Inflammation is at the heart of most arthritis pain, particularly pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis and other forms of autoimmune arthritis. Luckily, there are ways you can combat inflammation, including exercising, taking medications, and following an anti-inflammatory diet.
Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants are considered helpful in fighting inflammation, including:
1. Dark, leafy greens
Vegetables like kale, spinach, and swiss chard pack a high antioxidant punch. If you aren’t a big fan of traditional salads, try blending spinach and kale into fruit smoothies; adding bok choy and shredded cabbage to a stir-fry; or sautéing swiss chard with a little butter and dill weed.
2. Colorful fruits
Intense colors are a sign that fruit contains lots of fiber and antioxidants. 1 Cömert ED, Mogol BA, Gökmen V, Relationship between color and antioxidant capacity of fruits and vegetables. Current Research in Food Science. Volume 2, June 2020, pages 1-10. Look for dark blues and purples (like blackberries, plums, or grapes) and bright reds, oranges, and yellows (like apples, papaya, or pineapple).
3. Ginger and turmeric
Not only do ginger and turmeric contain anti-inflammatory properties 2 Aryaeian N., Shahram F., Mahmoudi M., Tavakoli H., Yousefi B., Arablou T. Jafari Karegar S: the effect of ginger supplementation on some immunity and inflammation intermediate genes expression in patients with active Rheumatoid Arthritis. Gene. 2019;698:179–185 , 3 Bartels EM, Folmer VN, Bliddal H, Altman RD, Juhl C, Tarp S, Zhang W, Christensen R. Efficacy and safety of ginger in osteoarthritis patients: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2015 Jan;23(1):13-21. doi: 10.1016/j.joca.2014.09.024. Epub 2014 Oct 7. , 4 Yang W, Fu J, Yu M, Wang D, Rong Y, Yao P, Nüssler AK, Yan H, Liu L. Effects of three kinds of curcuminoids on anti-oxidative system and membrane deformation of human peripheral blood erythrocytes in high glucose levels. Cell Physiol Biochem. 2015;35(2):789-802. doi: 10.1159/000369738. Epub 2015 Jan 30. PubMed PMID: 25634758. , 5 Funk JL, Oyarzo JN, Frye JB, Chen G, Lantz RC, Jolad SD, Sólyom AM, Timmermann BN. Turmeric extracts containing curcuminoids prevent experimental rheumatoid arthritis. J Nat Prod. 2006 Mar;69(3):351-5. PubMed PMID: 16562833; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2533857 , 6 Nakagawa Y, Mukai S, Yamada S, Matsuoka M, Tarumi E, Hashimoto T, Tamura C, Imaizumi A, Nishihira J, Nakamura T. Short-term effects of highly-bioavailable curcumin for treating knee osteoarthritis: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled prospective study. J Orthop Sci. 2014 Nov;19(6):933-9. doi: 10.1007/s00776-014-0633-0. Epub 2014 Oct 13. PubMed PMID: 25308211; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4244558 they also add color and flavor to dishes. If you don’t like the flavor of turmeric, you can take a curcumin supplement. Curcumin is the chemical compound that gives turmeric its anti-inflammatory properties.
Walnuts, almonds, and many other nuts may help reduce inflammation and heart disease. 7 Bustamante MF, Agustín-Perez M, Cedola F, et al. Design of an anti-inflammatory diet (ITIS diet) for patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Contemp Clin Trials Commun. 2020;17:100524. Published 2020 Jan 21. doi:10.1016/j.conctc.2020.100524 Most nuts are high in “healthy” fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) as well as omega-3 fatty acids and fiber. Remember that plain nuts (typically labeled as “raw”) are great, but nuts that have added oil, including many peanut products, may not as beneficial.
