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7 Best Foods for Joint Health: Boost Mobility and Reduce Inflammation

8 minutes read
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If your body groans like a creaky old ship every time you move, then it may be time to educate yourself on the best foods for joint health.

It doesn't matter whether you've been diagnosed with a condition like arthritis or you're simply tired of dealing with stiffness, pain, and discomfort: Being proactive about formulating a healthier eating plan is an accessible way to improve your quality of life. Here's a list of the best foods for joint health to get you on the right track.

Exploring the Ties Between Nutrition and Joint Health

Joints are the places where two bones meet – but they're not just bits of skeletal tissue. Human joints are the complete package, including connective tissue like ligaments and tendons, numerous muscles, and handy cartilage layers that act as shock-absorbing cushions.

While most of us know our joints let us move our bodies, they're also integral to providing support. In other words, even when you're not being very active, your joints have to bear significant strain.

Joints can suffer from several different types of health problems. For instance, when the cartilage wears down, bone may rub on bone, resulting in further degradation and pain. In some cases, the surrounding cells may become damaged or inflamed, leading to progressively worsening joint pain and conditions such as arthritis, a complex disease characterized by pain, stiffness, and swelling.

Cumulative stress and injuries are just a couple of the common risk factors that might predispose someone to joint health issues. Everything from age and obesity to your family medical history can influence your odds of running into problems – which is why it's usually best to take a holistic approach to maintaining or restoring your joint health.

Top 7 Foods for Joint Health

There are many different treatments for joint pain, including medication, surgery, and physical therapy. While being more active, avoiding known stressors, and working on your posture are great starting points for those who'd rather not go under the knife or try pharmaceutical solutions, they're not the only proven noninvasive options for your self-care routine.

One of the best ways to prevent and deal with joint issues is to eat foods known to reduce inflammation, build bone density, and protect your joints from further damage. Here are 10 of the best foods for joint health:

1. Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a good source of the carotenoid antioxidants: lycopene, beta-carotene, lutein, and alpha-carotene. They also contain plenty of vitamins A and C, which are important for maintaining healthy bones and joints. Tomatoes provide all four of the carotenoid antioxidants, ample lycopene, vitamin A, and vitamin C, and may help reduce inflammation. Some people may be allergic to nightshade plants like tomatoes and it may not be everyone’s cup of tea when it comes to taste

Bottom line: Tomatoes are a nutritious food that might help you manage inflammation, although the associations haven't been fully explored. They're also a good source of vitamins A and C, which are important for maintaining healthy bones and joints.

2. Spirulina

This tiny blue-green alga is a powerhouse of nutritional content, but it's the amino acids that most joint pain sufferers will be interested in. Spirulina contains lysine, proline, glycine, and hydroxyproline – the four amino acids that compose the protein collagen, which may help you boost your joint health as you get older.

Spirulina is rich in antioxidants and about 60 percent protein by weight. They’re easy to consume in shakes, and on-the-go beverages. Spirulina however, may not be good if you suffer from autoimmune conditions like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Wild-harvested spirulina strains may be contaminated by pollution and might have an anticoagulant effect. It’s also known for its strong taste

Bottom line: For most people, spirulina is a welcome healthy diet addition, but it's not right for everyone. If you have arthritis symptoms or other problems, chat with a clinician before incorporating this into your routine.

3. Olive Oil

Olive oil is another great source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. It can also help improve the absorption of calcium, which is important for bone health.

Olive oil may also reduce inflammation because it contains the fatty acid oleic acid and many antioxidants, such as oleocanthal. It may also reduce the inflammatory responses of osteoarthritis. The oleocanthal in olive oil is similar to ibuprofen in some ways, which could help relieve pain. Olive oil is high in calories and can go bad quickly if not stored properly.

Bottom line: Olive oil is a healthy fat that can help reduce inflammation and improve calcium absorption – but it's not ideal for low-calorie or low-fat meal plans.

4. Onions

Surprisingly, onions can help your joints even as they leave your breath...suboptimal. The reason has to do with one of their component ingredients: quercetin, a flavonoid that research shows inhibits multiple inflammatory compounds.

