Eat Right to Maintain Healthy Joints

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on January 22, 2014
3 min read

What you eat can help keep your joints and the bones that support them strong.

Eating an anti-inflammatory diet will help your joints, says sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook.

“We want to go toward more natural, closer to the earth, and less-processed foods, while avoiding fried and processed foods, trans fats, and charred meat,” which increase inflammation, Clark says.

Of course, no single food is a cure-all for supporting joint health. Exercising, eating a well-balanced diet, and generally taking care of yourself are all keys in keeping your joints moving freely. Here are seven foods to include in your diet.

Cherries get their crimson color from natural plant chemicals called anthocyanins. Several studies have shown that fresh cherries and tart cherry juice may curb inflammation. A few studies have also linked fresh cherries to fewer flare-ups of gout.

Other foods to try: It’s the color that counts. Other richly colored fruits (such as blueberries, blackberries, and pomegranates) could also deliver similar effects.

Red peppers are brimming with vitamin C. Vitamin C helps your body make collagen, which is part of your cartilage, tendons, and ligaments that cushion your joints and hold them together.

Other foods to try: Citrus fruits (such as grapefruit and oranges), tomatoes, and pineapple

Salmon might not be the first food you think of for stronger bones, but Clark says canned salmon with bones in particular is a good one to consider.

It's got calcium and vitamin D to help keep your bones strong. Salmon is also loaded with omega-3s, which help curb inflammation.

Clark recommends making salmon patties from canned salmon.

Another bonus: “When you eat salmon, you’re not eating barbecued spareribs -- the kind of foods that create the joint problems.”

Other foods to try: Low- or no-fat plain yogurt or milk, which are both high in calcium and vitamin D. Try other naturally oily fish, such as trout or sardines, for their omega-3s.

Whole grains like oatmeal are linked to lower levels of inflammation. Refined grains, such as white flour, have the opposite effect.

While exercise helps strengthen bones and muscles, it also puts a strain on joints. As a sports nutritionist, Clark says eating for exercise is not just about fueling activity, but also eating for recovery and healing. “Rather than grabbing a Pop-Tart or a biscuit with cheese and sausage, grab oatmeal with fruits and nuts and yogurt,” she says.

Other foods to try: Quinoa, brown rice, and barley

Turmeric is a staple in Indian food. It's rich in a chemical called curcumin. One study found that a curcumin extract worked as well as ibuprofen at easing knee aches and pains.

If you’re not used to using turmeric directly, use curry powder; turmeric is what gives the characteristic orange color.

Other foods to try:Cinnamon and ginger are two other spices that have some anti-inflammatory properties.

Walnuts are high in several nutrients that counter inflammation, including omega-3 fatty acids. Keep in mind that while walnuts and other nuts are good for you, they're also very high in calories; so limit yourself to a handful a day.

Other foods to try: Flaxseeds and canola oil both deliver the omega-3s found in walnuts.

Kale and other dark, leafy greens are rich in nutrients that are linked to joint health, including the antioxidants beta-carotene and vitamin C. Some, including kale and collard greens, are also an excellent source of calcium, which helps keep your bones strong.

Other foods to try: broccoli, bok choy, and collard greens