevating blood sugar and may be linked to a host of chronic conditions. On the other hand, whole grains are thought to do the opposite.
One of the studied effects of diets consisting of whole grains and other whole foods is reduced inflammation. This, in turn, has been linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer. The anti-inflammatory properties of whole grains can similarly help reduce joint pain, making it an important part of your diet. Whole grains are a great source of fiber, which contributes to maintaining healthy weight—another risk factor for joint pain.
A few examples of whole grains are brown rice, buckwheat, and oatmeal. There are also some out of the box grains that you can try out. These are packed with nutrients but are less commonly used than rice or wheat. Amaranth, quinoa, spelt, and teff may sound unusual if you have never encountered them before, but integrating them into your diet can have serious health benefits.
With a Cherry on Top
Not just a tasty treat, cherries are packed with antioxidants that help keep cells healthy and protect against damage. Two specific antioxidants that are found in high amounts in cherries are anthocyanins and cyanidin, both of which have been studied for potential anti-inflammatory effects.
While more research is needed to demonstrate a direct cause, initial research suggests that the beneficial effects of antioxidants can help alleviate chronic joint pain and inflammation, thereby reducing the need for anti-inflammatory drug treatment. Plus, this delicious fruit is a perfect sweet treat at any time of day.
Cherries aren’t the only fruit with antioxidant properties. Others include blueberries and strawberries, but make sure to eat them fresh and not in a pie to get the most nutritional benefit without the processed sugar.
Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices aren’t just for adding flavor and interest to your meals. They can also have an impact on joint pain and inflammation. Turmeric is particularly renowned for its antiinflammatory properties. The compound curcumin, which you find in turmeric, may reduce joint pain by lowering inflammation.
A 2001 study found ginger to relieve pain in patients with osteoarthritis. Cinnamon is another popular spice for improving stiff and painful joints.
Garlic is another ingredient that adds health as well as taste to your food. Garlic, onions, and leeks are all members of the allium family, which are high in diallyl disulfide. Some studies have found that diallyl disulfide can help fight arthritis.
Fruits that Fight for Your Health
There are a number of fruits that you should consider including in your regular diet if you want to ease your painful and stiff joints. You can choose from:
- Citrus fruits like lemons, oranges, and grapefruits are high in vitamin C, which is a natural antioxidant that can slow down inflammation caused by osteoarthritis.
- Pineapple and papaya contain plenty of vitamin C alongside high levels of bromelain, which has been found to be as effective as ibuprofen in treating joint pain from osteoarthritis, and also works to reduce inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis.
- Grapes are high in resveratrol, which can help prevent the thickening of the joints associated with arthritis, and proanthocyanidin which can reduce inflammation.
- Tomatoes might not seem like a fruit, but botanically-speaking, that’s what they are. Tomatoes are packed with lycopene, which is an antioxidant, and they release even more when you eat them cooked.
What Not to Eat
For relieving joint pain, specifically, there are a number of things to cross off of your grocery list. These unhealthy foods can actually exacerbate inflammation and discomfort, so staying away from them can make a real difference.
Here are some of the worst foods for joint pain:
- White sugar and high fructose corn syrup
- Fried foods together with other foods high in trans fatty acid
- Alcohol (a little bit is alright once in a while)
- Processed meat containing harmful advanced glycation end products (AGEs)
Removing unhealthy food is just as important as adding good food, especially if you are trying to reduce joint inflammation and pain.
Living with chronic joint pain is difficult and can be inhibiting. While regular exercise and physical therapy are often recommended treatments, sometimes this can be too uncomfortable or difficult to undertake when joint pain is acute.
There are ways to make the benefits of physical therapy more accessible, for example, by using a biomechanical device like AposHealth for temporary pain reduction42. These devices can improve mobility42 so that joint pain doesn’t have to stop you from doing what you love. In addition, maintaining a diet with healthy whole grains, veggies and fruits can help reduce joint pain and inflammation so that you can get back to your daily activities while improving your overall health.