3 Healthy Foods to Ease Joint Inflammation

By Michael A. Smith, MD

Inflammation is the common denominator in all forms of arthritis. It’s a destructive process that leads to debilitating pain and dysfunction, and one that we’d all like to avoid.

Incredible amounts of money are spent on over-the-counter medications for joint pain. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are the most common arthritis medications and can be bought just about everywhere.

While drugs are the first line of defense for many, there are other ways to ease joint inflammation that shouldn’t be overlooked. Nutrition is one of them, and although there's no specific diet for arthritis, certain foods can certainly help ease inflammation in your body.

With So Many Dietary Choices, Where Do You Begin?

The Mediterranean diet is a wonderful place to start, as it offers foods that are rich in antioxidants and essential fats, both of which can help ease inflammation.

As a matter of fact, researchers studying this diet’s effect on rheumatoid arthritis came to the following conclusion: “Patients with RA, by adjusting to a Mediterranean diet, did obtain a reduction in inflammatory activity, an increase in physical function, and improved vitality.”1

So which foods in the Mediterranean diet should you consider for helping to ease inflammation? Here are three great choices to start with.

Fish Oil for Easing Inflammation

People with arthritis, especially rheumatoid arthritis, have higher blood levels of inflammatory proteins, called cytokines. Polyunsaturated fats — especially omega-3 fatty acids — help suppress cytokine production, easing inflammation throughout your body including the joints.

All fish have some omega-3s, but salmon, herring, sardines, and anchovies are chock full of them. Salmon provides the most, with up to 2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per 3-ounce serving.

A word of warning though: High heat can destroy these valuable omega-3 fats. Bake or grill your fish instead of frying it to help preserve as much omega-3 fat as possible.

Don't like fish? That’s fine. Other foods that are rich in omega-3 fats include walnuts, flaxseed, and soybeans.

Colored Fruits & Vegetables to Fight Joint Inflammation

Nutritionists often advise people to add color to their diet. Why? Because the substances that give fruits and vegetables their color — flavonoids and carotenoids — are also potent antioxidants.

Antioxidants play an important role in easing joint inflammation.2 Fruits and vegetables like blueberries, blackberries, carrots, and tomatoes are loaded with inflammation-fighting antioxidants.

Want suggestions? Here’s a list of healthy foods for each color of the rainbow:

  1. Red — Beets
  2. Orange — Orange Peppers
  3. Yellow — Squash
  4. Green — Kale
  5. Blue — Blueberries (they’re actually a shade of purple)
  6. Purple — Eggplant

Whole Grains to Lower CRP — A Marker of Inflammation

A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that eating more whole grain lowers C-reactive protein levels (CRP), which are a marker of inflammation.3

In people with arthritis, especially rheumatoid arthritis, CRP levels are chronically elevated and spike during flare-ups. C-reactive protein is sometimes measured to track disease activity or to see how well a person is responding to treatment.

Here’s a list of popular sources of whole grain, including the amount of fiber per serving (fiber content provided by the Whole Grain Council):4

  • Brown rice — 0.6 grams
  • Quinoa — 0.9 grams
  • Bulgur — 2.9 grams
  • Buckwheat — 1.6 grams
  • Oats — 1.7 grams
  • Wild rice — 1.0 grams

Recipe: Quinoa Crusted Salmon Filets

Want to try a tasty, inflammation-easing recipe at home? Give this a go:


  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup dry quinoa
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup white onion — finely diced
  • 1/3 cup red pepper — finely diced
  • 1 egg
  • 4 — 3 oz salmon fillets

  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Rinse quinoa well before cooking to remove bitter coating. Place quinoa and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10–15 minutes or until water is absorbed.
  3. While quinoa is cooking, sauté onion and red peppers in olive oil until they begin to soften.
  4. Stir onion and pepper into cooked quinoa.
  5. Dip salmon into egg and then coat with quinoa mixture.
  6. Bake for 10–20 minutes or until fish flakes easily.

Have you worked any of these items into your diet to help ease inflammation? If so, how have they worked for you? Please share your experiences in the comments.


  1. Ann Rheum Dis. 2003 Mar;62(3):208-14.
  2. Interdiscip Toxicol. 2011 Mar;4(1):33-9.
  3. J Nutr. 2010 Mar;140(3):587-94.
  4. http://www.wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/fiber-in-whole-grains.


Anonymous said...

"Don't like fish? That’s fine. Other foods that are rich in omega-3 fats include walnuts, flaxseed, and soybeans".

The last is true, but since only about 8% of the medium chain vegetable omega-3 (ALA) is converted to EPA/DHA, from which the anti-inflammatory eicosanoids are made, it is not really "fine" to go without high omega-3 fish (or EPA/DHA supplements), unless one eats enormous quantities of vegetable sources (of which hemp, pumpkin and chia seeds are also excellent sources). It is particularly necessary to eat such large quantities if one also eats a lot of vegetable omega-6 (LA) because of competition for the same enzymes to do the conversion. Although part of the value of ALA is its preferential use by those enzymes and suppression of the n−6 fatty acid inflammatory conversion pathway.

Reference review: http://pmid.us/21762726

Life Extension said...

Good point Paul. However, we want to give our readers as many options as we can for boosting omega-3 blood levels. You can also get a blood test called the Omega Score. This test will tell you if your body is converting the shorter chained omega-3 fats into the longer chains.

Puddleg said...

Polyunsaturated fats — especially omega-3 fatty acids — help suppress cytokine production, easing inflammation throughout your body including the joints.

This implies that omega-6 PUFAs are also anti-inflammatory.
I would be concerned about the total PUFA load from such a diet promoting inflammation. If increasing numbers of people need fish oil as an anti-inflammatory, isn't this perhaps because there is way too much "healthy" PUFA in modern diets - both "healthy" and SAD?
When dieticians recommend whole grains, the populace at large takes this as a licence to eat gluten grains and "wholemeal bread", which, along with maize and fructose-generated uric acid, are likely to be what is causing the pain in the first place. Apologies for the n=1, but when I cut out all grains, and restricted sugar and sweet fruit as well as PUFAs, my joints stopped swelling and stiffening. A much lower dose of fish oil, if any, was required.

Life Extension said...

Thanks for your insight Hopeful Geranium!


Mediterranean diet is also a good source of cytokines and therefore a way to help against inflammatory diseases.

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