Your Personal Meal Planning Assistant
May 14, 2018 / Nicole Villeneuve

Meal Planning for Arthritis: What to Eat, What to Avoid

Chicken arugula and farro salad

We all know that you eat can affect how you feel, but this principle is amplified for those with arthritis. In its many forms, arthritis causes uncomfortable inflammation of the joints. Certain inflammatory foods can increase this pain, whereas others are known to soothe it.

So while there’s no cure, meal planning for arthritis can help decrease inflammation and thus ease joint pain. Here’s a guide to what to avoid, and what to substitute to help your arthritis pain.

Avoid: Red meat. The high saturated fat content of red meat (and other meats) can cause adipose inflammation.
Eat: Fish. Salmon, herring, tuna, and mackerel all contain omega-3 fatty acids which help fight inflammation. Try to eat fish a couple times a week to reduce arthritic pain.

Avoid: Full-fat dairy. Like red meat, the saturated fats in products like cheese and pizza can be a serious source of inflammation. However, that doesn’t mean you should give up dairy altogether.
Eat: Low-fat dairy. The vitamin D in milk, cheese, and yogurt helps boost your bone health and your body’s immune system. Aim to include low-fat varieties of these dairy items in your diet.

Avoid: Corn and vegetable oils. While our bodies need some omega-6 fatty acids, excessive amounts can increase inflammation. Omega-6 is found in all sorts of oils, such as corn, sunflower, peanut, and vegetable oils, and condiments such as mayonnaise and some salad dressings.
Eat: Extra-virgin olive oil. This pure oil is full of good fats and nutrients that actually work like an anti-inflammatory medication. Use this as your go-to cooking oil, and combine it with balsamic vinegar to make a salad dressing.

Avoid: Refined carbohydrates. This includes foods made with white flour, white rice, and white potatoes, all of which have been known to cause inflammation.
Eat: Whole grains, beans and nuts. According to, whole grains and beans help reduce levels of C-reactive protein(CRP) in blood. This protein increases inflammation, so fight back with whole grains like brown rice and oatmeal. (Gluten-free whole grains like these can be a best bet, since gluten can also be an inflammatory for many people.) Nuts make a great snack when you’re craving foods made with refined carbohydrates, as these hunger-busting, anti-inflammatory morsels are full of all kinds of vitamins and nutrients.

Avoid: Processed sugars, trans fats, and aspartame. All of these sweeteners promote inflammation in some way or another. While it’s hard to give up pastries, processed sweets, and diet sodas, your body will thank you.
Eat: citrus fruits and dark berries. When you’re craving unhealthy sweets, grab an orange or a bowl of dark cherries. Citrus fruits are full of vitamin C, which is invaluable in promoting bone health. Cherries and other dark berries contain anthocyanin, which helps reduce inflammation.

Avoid: Alcohol and coffee. When considering nutrition for arthritis, drink in moderation or don’t drink at all. Excessive consumption of alcohol and coffee increases inflammation, and coffee has been linked to increased risk of arthritis.
Eat: Green tea. While its low caffeine level can’t compete with coffee’s mega-dose, green tea is a super beverage in nearly every other way. It has all kinds of anti-inflammatory antioxidants that can help prevent joint damage and slow the destruction of cartilage.

Avoid: MSG. MSG is a flavor enhancer found in soy sauce and commonly added to dishes prepared in Asian restaurants. It can also be found in fast food and other premade mixes meant to make cooking at home easy.
Eat: Soy and garlic. Edamame and tofu are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which your body needs to fight inflammation. Garlic helps reduce the amount of cartilage-damaging enzymes we have in our cells and provides a great flavor substitute for MSG. In place of takeout or a meal kit, try stir-frying some of these ingredients with broccoli. This green vegetable is chock-full of vitamin K, vitamin C, calcium, and sulforaphane, which has been known to slow certain forms of arthritis in their progression.

Here are even more tips for anti-inflammatory diets that can help ease the pain of arthritis.

Nicole Villeneuve

Nicole Villeneuve is a certified Diabetes Prevention Lifestyle Coach. A graduate of Yale University, she previously worked in book publishing, with a focus on cookbooks and health, and ran the food blog Paper and Salt. Her writing has been featured in Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, and The Daily Beast. Nicole lives in San Francisco and loves cooking, reading, exploring new restaurants, and running by the ocean. You can (very occasionally) find her on Twitter.

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