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26th November, 20205 min read

Osteoarthritis diet: What to eat and foods to avoid

Medical reviewer:Healthily's medical team
Author:Georgina Newman
Last reviewed: 26/11/2020
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

There’s no cure for osteoarthritis, but certain foods are known to have anti-inflammatory properties which, the Arthritis Foundation says, may help to ease symptoms of the condition.

This is because osteoarthritis occurs as a result of the soft tissue (cartilage) around bones wearing away. When this happens, the joints that hold the bones together become stiff and inflamed, causing pain.

The British Dietetic Association (BDA) also recommends eating a balanced diet to help you maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight is a big risk factor in the development of osteoarthritis because of the pressure placed on your joints.

Studies show that losing weight can help to reduce stress and pressure on your joints, and may relieve osteoarthritis symptoms.

If you have osteoarthritis, it may help to follow a diet that:

  • helps to reduce inflammation
  • helps you maintain a healthy weight
  • lowers cholesterol

Foods that reduce inflammation

There’s evidence that following a Mediterranean diet may help to reduce inflammation. Many of the foods typically eaten as part of this diet are known to lower inflammation in the body.

A Mediterranean diet favours foods like fish and olive oil, which have been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect. It also limits foods known to make inflammatory conditions worse, such as dairy, sugar and red meat.

If you’d like to follow a Mediterranean-style diet, you can do so by:

  • eating less meat, especially processed meats like sausages or bacon
  • eating more fish, especially oily fish like mackerel, sardines, tuna and salmon — these are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids which can lower inflammation
  • eating a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables to ensure a broad range of nutrients
  • getting fibre from wholegrain pasta, bread and rice — natural compounds found in these foods are thought to have an anti-inflammatory effect
  • using monounsaturated, healthy fats in cooking, like olive and rapeseed oil as these are thought to be anti-inflammatory

However, though the Mediterranean diet is generally healthy, it may be best to speak to a doctor or dietitian before making any major changes to your diet.

How to maintain a healthy weight

If you have osteoarthritis, it’s important to maintain a healthy weight. Being just a little overweight can put additional pressure on your knees and other weight-bearing joints associated with osteoarthritis, like the hips. This can make pain worse.

Fat in your body also releases proteins that cause inflammation. These proteins may be present anywhere in your body and can make inflammation in your joints worse, including in joints like your hands, which don’t carry your weight.

Studies suggest that following a balanced diet or a Mediterranean diet can help you maintain a healthy weight and keep you healthy generally.

By following a balanced diet you should be able to get all the nutrients you need from food, including a nutrient that’s thought to contribute to bone health, vitamin K.

You should combine a healthy diet with regular, low-impact exercise like cycling or water-based sports to help keep the muscles that support your joints strong and reduce the chance of weight gain.

Lowering cholesterol for osteoarthritis

There’s some evidence that high cholesterol can increase your risk of osteoarthritis, and keeping your cholesterol low may improve symptoms in people with the condition.

Though more research is needed, it’s also important for general health to lower your cholesterol if it’s high.

To reduce cholesterol levels you should aim to reduce the amount of foods you eat that are high in saturated fat. These include:

  • cream, butter and ghee
  • cakes, biscuits and cookies
  • fatty meats, like sausages
  • ingredients with palm or coconut oil in

You should also try to eat more nuts, fruit and vegetables. These foods are all good sources of fibre, and high-fibre foods are known to help lower cholesterol. Other sources of fibre include wholemeal bread, oats, lentils and beans (pulses), and seeds.

Foods to avoid

If you have osteoarthritis, eating foods that may cause inflammation could make your symptoms worse. There’s some evidence that reducing these foods in your diet may help to ease symptoms of osteoarthritis.

Foods known to cause inflammation include:

  • processed foods, such as ready meals, cakes, biscuits and crisps
  • anything deep-fried
  • dry-roasted nuts
  • soda and soft drinks, as these contain refined sugar
  • white varieties of starchy carbohydrates, like white bread
  • red meat, such as beef or lamb

By limiting these foods and following a Mediterranean-style diet you may be able to lose weight naturally. This can ease pressure on your joints and help symptoms of osteoarthritis.

But this diet may also benefit your health overall by helping to lower blood pressure, protecting against certain conditions, including some cancers, and improving heart health.

However, it’s important you speak to a doctor or dietitian before you make any major changes to your diet.

Key points

  • there’s no cure for osteoarthritis, but following a Mediterranean-style diet may help to reduce inflammation in people with osteoarthritis and improve symptoms
  • if you have osteoarthritis it’s important to maintain a healthy weight by eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise
  • if you’re overweight or obese, it’s important to lose weight as this can ease symptoms of osteoarthritis
  • some evidence suggests that keeping your cholesterol low may improve osteoarthritis symptoms
  • try to lower your intake of known inflammatory foods, such as processed and deep-fried foods
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