5. Green Tea
Research suggests green tea is high in antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties. 8 Ohishi T, Goto S, Monira P, Isemura M, Nakamura Y. Anti-inflammatory Action of Green Tea. Antiinflamm Antiallergy Agents Med Chem. 2016;15(2):74-90. doi: 10.2174/1871523015666160915154443. Review. PubMed PMID: 27634207. , 9 Pervin M, Unno K, Ohishi T, Tanabe H, Miyoshi N, Nakamura Y. Beneficial Effects of Green Tea Catechins on Neurodegenerative Diseases. Molecules. 2018;23(6):1297. Published 2018 May 29. doi:10.3390/molecules23061297 Keep in mind that while the research is encouraging, it is limited—for example, two studies 10 Ramadan G., El-Beih N.M., Talaat R.M., Abd El-Ghffar E.A. Anti-inflammatory activity of green versus black tea aqueous extract in a rat model of human rheumatoid arthritis. Int. J. Rheum. Dis. 2017;20:203–213. doi: 10.1111/1756-185X.12666 as cited in Dudics S, Langan D, Meka RR, et al. Natural Products for the Treatment of Autoimmune Arthritis: Their Mechanisms of Action, Targeted Delivery, and Interplay with the Host Microbiome. Int J Mol Sci. 2018;19(9):2508. Published 2018 Aug 24. doi:10.3390/ijms19092508 , 11 Kim H.R., Rajaiah R., Wu Q.L., Satpute S.R., Tan M.T., Simon J.E., Berman B.M., Moudgil K.D. Green tea protects rats against autoimmune arthritis by modulating disease-related immune events. J. Nutr. 2008;138:2111–2116. doi: 10.3945/jn.108.089912 as cited in Dudics S, Langan D, Meka RR, et al. Natural Products for the Treatment of Autoimmune Arthritis: Their Mechanisms of Action, Targeted Delivery, and Interplay with the Host Microbiome. Int J Mol Sci. 2018;19(9):2508. Published 2018 Aug 24. doi:10.3390/ijms19092508 that found green tea decreased arthritis pain were done on animals rather than humans.
6. Chia seeds and flaxseeds
Chia and flaxseeds are both high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are proven inflammation fighters. 7 Bustamante MF, Agustín-Perez M, Cedola F, et al. Design of an anti-inflammatory diet (ITIS diet) for patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Contemp Clin Trials Commun. 2020;17:100524. Published 2020 Jan 21. doi:10.1016/j.conctc.2020.100524 You can add a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds or chia seeds to cereal, oatmeal, or yogurt, baked goods, or smoothies.
7. Fatty fish
Fish such as sardines, salmon, and tuna are chock full of omega-3 fatty acids and considered to be anti-inflammatory. One large study 12 Di GD, Wallin A, Bottai M, Askling J, Wolk A. Long-term intake of dietary long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and risk of rheumatoid arthritis: a prospective cohort study of women. Ann.Rheum.Dis. 2014;73(11):1949–1953. doi: 10.1136/annrheumdis-2013-203338 of middle-aged and elderly women found that those who consistently ate one or more servings of fish each week were 29% less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, caused by joint tissue inflammation.
If you don’t like the taste of fish, you can try taking fish oil supplements. A product with at least 2:1 EPA to DHA ratio of omega-3 fatty acids is often recommended. 13 Shang T, Liu L, Zhou J, et al. Protective effects of various ratios of DHA/EPA supplementation on high-fat diet-induced liver damage in mice. Lipids Health Dis. 2017;16(1):65. Published 2017 Mar 29. doi:10.1186/s12944-017-0461-2
Black beans, lentils, and other members of the legume family are high in fiber and rich in antioxidants that help decrease inflammation. 14 Hernández-Salazar M, Osorio-Diaz P, Loarca-Piña G, Reynoso-Camacho R, Tovar J, Bello-Pérez LA. In vitro fermentability and antioxidant capacity of the indigestible fraction of cooked black beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.), lentils (Lens culinaris L.) and chickpeas (Cicer arietinum L.). J Sci Food Agric. 2010 Jul;90(9):1417-22. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.3954. PubMed PMID: 20549791. , 15 Ganesan K, Xu B. Polyphenol-Rich Lentils and Their Health Promoting Effects. Int J Mol Sci. 2017;18(11):2390. Published 2017 Nov 10. doi:10.3390/ijms18112390 , 16 Ganesan K, Xu B. Polyphenol-Rich Dry Common Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) and Their Health Benefits. Int J Mol Sci. 2017;18(11):2331. Published 2017 Nov 4. doi:10.3390/ijms18112331 They also are a good way to get protein in your diet without consuming red meats, which are associated with increased inflammation. 17 Turesky RJ. Mechanistic Evidence for Red Meat and Processed Meat Intake and Cancer Risk: A Follow-up on the International Agency for Research on Cancer Evaluation of 2015. Chimia (Aarau). 2018;72(10):718–724. doi:10.2533/chimia.2018.718 , 18 Chai W, Morimoto Y, Cooney RV, et al. Dietary Red and Processed Meat Intake and Markers of Adiposity and Inflammation: The Multiethnic Cohort Study. J Am Coll Nutr. 2017;36(5):378–385. doi:10.1080/07315724.2017.1318317
Keep in mind that each body is different. For example, berries are considered anti-inflammatory, but if you have an allergy to them or they don’t make you feel good, stop eating them. You can also try to reduce your arthritis symptoms by avoiding foods and drinks that trigger inflammation in the body, such as fried foods and sugary soda.
It’s a good idea to discuss with your doctor or dietitian before you change your diet or start taking supplements.