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The Facts Put Simply

The Joint-Healthy Arthritis Diet

There is a great deal of advice about diet and nutritional supplements for arthritis and rheumatism in magazines, books, and on the internet. Much of it is confusing. Claims are made for many food supplements and diets, suggesting that they help with arthritis. Some of the advice, particularly on the internet, is given by companies who produce food supplements, and who have an obvious interest in you buying their products!

Within this section of the site we endeavour to provide an unbiased overview of how the food you eat might affect your arthritis. We then offer advice on the most sensible arthritis diet to follow and answer the most common questions which people ask about food and the arthritis diet. .

Subject matter Quick Links for this page…

Most common arthritis diet related questions:

1) Can changing my eating habits by adopting an arthritis diet really help my arthritis?
2) How can I change my diet to help my arthritis?
3) What else can I do to help my arthritis?
4) Fruits and vegetables – what types and how much should I eat?
5) Should I take additional supplements, calcium, vitamin D, or iron?
6) Are fasting or vegetarian diets a good option for rheumatoid arthritis?
7) Where can I get some excellent free recipes that will help me combat my arthritis?
8) What Arthritis Busting Cookbook has earned the JPF Gold Seal of Approval?
9) Additional Arthritis Diet related resoucres

Can changing my diet really help my arthritis?

The short answer is a definitive Yes. The right diet can certainly help some people with arthritis and rheumatism. Medical literature contains many documented cases of how diet modification and the adherence to a specialized diet can reduce the symptoms of inflammatory arthritis. Additionally; studies have shown that a high cholesterol and high fat diet may contribute to the problem.

The result is that we can definitively say that there are “Beneficial Foods” and “Foods to Avoid”.

Beneficial Foods:

Fruit - In particular those high in Vitamin C, like blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, kiwi fruit, peaches, mango, cantaloupe melon and anti-inflammatory fruits like apples.

Vegetables - In particular vegetables high in Vitamin A (beta-carotene) and Vitamin C. Carrots, squash, sweet potato, spinach, kale, collard greens, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts.

Oily Fish - Rich omega-3 essential fatty acids and high in Vitamin E, like salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, tuna and trout.

Nuts and Seeds - Rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids and high in Vitamin E. Unsalted nuts, like walnuts, brazil nuts and almonds, and seeds like sunflower, linseeds and pumpkin seeds.

Pulses and Grains - Including lentils, chick peas (garbanzo beans), brown rice, whole wheat bread.

Anti-Inflammatory Foods - Turmeric, ginger, garlic and apples.

Foods to avoid:

Red meat - beef, lamb, pork.

Cow’s milk products – milk, cheese and yogurt.

Brown and white wheat flour & bran. - Do not use products where wheat starch, edible starch, cereal binder, cereal filler or cereal protein are listed as ingredients.

Refined sugar products - Foods containing sugar, syrup, treacle and honey.

Coffee, decaffeinated coffee, cocoa, tea, alcohol

Butter and margarine - use as little as possible.

Nightshades- eggplants, red peppers, etc.

Salt, pepper, vinegar

Dry roasted nuts


Soft drinks


White potatoes


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How can I change my diet to help my arthritis?

There are five golden rules you should follow to help your arthritis:

Whole foods are the right foods: Whole foods are those that are in their natural state, unprocessed and unrefined. A whole food diet is filled with multi colored vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds, nuts, beans and fermented milk products such as yogurt. It also incorporates fish, poultry and soy products such as tofu. Ideally your diet should be lower in animal meats, fats and cheeses and higher in low-fat milk products.

Eat a variety of foods: By eating a wide range of foods you maximize the nutritional benefits of your meals. Choose foods that are seasonal to ensure natural freshness. Meals should encompass different food groups and you should experiment with preparing them with different spices and seasonings – maybe even try being a little exotic by trying Indian, Mexican, Japanese herbs, spices and preparation techniques for example. Aside from being very tasty, many spices and herbs have healing properties.

Reduce inflammation naturally: The inflammation response is the result of the body sending white blood cells to an affected part of a joint that is damaged or infected. Certain fatty acids, as found in some foods, are known to counteract the inflammation response.

Good fatty acids:

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) – is an Omega-3 fatty acid. Seed oils are the richest source but it is also found in some fruits and in green vegetables.

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – is an Omega-3 fatty acid. It is a polyunsaturated fatty acid that is found in marine plants and fatty fish such salmon and sardines.

Linoleic acid (LA) – is an Omega-6 fatty acid. It is a polyunsaturated fatty acid that is found in corn, soybean and other plant oils.

