What to Eat and Avoid to Reduce Joint Pain

What’s one of the main causes of joint pain? Inflammation. And did you know that the foods we eat affect inflammation? If you’d like more information on inflammation and lifestyle-contributing factors beyond nutrition, please read my blog, 4 Steps to an Anti-Inflammatory Lifestyle. If you read it, you’ll notice that “Good nutrition” is Step 3. You’ll also find a list of the top 10 anti-inflammatory foods. In this article, I will provide more detail on how these foods reduce inflammation.

Here’s the caveat. When I suggest that you avoid a certain food, that suggestion may or may not apply to you. In essence, it’s the sensitivity to these foods that causes inflammation. In other words, you may or may not have a sensitivity to the particular food. So, I have added “maybe” to the titles of these foods.

At this point, you’re asking, How do I know if I’m sensitive to a particular food? Well, the best way to find out is to eliminate it in all forms for two to three weeks. If you feel better, you may be sensitive. In order to narrow down which foods trigger your pain, reintroduce one food at a time. Also, be sure to give yourself a few days to monitor your reaction before you add another food. If you have more pain after you add a food, you probably have a sensitivity to it.

Additionally, in the information that follows, you will see contradictions. For instance, peppers are recommended as an antioxidant. But, they also belong to the nightshade family, which some people should avoid. Thus, you will need to experiment with your own body. Only you can see what works and what doesn’t.

Eat Antioxidants in Abundance

Free radicals cause damage and inflammation. Antioxidants, on the other hand, reduce that damage and inflammation. Free radicals also mutate cells and damage DNA. When these distortions replicate, we have disease.

In order to avoid this problem, you should eat antioxidants from the three vitamin categories. WebMD recommends the following as a guide.

Beta-carotene and other carotenoids. Apricots, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, corn, green peppers, kale, mangoes, turnip and collard greens, nectarines, peaches, pink grapefruit, pumpkin, squash, spinach, sweet potato, tangerines, tomatoes, and watermelon

Vitamin C. Berries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, cauliflower, grapefruit, honeydew, kale, kiwi, mangoes, nectarines, orange, papaya, red, green or yellow peppers, snow peas, sweet potato, strawberries, and tomatoes

Vitamin E. Broccoli, carrots, chard, mustard and turnip greens, mangoes, nuts, papaya, pumpkin, red peppers, spinach, and sunflower seeds

Avoid Gluten – maybe

Many people are sensitive to gluten, but they do not have celiac disease. You can find gluten in wheat, barley and rye. If you are sensitive to gluten, your body will fight. This fight causes inflammation. Foods that contain gluten also have high levels of arachidonic acid, which can make joint pain and inflammation worse. These are breads, cereals, pastas, and processed foods. Read nutrition labels carefully. A product that says “gluten free” may only be free of wheat gluten, but it could still contain other forms of gluten.

As a side note, eggs also contain arachidonic acid. Thus, you should limited your egg intake.

Eat More Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that the body does not produce. So, you must consume them through food. However, our typical western diet lacks Omega-3 fatty acids. If you want to increase your Omega-3 fatty acids, try to add cold water fish (salmon and sardines), walnuts, flaxseeds and fortified foods. Omega-6 fatty acids, on the other hand, are everywhere! You’ll find them in refined vegetable oils. They’re also a common ingredient in many processed foods. Omega-6 fats increase inflammation, while Omega-3 fats reduce it. In other words, eat more Omega-3 foods and fewer Omega-6!

Avoid Nightshade Vegetables – maybe

  • Eggplant

  • Peppers

  • Tomatoes

  • Potatoes (not sweet potatoes)

  • Tobacco

Nightshade vegetables belong to the Solanaceae family. They produce the alkaloid compound solanine. And, plants use solanine as a defense mechanism. This compound poisons insects that try to eat them. You’ll find most of this poison in the plants’ leaves. If you’re very sensitive to solanine, the vegetables listed above might trigger inflammation. Try to avoid them.

Eat Foods Containing Phytochemicals

In 2005 researchers at John Hopkins University found something interesting. There is a potential link between phytochemicals and inflammation. They found that certain plant-based compounds could block the activity of an enzyme that causes joints to swell. In 2009, molecular biologist Daniel H. Hwang led a research team that validated these findings. So, what foods can provide this benefit? Here they are.

  • Green Tea

  • Red Wine

  • Cinnamon

  • Curcumin found in Turmeric

Avoid the Milk Protein Casein – maybe

If you are sensitive to casein, your body will have an inflammatory response. Besides milk, you’ll find casein in yogurt, cheese, butter, margarine, whey, lunch meat and some candy. So, try avoiding or limiting these foods.

Related Posts

Pain As My Teacher – I can’t shoulder it all

Pain As My Teacher – I can’t shoulder it all

Two weeks ago, I developed severe right shoulder pain and stiffness. It was excruciating to move in any direction, and I couldn’t get into a comfortable position to rest. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to meet with clients, teach my class, or ride my bike. The...

The Perfect Storm of Chronic Pain

The Perfect Storm of Chronic Pain

A perfect storm, like chronic pain, emerges when numerous factors combine simultaneously. Merriam-Webster defines “perfect storm” as “a critical or disastrous situation created by a powerful concurrence of factors.” Let’s substitute chronic pain into this definition:...

About the Author


Jessica uses an integrative approach to help you overcome chronic pain. She believes in treating the whole person utilizing the biopsychosocial approach to healing. Her offerings include posture therapy, online exercise classes, pain science education, and individual or group wellness coaching. She is certified by the Postural Restoration Institute® (PRI), Egoscue University®, National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), American Council on Exercise (ACE) and Wellcoaches.