What to Eat to Beat Knee Pain
Simple diet changes can help chase away knee pain. Learn which foods can help — and hurt — knee health.
By Jan Sheehan
Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Looking for a natural way to relieve knee pain? You may want to tweak your diet. A growing body of research suggests that small dietary changes can add up to big benefits for knee health. “A number of foods have powerful anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties that may be as effective as some prescription medicines for arthritis and other types of knee pain,” says Beth Reardon, RD, MS, an integrative nutritionist and medicinal foods expert at Duke Integrative Medicine Center in Durham , N.C.
Read on to learn how mealtime may be affecting the health of your knees.
Diet and Knee Pain: Go Fish
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are natural anti-inflammatories. Calming joint inflammation can often help ease knee soreness, according to Steven Stuchin, MD, director of orthopedic surgery at NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases in New York City . In randomized clinical studies, omega-3 fatty acids were found to ease pain and reduce the duration of morning stiffness in people with rheumatoid arthritis. The best sources of omega-3s are salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, cod, and mackerel, as well as fish oil supplements. Another benefit of adding fish to your diet:
“Fish is safer than anti-inflammatory medication, which may have side effects,” says Reardon.
Diet and Knee Pain: Drink Orange Juice
Orange juice is a top-notch source of vitamin C, a nutrient that may guard against knee osteoarthritis. A 10-year Australian study of almost 300 middle-aged adults found that those getting high amounts of vitamin C were less likely to suffer the kind of bone degeneration associated with knee osteoarthritis. “Drinking a glass of orange juice provides about 25 percent more vitamin C than eating an orange,” says Reardon. Other good sources of vitamin C to prevent knee pain are green peppers, grapefruit, and strawberries.
Diet and Knee Pain: Eat Spinach and Onions
Follow Popeye’s lead and add spinach to your regime. Australian researchers found that getting high amounts of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin (found in green veggies like spinach) can help relieve knee pain caused by osteoarthritis. Several studies have found an additional benefit of lutein and zeaxanthin, as they can help prevent vision-related diseases.
Don’t forget to add some onions to your spinach salad as well. Adding
onions to salads, sandwiches, stews, and casseroles may help put the
brakes on knee pain. Onions are a rich source of quercetin, a flavonoid
with strong anti-inflammatory properties, says Reardon. In studies of
arthritic mice, quercetin resulted in significant decreases in arthritis
symptoms. Apples, red grapes, and tea are also good sources of quercetin.
Diet and Knee Pain: Order Indian Food
A helping of curry could do wonders for your knee pain. That’s because turmeric, a spice used in curry and other Indian dishes, contains curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory. “Curcumin works similarly to COX-2 inhibitors — drugs that reduce the COX-2 enzyme that causes the pain and swelling of arthritis,” says Reardon. A 2006 Canadian study of the effects of both curcumin and quercetin found that curcumin reduced the inflammation of arthritis in animals. Quercetin (the flavonoid in onions) worked too, but not to the extent of the curcumin.
Diet and Knee Pain: Use Ginger Generously
The herb ginger traditionally has been used to relieve upset stomach, but researchers recently discovered that it also reduces knee pain by decreasing inflammation. In a study of 261 patients with moderate to severe knee pain due to osteoarthritis, ginger extract significantly reduced knee pain during standing and walking. Cooking with this spice can increase the flavor of meals while decreasing knee pain.
Diet and Knee Pain: Avoid Refined Carbohydrates
Some research suggests that diets high in refined carbohydrates can increase inflammation, says Reardon. She recommends steering clear of white bread, pasta, and baked goods — taking these foods out of your diet can have an added bonus of helping you drop excess pounds.
Because changing your diet is a relatively easy step, it makes sense to try some — or all — of the foods listed above. You may find some relief from knee pain and get some added health benefits to boot.