Ask the RD: Can Diet Reduce the Inflammation That Causes Arthritis

Sidney Fry, MS, RD
by Sidney Fry, MS, RD
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Ask the RD: Can Diet Reduce the Inflammation That Causes Arthritis

Arthritis (joint pain or disease) is the most common form of disability in America. Arthritis affects more than 54 million U.S. adults and the number is expected to rise to 67 million by 2030.

There are more than 100 types of arthritis, often caused by chronic inflammation that affects the joints, resulting in stiffness, swelling and a significant amount of pain. Chronic inflammation is internal and occurs when the body responds to anything foreign to its system — chemicals, preservatives, bacteria, etc. It also doesn’t turn “on and off” like acute inflammation.

The good news is inflammation-related conditions like arthritis can often be mitigated with an anti-inflammatory diet. Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet not only helps reduce inflammation but may also reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, dementia and even cancer.


Berries: The berry lineup contains anthocyanins, ellagitannins, potassium, vitamin C and folate — all key-player antioxidants in the fight against inflammation. Cherries and citrus are also great fruit picks, too.

Fermented Foods: Fermented foods feed the gut microbiome with “good” bacteria. Certain “bad bacteria” gut microbes have been linked to rheumatoid arthritis. Probiotic-rich foods like kefir, kombucha, kimchi, yogurt and sauerkraut help protect good bacteria in the gut and contribute to a stronger overall gut microbial barrier, which reduces inflammation long-term.

Garlic: This pungent, powerful cooking ingredient has been used for centuries as a therapeutic medicinal agent. It contains organosulfur compounds that may lower the production of substances in the blood that trigger inflammation. Pro tip: Chop raw garlic and let it stand for 10 minutes before cooking to maximize the benefits.

Ginger: A study from the University of Miami found concentrated ginger supplements resulted in a 40% reduction in pain and stiffness in knee joints among a group of osteoarthritis patients. While supplements may be most effective, a tablespoon or two of grated ginger per day offers many benefits, too, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Grate fresh ginger root into miso soup, over stir-fries or whisk into a dressing — like the one in this soba noodle salad.

Green Tea: Green tea contains flavonoids that help support the body’s ability to fight bacterial and viral infections. Research has also found certain substances in green tea halt arthritis progression by blocking cartilage-damaging proteins. Drink green tea on its own or try this matcha smoothie recipe.

Leafy Greens: Leafy greens like kale, chard, arugula and spinach are rich in antioxidants, fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and bioactive compounds that have been shown to reduce inflammation and clean out free-radicals that often contribute to inflammatory symptoms. The darker the green, the more protective the benefit.

Olive Oil: In addition to being a heart-healthy fat, this common cooking oil and pantry staple contains oleocanthal, a phenolic compound that has beneficial anti-inflammatory effects. It also has significant pharmacological properties — similar to ibuprofen — but far more natural and tasty.

Omega-3-Fatty Acids: In addition to heart-health and brain benefits, omega-3 fatty acids can also help to lower inflammation. Harvard research shows omega-3’s contain resolvins, which help put the brakes on inflammatory responses. Try including more fatty fish like salmon and sardines in your diet along with walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds.

Tomatoes: Tomatoes contain lycopene — known best for its role in prostate cancer prevention. But this powerful antioxidant also weakens oxidative stress. Oxidative stress activates inflammation (more reason to load up on antioxidants) that triggers arthritis.

Turmeric: Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin, known to ease symptoms in almost all inflammation-related conditions, including arthritis. Try this Golden Milk Latte, which contains both turmeric and ginger.


On the other side of the equation, there are foods that can trigger inflammation and should be avoided.

Added Sugar: Added sugars, often found in processed foods, soda, ice cream, candy, pastries and cookies can trigger messengers called cytokines (small proteins that initiate an inflammatory response). Keep track of your sugar intake with an app like MyFitnessPal and read food labels carefully to cut back on added sugar.

Gluten: While it’s generally not a problem for healthy individuals, gluten (a type of protein) can sometimes be troublesome to the system when there’s already existing inflammation, like in people with arthritis. It may help to cut out gluten temporarily for a few days (or even weeks) while eating a diet rich in some of the anti-inflammatory foods listed above. This gives your system time to “turn off” a flare-up. As the pain subsides, you can slowly try working whole-grain sources of gluten back into your diet.

Processed Foods: The more processed the food, the less vitamins, minerals and nutrients it contains. Anything containing preservatives, additives, unhealthy fats and other foreign, non-food substances (like MSG and artificial sweeteners) can stimulate inflammation.

About the Author

Sidney Fry, MS, RD
Sidney Fry, MS, RD

Sidney is a two-time James Beard Award-winning food and nutrition writer, editor and mom based out of Birmingham, Alabama. A registered dietitian with a passion for research and being proactive about health, she loves to eat, write, run and create simple, tasty meals with whole-food-based approach. Find out more from her website, Instagram or Twitter.


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