Bad fatty acids:

X Trans-fatty acids – are a type of unsaturated fat (and can be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated). Most of the trans fats consumed today are man made and a side effect of the partial hydrogenation of plant oils. It is widely accepted that eating trans fat increases the risk of coronary heart disease. To avoid “Trans-fats” you should avoid products that contain “partially hydrogenated oil” as an ingredient.

Choose foods that contain antioxidants: Antioxidants battle “free radicals” which are present in every one and which destroy our tissues and age our bodies. By eating foods rich in vitamins A, C, and E and Selenium, you can beat back the destructive effects of free radicals and protect your tissues and joints.

Choose foods high in bioflavonoids: Bioflavonoids are found in the white material just beneath citrus peel, as well as in peppers, grapes, pine bark, onions, garlic, blue and red berries, green tea as well as buckwheat. They are key for combating inflammation, preventing collagen destruction, speeding up the healing process and maintaining healthy capillary walls and metabolizing vitamin C, which is needed for building connective tissue.

Taken together, these measures are likely to be beneficial whatever type of arthritis you have. Current evidence suggests that oily fish is likely to be beneficial if you have an inflammatory type of arthritis (such as rheumatoid arthritis, reactive arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, or ankylosing spondylitis). Oily fish helps protect against heart disease and is good for your health in general, but the strongest evidence that it can help arthritis relates to inflammatory arthritis.

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What else can I do to help my arthritis?

Cut down on fat

Fat has twice as many calories as the same weight of starch or protein. Most people eat far more fat than they need for health. Eating 30 g (about 1 oz) less fat each day saves 270 calories. So cutting calories does not require massive sacrifices. Making minor changes to the food you eat can be enough.

The fats in food are of three kinds: saturates, mono-unsaturates, and polyunsaturates. Saturated fats are mostly of animal origin and are found particularly in full-fat dairy products and processed foods including foods like cakes, pastry and biscuits. Chips are sometimes fried in animal fat and therefore can be a source of saturated fat. Lean meat does not contain much saturated fat, and for most people who eat a typical 'traditional' British diet, dairy products (milk, butter, cheese, yogurt etc.) make up the biggest source of saturated fat. Asian food can also be quite high in saturated fats, for example meals cooked using ghee (clarified butter). Some vegetable oils, such as palm oil and coconut oil, contain a lot of saturates. Saturated fats are the most important kind of fat to reduce since they can increase the pain and inflammation in the body. Softer fats and oils from corn or sunflower sources are high in what are called omega-6 polyunsaturates and these can also increase general inflammation in the body. Mono-unsaturates, as found in olive and rapeseed oil, are 'neutral' fats in this respect and do not worsen inflammation, but remember they contain just as many calories, so limiting them is still important to lose weight.

To eat less fat, follow these guidelines:

• look out for and avoid 'invisible' fats in foods like biscuits, cakes, chocolate, pastry and savoury snacks – check the labels
• trim fat off meat
• choose lean cuts of meat
• choose fish and poultry more often
• use low-fat milk (skimmed or semi-skimmed)
• use low or reduced fat dairy products (e.g. yogurt, low-fat cheese)
• use low-fat, olive-oil-based or soya margarines
• grill instead of frying
• if you do have the occasional 'fry-up', use olive oil and use only a very small amount
• fill up on wholegrain bread, cereals, fruit and vegetables
• look for snacks which are naturally low in fat such as plain popcorn or fruit or try roasted beans, such as 'soya nuts'.

Cut down on sugar

Sugar contains only calories and has no other food value (so-called 'empty' calories) so it can be cut down without any loss of nourishment. Eating 30 g (about 1 oz) less sugar each day saves 120 calories.

Try not to add sugar to drinks and cereals. Although artificial sweeteners contain very few calories, it is better to get used to food being less sweet by not adding them to drinks. Dried fruit like raisins can be used to sweeten cereals and puddings; unlike sugar and artificial sweeteners, they also provide vitamins and minerals.

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Fruits and vegetables – what types and how much?

You should try to eat at least 5 portions of fruit or vegetables a day.

The World Health Organization recommends that we eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day (see Table 2). This is to make sure that the body receives the important nutrients, particularly vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which it needs to maintain good health and to protect it during the stress of disease. Antioxidants can help protect joints, and help reduce inflammation by 'mopping up' some of the body chemicals which cause inflammation, and may even help prevent arthritis. Recent research has shown that people who eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, particularly those containing vitamin C, seem to have a lower risk of developing inflammatory arthritis. Choose fruit and vegetables of various different colours especially the brightly coloured varieties as these tend to be rich in antioxidants. Examples include apples, oranges, cherries, blueberries, peppers, spinach, tomatoes, avocado, sweet potato, beetroot and broccoli.

