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Arthritis and diet

3-minute read

There are many food myths surrounding arthritis, but some studies suggest certain foods may help to reduce pain and inflammation and slow the progression of arthritis.

If you have arthritis, you should aim to eat:

  • a healthy, balanced diet
  • a more Mediterranean-style diet, with plenty of fish, pulses, nuts, olive oil, fruit and vegetables
  • more omega-3 fatty acids, such as from oily fish

Many people living with arthritis, particularly rheumatoid arthritis, also say there is a link between certain foods and the flare-ups they experience.

Others believe acidic fruits, such as lemons, oranges and grapefruit, and nightshade vegetables, such as potatoes, aubergines and capsicum, can make symptoms worse. However, there is no proof of this, and avoiding these foods may do more harm than good.

Foods that are good for arthritis

  • calcium - to reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis
  • good fats (monounsaturated fats and omega-3s)

Harmful foods

  • saturated fats
  • foods that will increase weight
  • if you have gout, avoid foods containing purines (meat, seafood, foods containing yeast)

Diet myths

Foods that have been implicated in arthritis but for which there is no evidence of harm, include:

  • acid producing foods
  • dairy products
  • meat

Healthy, balanced diet

Although there is little evidence to support the above claims, some studies suggest certain foods may help reduce the pain and inflammation caused by arthritis and slow down the condition's progression.

These foods all contribute to a healthy, balanced diet, which will help with your arthritis and also reduce the risk of developing health complications, such as heart disease, osteoporosis (weak and brittle bones) and obesity.

If you are taking steroids over a long period of time you are more likely to develop osteoporosis. To reduce your risk, eat foods rich in calcium and vitamin D.

Calcium-rich foods include dairy products (milk, cheese and yoghurt), nuts, seeds and fish, such as sardines or whitebait (particularly if you eat the bones).

There is no proof that dairy products cause arthritis. Calcium is important for strong bones, which is especially important for people with arthritis, who may be at increased risk of osteoporosis.

Sunlight is our main source of vitamin D but it can also be found in oily fish and fortified foods, such as cereals and margarines.

There is increasing evidence that the Mediterranean diet is good for arthritis as well as a number of other conditions. This diet includes plenty of fruit and vegetables, fish, grains and pulses and a moderate amount of red meat.

Foods rich in omega-3 are believed to have an anti-inflammatory effect, which may reduce the pain associated with inflamed joints. Omega-3 is found in oily fish, such as sardines, mackerel and salmon.

You should try to eat at least two portions of oily fish a week. Omega-3 is also found in nuts and seeds (particularly linseed or flax seed), and is regularly used to fortify margarines, cereals and bio-live yoghurt drinks.

Certain foods, such as patés, uncooked meats and unpasteurised dairy products can increase the risk of developing food poisoning. If you are taking immunosuppressant medicine, you should avoid these foods.

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Last reviewed: June 2018

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