Diet and Nutrition

"What foods should I eat to help control my arthritis, and what should I avoid?" This is a question commonly asked of health-care professionals.

It is very natural to want to have some control over the progression of a chronic disease, and our diet and nutrition is something that each of us has some level of control over.

Unfortunately, there is no "magic arthritis diet" that can cure a person's arthritis, or eliminate arthritis symptoms. Unproven diets, or "miracle cures", are commonly found on the internet, and rumors abound about certain foods to eliminate or eat in excess. It is important to remember that few of these theories have ever been scientifically examined, and none have been scientifically proven effective.

Though no dietary miracles have yet been discovered in the fight against arthritis, scientists have made a number of recent research advancements on the role of diet and nutrition in arthritis treatment. Today, we understand much more about the connections between arthritis, diet, healthy bodyweight, immune function, and inflammation. We are learning more and more about the positive steps each of us can take to fight arthritis and encourage overall health.

To help you understand what the research is telling us about arthritis and nutrition, here is a discussion about what is proven effective, and what is not.

Proven effective

Lower fat

Several studies have shown a clear link between "wear and tear" osteoarthritis and a high body mass index (BMI). This link seems to include joints which are not weight-bearing, suggesting that extra fat-tissue may be causing arthritis, perhaps by making chemicals or proteins.

We know that maintaining a healthy bodyweight is an important factor in maintaining overall health, and in fighting arthritis. To do this, a diet low in saturated and trans fats is recommended. Often, this is easier said than done. People living with arthritis often have difficulties shopping, cooking, and even eating. Because of these challenges, people with arthritis often find themselves eating too many pre-packaged or fast foods which are high in saturated fats.

There are some studies that show that diets high in red meat can predispose people to developing arthritis. There are other studies that show that a vegan diet (no meat or dairy) may reduce arthritis symptoms, however, it is quite difficult to obtain the required nutrients with this type of diet. It may be that vegans are getting less saturated fats.

 Foods high in saturated fats
 Animal fats  Cream
 Butter  Lard
 Cheese  Poultry skin
 Chocolate  Vegetable shortening
 Coconut oil  Whole milk

Balanced diet

Try thinking of food as "fuel"; the proper amounts of the right types of food will allow your body to function at its optimal level, allowing you to face the challenges presented every day when you are living with arthritis. You should eat a variety of foods from each of the food groups each day. For information about serving sizes, click here.

 Food Group  Servings per day
 Bread, Cereal, Rice, Pasta  6 to 11
 Vegetable  3 to 5
 Fruit  2 to 4
 Dairy  2 to 3
 Meat, Poultry, Fish, Legumes  2 to 3

Omega 3 and Omega 6

Some studies have shown that Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids are beneficial in the treatment of some forms of inflammatory arthritis.

Omega 3 fatty acids are found in coldwater fish, such as salmon and trout, and in flax seed and olive oils. To get the recommended amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids, you should eat 2 - 3 servings of coldwater fish per week, cook with olive oil, and use flax seed oil as a dressing.

Omega 6 fatty acids are found in evening primrose and borage plants, a blue-flowering herb with a flavour resembling cucumber. As with flax seed oil and Omega 3 fatty acids, borage seed oil may be a good source of Omega 6 fatty acids. It is difficult to find large quantities of Omega 6 fatty acids in common foods. A supplement is probably the most effective way to get your Omega 6 requirement. You should speak with a dietitian about an appropriate dosage, and which source is best suited to your situation.

Calcium and Vitamin D

Calcium is a vital component of any nutrition plan, especially for people with arthritis. People with many forms of arthritis are at an increased risk for developing osteoporosis, because of a likely decline in physical activity, a reduction in the body's ability to effectively absorb calcium as a result of having arthritis, and as a side effect of some arthritis drug treatments, such as prednisone.

 Foods high in Calcium
 Milk  Broccoli
 Yogurt  Salmon (canned, with bones)
 Swiss/cheddar cheese  Almonds

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. It helps the body to absorb calcium, and thus plays a vital role in promoting skeletal health.

 Foods high in Vitamin D
 Herring  Liver
 Salmon  Egg yolks
 Fortified milk  Shrimp

The average adult should consume 1000 - 1500 mg of calcium, and 400 - 800 IU of Vitamin D, each day. If you find that you're not able to get enough of these vital nutrients through your diet, you should consult a dietitian to discuss whether you need a supplement.

You can find a dietitian in your area by visiting the Dietitians of Canada website at They have a searchable database of dietitians across the country. If you live in British Columbia, you can access the dial-a-dietitian service by dialing 8-1-1 anywhere in the province or by visiting

Nutrient intake

You may need to consider taking a vitamin supplement if you're unable to get all of the nutrients your body requires through your diet. If, for example, you're on a calorie-restricted diet, you cannot tolerate dairy products, or you're a strict vegetarian, you should contact a registered dietitian to discuss your diet and any supplements you may require.

Unproven Diets
Elimination diets

Some people believe that certain foods or additives can trigger or worsen some forms of arthritis. There is very little scientific evidence to support this belief. Scientists have yet to determine a single food or additive which is likely to cause arthritis in the general public.

That said, if you feel that eating a certain food often causes your symptoms to worsen, you might consider talking to your doctor about eliminating that food so that you can monitor whether your arthritis improves - usually, three months is a sufficient test period.


While some studies have shown results indicating that fasting may have a short-term beneficial effect on inflammatory arthritis, the experts agree that fasting is not advisable as a long-term treatment, as it can lead to dehydration and serious nutritional deficiencies. As a result, fasting diets are not recommended.

Diets promoting one "miracle" food

Sometimes, certain foods are promoted as a cure for arthritis. These include brewer's yeast, garlic, cod liver oil, alfalfa, wheat germ, mussel extract, lemon juice, and molasses. None of these so-called "miracle foods" are proven effective in evidence-based research. Alfalfa actually aggravates some types of arthritis, especially lupus and related diseases. These cures are not proven effective or safe, and should not be relied upon.