Can anti-inflammatory diets help joint pain? 10 foods to eat and 6 to avoid

picture of a man with knee pain


What’s inflammation, and how does it affect my joints?

Inflammation is a natural process that contributes to your body’s healing and cell regeneration. However, too much inflammation over a long period, or chronic inflammation, can have a damaging effect on the body. Over time, inflammation can cause joints to become uncomfortable and painful. Eventually, it may cause your joints to break down at a younger-than-normal age.

“The goal of an anti-inflammatory diet is to reduce the negative effects of chronic inflammation throughout your body, including your joints,” explains orthopedic surgeon Christopher Deans, MD. “Avoiding foods that contribute to inflammation while eating more foods that fight inflammation may help relieve chronic joint pain. Following an anti-inflammatory diet over the long term may also delay the need for joint replacement surgery.”

6 foods to avoid if you have joint pain

Unfortunately, many foods considered part of the traditional western diet can cause inflammation. When following an anti-inflammatory diet, you should avoid eating:

  1. Foods high in saturated fats (including red meat, cheese and foods made with saturated fats and oils)
  2. Full-fat dairy (such as cheese and whole milk)
  3. Refined grains (foods made with white flour, like cakes, cookies, bread and pasta)
  4. Processed sugars (foods made with cane sugar or corn syrup, including candy, cookies, cakes, soda and fruit juice)
  5. Processed foods (fast food and packaged convenience foods, like cookies, chips and microwave dinners)
  6. Foods that are high in sodium (including many soups and snack foods)

“Following an anti-inflammatory diet is just one way you can impact chronic inflammation,” says Dr. Deans. “You may not notice the effects immediately, but an anti-inflammatory diet will benefit your joints and your overall health.”

10 foods that fight inflammation

Some anti-inflammatory foods, herbs and spices offer benefits similar to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen. Other foods have been shown to reduce chronic inflammation over the long term, which means you’ll want to keep these dietary changes for months and years.

Examples of diets to follow include the Mediterranean diet, DASH diet, and other Eastern-based diets that focus on eating foods such as:

  • Wild-caught fish
  • Spices like turmeric
  • Unprocessed olive oil
  • Vegetables (aim for a rainbow of colors on your plate)
  • Garlic
  • Walnuts
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Fruits
  • Beans
  • Whole, unprocessed grains

“Despite the fight against eating grains in our current culture, we shouldn’t leave them out of a healthy diet,” adds Dr. Deans. “Whole grains, especially when they’re of the ancient grain variety, have many health benefits, including being anti-inflammatory.”

Can an anti-inflammatory diet benefit me in other ways, like losing weight?

Following an anti-inflammatory diet can go a long way in improving many aspects of your health. Not only can it help relieve your joint pain, but it can also lower your blood pressure and relieve other chronic pain issues.

When following an anti-inflammatory diet, you’ll reduce your consumption of refined sugars and processed foods, which are often higher in calories. Eating more nutrient-rich foods makes you feel more satisfied while consuming far fewer calories, which can help you maintain a healthier weight.

Where can I get help creating an anti-inflammatory diet?

There are many books and online resources offering anti-inflammatory diet advice. You can also work with a registered dietitian to create an individualized eating plan. This can be helpful, especially if you prefer a western-style diet. Changing your diet can be challenging, so finding a buddy to join you can help you stay motivated.

“Whenever you’re implementing new habits, it helps to take one step at a time,” suggests Dr. Deans. “Start by adding one new anti-inflammatory food to your diet each week while eliminating a food that causes inflammation. If you follow this gradual approach, you’ll find yourself with a healthier diet in just a couple of months.”

Want guidance on creating an anti-inflammatory diet plan?

Call 800.922.0000 to schedule an appointment with a primary care doctor. If needed, your doctor can also refer you to a registered dietitian for help with your diet plan.