The Best & Worst Foods for Your Joints

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Trapanese Pesto Pasta & Zoodles with Salmon

Our immune system is quite powerful, and protects us from various potential infections daily. But it can go awry, and sometimes the result is an autoimmune condition like arthritis. Your genetics play a large role in whether or not you develop arthritis—including psoriatic arthritis—or any other autoimmune condition. Your environment is another factor—and that includes your diet. Put another way: what you eat may exacerbate or temper your arthritis and the symptoms that go along with it.

Pictured recipe: Trapanese Pesto Pasta & Zoodles with Salmon

Here, we outline 5 of the best foods to help you keep your joints healthy—and a couple to limit.

Best foods for your joints

Eat This: Salmon

Try salmon, tuna, sardines, oysters or any other fatty fish or shellfish that's packed with omega-3 fats (get our delicious and healthy salmon recipes). Not only do EPA and DHA fats have incredible anti-inflammatory properties, but research shows that people with rheumatoid arthritis who consumed decent doses of omega-3s (some via fish oil) reduced their morning stiffness and tender joints, boosted their grip strength, and—perhaps best of all—reported significant decreases in pain. Because most study participants received daily doses of omega-3s in excess of 3 grams, you should talk to your doctor about taking a supplement (either fish oil or in pill form) while also upping the omega-3-rich seafood in your diet.

Eat This: Whole Grains

Whole grains (think: brown rice, whole-wheat bread, popcorn, oatmeal) are brimming with antioxidants, phytic acid, vitamin E and selenium—all of which are believed to help with inflammation. Plus, whole grains typically deliver healthy doses of fiber (although the label "whole grains" on a food product isn't synonymous with "high fiber," so check your nutrition and ingredient lists), and some research suggests that higher-fiber diets could help tamp down inflammation. Ladies, you should aim to eat 25 grams of fiber each day, while gentlemen need 38 grams (try this 7-Day High-Fiber Meal Plan to help you get your fill.)

Eat This: Mango

Mangoes deliver plenty of good-for-you vitamins (hello, vitamins A, C and E), which have antioxidant properties, and also fiber—but it's a specific compound—mangoferin—that newer, preliminary research shows may help control inflammation and protect your joints. Another reason to eat more mango: it's always in season. There are so many mango varieties and they mature and ripen at staggered stages, giving us fresh mango year-round. There's a growing list of other fruits that show promise when it comes to quelling inflammation, and specifically, arthritis. Add these to your grocery cart too: blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, plus dried plums and pomegranates.

Zucchini Noodles with Pesto & Chicken

Pictured recipe: Zucchini Noodles with Pesto & Chicken

Eat This: Mediterranean Diet

OK, yes, this isn't a food per se. But it is an incredibly healthy way of eating. Research shows that mimicking the Mediterranean Diet is good for you in so many ways—from your heart to your brain, to helping you live longer. This diet—packed with fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and olive oil; with moderate amounts of fish, poultry and dairy; and only a little red meat—can also help improve inflammatory joint diseases. One study found that eating this way could help reduce morning joint stiffness in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Other research shows that eating a Mediterranean diet can help improve the gut microbiome in ways that may improve (or even stave off) inflammatory joint diseases.

Learn more: Mediterranean Diet for Beginners: Everything You Need to Get Started

Eat This: Matcha

Matcha is that bright-green powder that you've likely seen whisked into tea or lattes, or cooked into baked goods. It's simply a version of powdered green tea, but one that contains more of a key antioxidant—EGCG or epigallocatechin-3-gallate—than a steaming cup of green tea. EGCG has anti-inflammatory powers, and studies have found that it can help prevent bone and cartilage destruction. If you can't find matcha (look for it at specialty stores or online), or its flavor is too potent for you, brew yourself some green tea—it's still a great source of EGCG.

Worst foods for your joints

Watch This: Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

Eating sugar, and particularly drinking sugar-sweetened beverages, can trigger inflammation. Additionally, sugar-sweetened soda and sugary desserts were the two items that people with rheumatoid arthritis said worsened their symptoms, according to a study published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research. How much added sugar Americans are eating is on the decline, but it's still higher than what the American Heart Association recommends—and that's no more than 6 teaspoons per day for women (25 grams) and 9 for men (36 grams)

Watch This: Saturated Fat

If you have an inflammatory joint disease, you're at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease than the general population. Cutting back on the saturated fat in your diet can help. Better yet, replace the saturated fat in your diet with unsaturated fat, and you could lower your risk of developing cardiovascular disease by about 30 percent, per the American Heart Association and a position paper published in the journal Circulation. Try this: Limit foods like red and processed meats and full-fat dairy, and swap out items like butter and coconut oil for vegetable oils like grapeseed, corn, soybean and olive oils. Here's another reason to eat more unsaturated fats: research from the Nurses' Health Study shows that people who regularly consumed the kind of unsaturated fats you get from vegetable oils had a lower risk of developing psoriatic arthritis.

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What you eat can help or hinder your arthritis. Here are foods to eat and skip to help you keep your joints healthy.
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Anne Treadwell
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Trapanese Pesto Pasta & Zoodles with Salmon