Onions contain GPCS, which may inhibit the breakdown of bone tissue. Includes quercetin to help limit inflammation in osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Unfortunately, they smell bad and can make you cry. They’re also hard to work into certain foods without preparation.

Bottom line: Onions stink, but their nutrient content makes them an ideal addition to an anti-inflammatory meal plan. Yellow and red onions (and shallots) may deliver the greatest benefits.

5. Garlic

Garlic contains sulfur-packed compounds that have been shown to be effective in reducing inflammation. It also contains antioxidants that can help protect against damage caused by free radicals.

A versatile ingredient that can be used in many different dishes it goes well with olive oil. Some people can't tolerate the flavor, and it can cause heartburn and exacerbate conditions like GERD. 

Bottom line: Garlic's anti-inflammatory properties make it a natural food for maintaining healthy joints – but don't eat it to excess, particularly if you suffer from existing digestive issues.

6. Whole Grains

Whole grains are a good source of fiber, protein, and vitamins. They contain minerals like magnesium and zinc, which promote calcium absorption to help you build strong bones. In direct contrast to their refined counterparts, like white bread and many kinds of pasta, they can also help reduce inflammation in the body.

Whole grains are a good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals and are known to lower inflammation. However it may make some people feel bloated or gassy and it doesn’t have as much protein as other sources.

Bottom line: Whole grains are a healthy food that can provide a good amount of fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. If common options like oatmeal don't work for you, consider barley, brown rice, or quinoa.

7. Turmeric

Turmeric is a spice that contains curcumin, a compound widely reported to have anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin may reduce certain rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, such as morning stiffness.

Curcumin, which is found in turmeric, is a chemical that is thought to help reduce inflammation. to no more than 8 grams daily. Turmeric can be applied to the skin. However, it may cause gastrointestinal upset in higher doses and can contribute to gallbladder disease. It may interfere with anti-clotting medications, and although many people swear by the purported effects, medical science still hasn't confirmed the benefits.

Bottom line: Turmeric is a popular choice to prevent joint pain and is mostly healthy – but don't expect it to work miracles, and talk to a clinician before using it to fight inflammation.

How Top Nutrition Coaching Can Help

Dealing with joint pain is no walk in the park. When our bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles hurt, it can keep us from staying active, making it harder to adjust, adapt, and heal. In some cases, treatments like surgery also take their toll – on our wallets, health, and mental states alike – making recovery feel like even more of an uphill struggle.

Working with a Registered Dietitian from Top Nutrition Coaching lets you explore options for achieving your health goals without turning your life upside down. Our team makes it easy to get matched with a professional dietitian who understands what you're going through as well as where you'd ideally like your health journey to take you.

Whether you want to formulate a comprehensive menu plan, get a few joint-friendly meal prep tips, or find out more about what's been exacerbating your symptoms, we're here for it. Meet the ideal Certified Clinical Nutritionist for your needs today.

Final Thoughts

When your joints are healthy, they work together to provide a smooth, pain-free range of motion. But when they’re not—whether due to inflammation or damage—that’s when pain and stiffness set in.

Exercising and avoiding dietary choices that make your pain worse are some of the most important things you can do for your joints. Incorporate foods with anti-inflammatory properties and a balanced nutrient profile into your regular menu to support your health and gain lasting relief from pain and discomfort.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the most common questions we get about food for joint health. 

Which food is best for bone joints?

No one food is best for bone joints. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is essential for maintaining good joint health.

What foods help fight joint pain?

Foods that may help you overcome your joint pain include those with omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and minerals such as zinc and magnesium.

What foods can help rebuild cartilage?

Some foods that may help rebuild cartilage include brussels sprouts, nuts, brown rice, and pomegranates. Vitamin C-rich foods like oranges and bell peppers are also great choices.

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About the author

Nicolette Star Maggiolo, RD, LDN
I'm a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist with education from Boston University and clinical training from both Brigham & Women's Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. I specialize in helping the military and non-military individuals embrace nutrition as a partner in both their mental and physical health.

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