You can also get more fibre from eating plenty of fruit and vegetables. Remember that you also get fibre from wholegrain versions of bread, cereals, pasta and rice. In addition, as suggested above, fruit, vegetables and wholegrains are relatively filling and help if you are trying to lose weight.

The table below gives examples.

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Should I take extra supplements, calcium, vitamin D, or iron?


If you have concerns that you are not eating a healthy well balanced diet that is delivering 100% of the nutrients you need to combat your arthritis – it is a good idea to add a quality multi vitamin supplement to your diet. Based on unanimous scientific research confirming that liquid vitamins are superior in the delivery of their nutritional content, we highly recommend that any supplementation be via an organic liquid product such as IntraMin from Drucker Labs.


Drugs prescribed for arthritis – primarily NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) – can have very negative effects such leeching nutrients from the body. Additionally, the use of antacids can result in phosphorus – a key mineral to keeping bones strong and healthy – being leeched from your body.


Calcium is an important basic nutrient. Not having enough calcium in the diet can make you more likely to get osteoporosis (brittle bones). Women after the menopause are particularly liable to osteoporosis. Many people with arthritis also have a risk of developing this condition. The richest sources of calcium are milk, cheese and yogurt and, as shown below, certain types of fish which are eaten with the bones. If you are watching your weight it is worth knowing that skimmed or semi-skimmed milk actually contains more calcium than full-fat milk. We recommend a daily intake of calcium of 1000 milligrams (mg) or 1500 mg if you are over 60. A pint of milk a day, together with a reasonable amount of other foods which contain calcium, should be sufficient.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is needed for the body to absorb calcium and there is some evidence that arthritis (both osteoarthritis and inflammatory types), progresses faster in people who are low in it. Vitamin D is produced by the body when sunlight falls on the skin, so slight deficiency is quite common in winter, and it can be obtained from the diet (especially from oily fish) or vitamin supplements. For people over 60 it may be helpful to take a supplement containing 10–20 micrograms (µg) of vitamin D.

If, for whatever reason, you do not eat many dairy products, soya milk is now available in most supermarkets. It can be used in exactly the same way as cow's milk. Some soya milk is fortified with calcium, so try to use this type. Other 'milks', made from rice or oats, are now available; some of these are also fortified with calcium. If you are not drinking dairy products or a suitable quantity of other calcium-fortified 'milk' or other calcium-fortified products, you may need a calcium supplement.


Iron is important to prevent anaemia. Many people with arthritis are anaemic. The anaemia can be due to different causes. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen and diclofenac help the pain and stiffness of arthritis but may cause bleeding and stomach ulcers in some people, leading to anaemia. The other main cause of anaemia in arthritis is anaemia of chronic disease, which often occurs with rheumatoid arthritis and similar conditions, and does not improve with iron supplements. If you are anaemic your doctor can tell you if more iron is likely to help.

The best source of iron in food is red meat. However, as many people are now cutting down on red meat for various reasons, it is important to have iron from other sources. Iron from fish is easily absorbed and oily fish are a good source. For example, sardines contain as much iron as beef. Iron is better absorbed if there is also vitamin C in the meal so have a good portion of vegetables or salad or fresh fruit with your meal. On the other hand, tea reduces the amount of iron which your body can absorb so it is a good idea not to drink tea with your meal. If you are vegetarian, please note that dairy products like milk and cheese are a very poor source of iron, but vegetables like haricot beans and lentils and dark green vegetables (such as kale, spinach and watercress) are quite good sources. Good sources of iron like these should be included daily in a vegetarian diet.

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Are Fasting or Vegetarian diets a good option for rheumatoid arthritis?

Fasting for a week can improve rheumatoid arthritis, but the arthritis quickly returns when you go back to a normal diet. We do not recommend fasting as a treatment for arthritis. If you do want to fast it should be done under specialist supervision.

However, less drastic changes may help. Vegetarian diets have been shown to be helpful in the long term to some people with rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, some studies have shown that people who eat large amounts of red meat seem to have a higher risk of developing inflammatory arthritis. A vegan diet (i.e. no meat, fish, or other animal products such as eggs, milk, cheese or other dairy-based foods) may also be helpful, but it is difficult to get enough of some important nutrients on a vegan diet. A possible explanation of the success of these diets is the change in polyunsaturated fatty acids being eaten.

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Where can I get some excellent free recipes that will help me combat my arthritis?

Our monthly newsletter “Prospering With Arthritis” includes ideas and tips related to diet as well as one healthful “Arthritis Busting” recipe each and every month.

We guarantee these recipes to be delicious and nutritious and a integral step in improving both your health and your quality of life.

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Additional Arthritis Diet related resources:

• For more detailed information related to Arthritis Diet please visit The Arthritis Society

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