The Right Diet Can Help Manage Osteoarthritis

There are 27 million Americans with osteoarthritis, a joint disease caused by wear and tear associated with aging, injury, or obesity. We explain how you can use your diet to help manage this disease and improve your quality of life.


Joint health is one of the unsung heroes of quality of life. We sometimes don’t appreciate the easy pleasures of opening a jar or enjoying an evening walk until osteoarthritis makes it painful for us to engage in these once-simple activities.

Although diet alone is not a cure-all, it is certainly instrumental in maintaining a healthy weight—and weight is one of the most important aspects of managing, and sometimes preventing, the wear and tear that leads to osteoarthritis.

A healthy weight, supported by a balanced diet, has two components:

  • Portion size. As we age, we require less food to maintain our weight. Paying attention to portion sizes is one way to avoid overeating.
  • Focus on a diet of plant-based foods, dairy, and protein. The Food and Drug Administration recommends that two-thirds of our diet include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The remaining one-third should include low-fat dairy products and lean proteins.

A healthy variety of food groups is good for our general nutrition as well as for the weight management goals of osteoarthritis patients.

  • Fruit. Fresh, frozen, and dried fruits are great, but be more stinting with servings of fruit juice, which can be high in sugar.  Aim for one and a half to two cups of fruit per day.
  • Vegetables. Top choices include dark green selections like spinach, greens, and broccoli; orange vegetables like sweet potatoes, squash, and carrots; and dried beans and peas. Help yourself to two to three cups per day.
  • Whole grains. Foods made with the entire grain kernel include whole-wheat flour, bulgur, oatmeal, whole cornmeal, and brown rice. Include popcorn here as well. You should have three ounces of grain per day.
  • Dairy. Low fat or fat free options should include three cups of milk, cheese, or yogurt per day. Keep in mind that one and a half ounces of cheese is the equivalent of one cup of milk.
  • Protein. Choose lean proteins like chicken, seafood, beans, peas, nuts, and seeds. Preparation matters; broiling, grilling, and baking can reduce the amount of oil and fat you consume.

A healthy arthritis diet is about controlling weight and supporting nutrition through healthy selections of fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins. It is also important to avoid foods like saturated and trans fats, salt, and sugar. Keep your alcohol consumption moderate: two drinks per day for men, and one drink per day for women. Smart diet choices can help you manage arthritis, and may prevent more severe osteoarthritic conditions from developing at all.

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