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Reducing Your Risk for Arthritis: The Power of Food1

Sarah Curl, Jodi Fitzgerald, Danielle Nelson, and Jeanette Andrade 2

Overview of Arthritis

Arthritis is the swelling or tenderness of the joints. One in four adults within the United States have been diagnosed with some type of arthritis: degenerative, such as osteoarthritis; inflammatory, such as rheumatoid; infectious; or metabolic (Barbour et al. 2017; CDC 2020). Arthritis can happen because of genetics and aging, but other factors, such as diet and lifestyle, may contribute to arthritis. This publication describes the modifiable factors contributing to arthritis and tips to reduce risk for arthritis.

Factors Contributing to Arthritis

Weight

The more body weight you carry, the higher your risk is for developing osteoarthritis. Extra body weight puts more pressure on your joints. This causes arthritis to develop and makes the pain of arthritis worse. Losing weight reduces your risk for arthritis and improves existing arthritis pain and function (Vincent et al. 2012).

Dietary Habits

Consuming low amounts of fruits and vegetables may increase your risk for arthritis. Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, which reduce inflammation that occurs dependent on the arthritis type (Antinoro 2017). Additionally, methods of processing (e.g., frying, trans-fat processing, increased sugar in low-fat foods) can induce an inflammatory response in the body and potentially exacerbate an arthritis-related inflammatory condition (Weaver et al. 2014).

Lifestyle Habits

Staying active is important when you have arthritis. Diet change and exercise alone both improve arthritis pain and physical function, but the combination of both leads to large reductions in pain and improvement in quality of life (Messier et al. 2013).

Reducing Your Risk for Arthritis

Start Simple

Set a goal each week to make small changes towards health, such as:

  • Choose at least 1 piece of fruit daily for a week.

  • Cook at least 1 meal prepared with beans, vegetables, and whole grains this week.

  • Take a 15-minute walk after work this week.

Eat More Fruits, Vegetables, Beans/Lentils and Whole Grains

These foods are:

  • High in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help reduce swelling or tenderness in joints.

Get Active

The food you eat is one of the most important factors affecting your arthritis, but exercise is also important to your joint health.

  • Be as active as your health allows. Work towards 30 minutes of physical activity 5 days a week.

  • Start low and go slow. Start with low-impact aerobic activities like walking, biking, swimming, or water aerobics.

  • Muscle strengthening exercises include lifting weights, working with a resistance band, and yoga. Aim to do strengthening exercises that target all muscle groups at least 2 days per week.

Be Kind to Yourself

  • Take some time for yourself every day, even if just for 10 minutes!

  • Sleep for at least 7 hours per day.

  • If you consume alcohol, have 1 drink or less per day for women and 2 drinks or less per day for men.

  • Avoid use of and exposure to tobacco products.

  • Reduce stress as much as you can.

Setting Yourself Up for Success

  • Use the suggested recipes in this publication for ideas and inspiration for healthy eating.

  • Start making changes with a friend or family member! It can be helpful to have support.

  • Ask for help from a health professional such as a registered dietitian to help make those positive changes.

In summary, there are 4 types of arthritis—degenerative, inflammatory, infectious, and metabolic. Excessive weight increases one's risk for osteoarthritis due to the pressure on joints. Additionally, consuming more processed products and less fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contributes to an arthritis-related inflammatory response. Thus, eating healthier and being physically active for most days of the week will help one lose weight to reduce their risk for arthritis.

References

Antinoro, L. "Can Diet Improve Arthritis Symptoms?" Harvard Health Publishing. 2020. https://www.health.harvard.edu/nutrition/can-diet-improve-arthritis-symptoms. [Accessed 6 June 2020].

Barbour, K. E., C. G. Helmick, M. A. Boring, and T. J. Brady. 2017. "Vital Signs: Prevalence of Doctor-Diagnosed Arthritis and Arthritis-Attributable Activity Limitation — United States, 2013–2015." Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 66:246–253.

CDC. 2020. "Arthritis Types | CDC." https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/types.html [Accessed 21 May 2020].

Messier, S. P., S. L. Mihalko, C. Legault et al. 2013. "Effects of Intensive Diet and Exercise on Knee Joint Loads, Inflammation, and Clinical Outcomes Among Overweight and Obese Adults With Knee Osteoarthritis: The IDEA Randomized Clinical Trial." JAMA 310 (12): 1263–1273.

Navarro, S. L., E. D. Kantor, X. Song et al. 2016. "Factors Associated with Multiple Biomarkers of Systemic Inflammation." Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention 25 (3): 521–531.

Vincent, H. K., K. Heywood, J. Connelly, and R. W. Hurley. 2012. "Obesity and Weight Loss in the Treatment and Prevention of Osteoarthritis." PM R. 4 (5).

Weaver, C. M., J. Dwyer, V. L. Fulgoni 3rd, et al. 2014. "Processed Foods: Contributions to Nutrition." Am J Clin Nutr. 99 (6): 1525–1542. doi:10.3945/ajcn.114.089284

Tables

Table 1. 

Recipe Ideas for Lunch/Dinner

Table 2. 

Recipe Ideas—Snack and Dessert

Table 3. 

Use this handy grocery list for the above recipes

Footnotes

1. This document is FSHN20-39, one of a series of the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date October 2020. Visit the EDIS website at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu for the currently supported version of this publication.
2. Sarah Curl, graduate student, Food Science and Human Nutrition Department; Jodi Fitzgerald, MD; Danielle Nelson, MD, MPH, assistant professor and assistant medical director, University of Florida Department of Community Health and Family Medicine; and Jeanette Andrade, assistant professor and director, MS-DI program, Food Science and Human Nutrition Department; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.
Peer Reviewed

Publication #FSHN20-39

Date: 10/8/2020

Fact Sheet

Contacts

  • Jeanette Andrade