Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis worldwide.
It can cause joint pain and loss of function in some people but present no symptoms in others.
Although the damage to the joints caused by osteoarthritis cannot be reversed, diet plays an important role in slowing its progression and improving your symptoms.
This article explains what to eat and avoid with osteoarthritis and provides a sample 3-day sample osteoarthritis menu.
What is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is the loss of cartilage that lines the bony surface of joints.
This loss of cartilage can cause debilitating joint pain and loss of function but the severity of these symptoms can vary person-to-person.
Osteoarthritis can also damage other areas of the joint, including tendons, ligaments, and the synovium, or joint lining.
Osteoarthritis can affect any joint but it most commonly affects the knees.
Risk factors for developing osteoarthritis include (1):
- older age
- female gender
- muscle weakness
- joint injury
However, there is no one cause of osteoarthritis. Instead, it’s caused by an interplay of these risk factors and physical stress that damages the joints.
There is some degree of inflammation present with osteoarthritis, but it’s not driven by inflammation like inflammatory types of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and gout.
Osteoarthritis is not the same as osteoporosis, which is a skeletal disorder characterized by weakened bones due to excess loss of bone mass.
Unlike osteoporosis, osteoarthritis does not cause bone loss or lead to fractures.
And although there is some degree of inflammation with osteoarthritis, it’s not triggered by inflammation like rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is a disease in which the cartilage that lines the bony surfaces of joints breaks down over time. It commonly causes joint pain and loss of function but the severity of these symptoms varies person-to-person.
The damage that occurs to the cartilage and other parts of the joint is irreversible.
However, your diet plays an important role in osteoarthritis progression and symptom management.
Due to its pro-inflammatory nature, the standard American diet (SAD) or Western diet has been associated with an increased risk for osteoarthritis as well as its progression and worsening symptoms (2, 3).
The SAD is rich in sodium, saturated fat, and refined grains, and low in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats.
In contrast, dietary patterns that emphasize fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds like the Mediterranean diet and Prudent diet are associated with reduced progression and symptom improvement (2, 4, 5, 6).
Foods to eat
Focus on these foods to reduce the progression of osteoarthritis and alleviate your symptoms:
- Fruits: apples, avocados, bananas, berries, cherries, grapes, melons, oranges, etc.
- Vegetables: artichoke, asparagus, beetroot, broccoli, brussels sprouts, carrots, garlic, leafy greens, mushrooms, tomatoes, etc.
- Whole grains: barley, buckwheat, oats, quinoa, and whole-grain bread, rice, and pasta
- Legumes: beans, peas, and lentils
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, chia seeds, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, etc.
- Dairy: cow’s milk, Greek yogurt, and cottage cheese
- Fatty fish: albacore tuna, herring, mackerel, and salmon
- Meats: lean cuts of beef and pork that contain the words “round” or “loin”
- Poultry: skinless chicken and turkey breasts and eggs
- Oils: canola or olive oil
- Beverages: calorie-free beverages, including black coffee, diet soda, flavored mineral waters, and unsweetened tea
Foods to limit
Limit these foods as they may increase osteoporosis progression and worsen your symptoms:
- Refined grains: crackers, desserts, most breakfast cereals, pancakes, waffles, and white bread and pasta
- Processed meats: bacon, canned meats, deli meats, hot dogs, salami, and smoked meats
- Fried foods: fried fish, french fries, onions, chicken strips
- Boxed and frozen meals: boxed pasta, microwavable packaged meals and side dishes, and frozen pizza
- Candy and other sweets
- Sugary beverages: fruit juice, regular soda and energy drinks, and sugar-sweetened coffee and tea
- Oils: vegetable oils
To slow the progression of osteoarthritis and alleviate your symptoms prioritize anti-inflammatory foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, and limit pro-inflammatory foods like processed meats, fried foods, and other highly-processed foods.
3-day sample osteoarthritis diet menu
Here’s a 3-day sample osteoarthritis diet menu rich in anti-inflammatory foods:
- Breakfast: Greek yogurt with mixed berries and sliced almonds
- Lunch: Spinach and strawberry salad with grilled chicken and balsamic vinaigrette
- Snack: carrots and hummus
- Dinner: baked salmon and roasted Brussels sprouts with quinoa
Day 2 (vegan)
- Breakfast: oatmeal with almond milk, banana slices, and chia seeds
- Lunch: chickpea and vegetable stir-fry with brown rice
- Snack: apple slices with peanut butter
- Dinner: grilled portobello mushroom burger with homemade sweet potatoes made with olive oil
- Breakfast: scrambled eggs and avocado and salsa
- Lunch: turkey and avocado wrap with mixed greens
- Snack: Greek yogurt with honey and sliced banana
- Dinner: pork loin with roasted asparagus and wild rice blend
Use this sample osteoarthritis diet menu to guide your menu planning and food choices.
Best supplements for osteoarthritis
Owing to their anti-inflammatory effects, some research suggests that curcumin and ginger supplementation may improve osteoarthritis symptoms.
Curcumin is the primary bioactive compound found in turmeric.
It has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is a strong antioxidant.
Studies have shown improvements in joint pain and stiffness as well as inflammatory markers with curcumin when supplemented in the range of 500 mg and 2,000 mg daily for 8–12 weeks (8).
Alone, curcumin is poorly absorbed by your body, so look for curcumin supplements that contain black pepper (piperine) or a standardized form like BCM-95 for better absorption.
Like curcumin, ginger also has potent anti-inflammatory effects.
A meta-analysis of three studies demonstrated that 250 mg of ginger supplemented daily for 6–24 weeks alleviated joint pain severity and improved markers of inflammation in patients with knee osteoarthritis (8).
Other supplements like vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids may also improve osteoarthritis symptoms but more research is necessary.
Curcumin and ginger have been shown to alleviate joint pain and decrease markers of inflammation in patients with osteoarthritis.
The bottom line
Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage that lines the bony surface of your joints deteriorates gradually.
This deterioration along with other damage to other areas of the joint can lead to joint pain and loss of function.
While the damage caused to the joints by osteoarthritis isn’t reversible, emphasizing anti-inflammatory foods like fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats like seeds, nuts, and fatty fish may alleviate joint pain and reduce osteoarthritis progression.
Taking certain supplements like turmeric and ginger may also help due to their potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.