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Osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee happens when cartilage wears away in a joint, and the bone starts to erode. Apart from tissue damage, you’ll probably start to experience pain and inflammation.

Some dietary choices can help you take care of your joints.

In this article, find out what you can eat to help boost the health of your knee joints.

How and what you eat may affect the development of osteoarthritis.

Scientists say that when inflammation occurs, the body produces molecules known as free radicals. Free radicals form in the body in response to toxins and natural processes, including inflammation.

When too many free radicals build up, oxidative stress results. Oxidative stress can contribute to cell and tissue damage throughout the body.

This includes damage to the synovium and cartilage, which play a role in cushioning the knee joint. Oxidative stress can also trigger further inflammation.

Antioxidants are molecules that can help protect the body from free radicals. They’re present in the body, and you can also obtain them from plant-based foods.

Researchers don’t know exactly how free radicals and oxidative stress affect OA, but some have suggested that consuming antioxidants may help.

Consuming a diet that enables you to maintain a healthy weight will also help manage OA of the knee.

Various nutrients may help boost joint health and reduce inflammation.

The following foods may help delay the onset or progression of osteoarthritis:

  • fruits and vegetables, which provide antioxidants
  • low-fat dairy foods, which contain calcium and vitamin D
  • healthy oils, such as extra virgin olive oil

These foods are a part of an anti-inflammatory diet.

Some foods can increase the risk of oxidative stress.

Foods that may have this effect include:

  • highly processed foods
  • foods that contain added sugar
  • unhealthy fats, such as trans fats and saturated fats
  • red meats

Eating these foods could increase levels of inflammation.

According to guidelines from the American College of Rheumatology and the Arthritis Foundation, maintaining a healthy weight is essential for managing or reducing the risk of osteoarthritis of the knee.

This is because:

  • Having extra weight puts additional pressure on the knee joint.
  • Scientists have found a link between obesity and inflammation.

Body fat produces hormones and chemicals that can increase levels of inflammation.

Ways of reducing or managing weight include:

  • Dine in. Dining in can help you better manage what you eat and how meals are prepared.
  • Opt for healthy options when dining out. Choose a salad or other light option when you eat out. Also, steer clear of all-you-can-eat and buffet lunches.
  • Limit your portions. A simple step that can help you limit your portions is using a smaller plate.
  • Take just one serving. Put enough on your plate the first time so you won’t be tempted to take more.
  • Wait at least 20 minutes before going back for a second helping. It takes 20 minutes for your stomach to signal your brain that you’re no longer hungry.
  • Avoid the dessert aisle. Instead, stock up your shopping cart with fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Color your plate. Fill up half your plate with fresh vegetables of various colors.
  • Avoid fat- and sugar-heavy processed foods. Opt for fruit-based desserts and make your own salad dressing with lemon juice and olive oil.

Learn more here about the impact of body weight on knee pain.

Tip: Try eating low-calorie soups as a starter to control hunger. We also recommend Ina Garten’s hearty lentil vegetable soup.

Vitamin C is a vitamin and an antioxidant. Your body needs it to make cartilage, which protects the bones in your knee joint. It can also help remove free radicals.

An adequate supply of vitamin C may help prevent the development of OA symptoms.

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Tip: Try Jacques Pépin’s recipe for stuffed tomatoes.

Some scientists have suggested that vitamin D may help prevent or manage osteoarthritis, but the findings have been mixed.

A 2019 review didn’t find any evidence that vitamin D can prevent osteoarthritis from progressing but concluded that it may help relieve joint pain in people who have low levels of vitamin D.

Another study found lower levels of osteoarthritis damage in people with high levels of calcium in their blood.

Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. Consuming foods with these nutrients may offer some protection.

You can boost your vitamin D levels through controlled, daily exposure to sunlight, but some vitamin D–rich foods also provide it.

Foods that contain vitamin D, calcium, or both include:

Other foods that either contain or are fortified with vitamin D or calcium are:

  • orange juice
  • breakfast cereals
  • tofu

Current guidelines do not recommend taking vitamin D supplements for osteoarthritis, due to the lack of evidence that it can help.

Always discuss any supplements with a doctor before you use them, as some supplements may not be suitable for everyone.

Tip: Check out Bobby Flay’s Southwestern marinated grilled salmon with tomato-red chile chutney.

Beta carotene is another powerful antioxidant. You can identify it easily because it gives fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, their bright orange color. Beta carotene is beneficial for your skin, eyes, and hair.

Other excellent sources include:

Tip: Check out this recipe for sweet potato pudding from Taste of Home.

Some studies have suggested that having a higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids compared with omega 6 fatty acids may help prevent osteoarthritis.

Tips for getting the right balance include:

  • using omega-3 oils, such as olive oil, for cooking and salad dressings
  • eating oily fish twice a week
  • cutting down on red meats and other animal proteins
  • consuming a quarter cup of nuts or seeds a day

Omega-3s may work to reduce inflammation in your body by limiting the production of cytokines and enzymes that break down cartilage.

Foods that are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids are:

Omega-6 fatty acids are present in:

  • meat and poultry
  • cereals
  • eggs
  • nuts and seeds
  • some vegetable oils

Current guidelines recommend not taking fish oil supplements, as there is not enough evidence that they can help.

Tip: Try whole-wheat banana pancakes from the blog 100 Days of Real Food. Top them with walnuts for extra flavor.

Bioflavonoids, such as quercetin and anthocyanidins, are forms of antioxidants.

Quercetin has anti-inflammatory properties, and findings from animal studies have suggested it could play a role as a treatment for osteoarthritis.

Good sources of quercetin include:

Tip: Get a flavorful recipe for garlicky broccolini from Food and Wine.

The nutrients in some spices have anti-inflammatory effects, too. Among the most promising are ginger and turmeric.

In one small study, 30 people who took 1 gram of powdered ginger every day for 8 weeks experienced a reduction in knee pain and improvements in mobility and quality of life.

To add ginger to your diet, try the following:

  • Grate fresh ginger into stir-fries or salad dressings.
  • Infuse chopped ginger in boiling water to make ginger tea.
  • Add powdered ginger to high-fiber, low-fat muffins.
  • Add fresh or powdered ginger to cakes, cookies, curries, and apple dishes.

Turmeric is a mustard-yellow spice from Asia and the main ingredient in yellow curry. It consists mainly of curcumin.

Studies have shown that taking around 1 g of curcumin for 8–12 weeks may help relieve pain and inflammation in osteoarthritis.

You can buy turmeric products and supplements online. Always check first with your doctor to make sure any supplements are safe for you to use.

Tip: Make chicken curry with coconut milk using this healthy recipe from the blog SkinnyTaste.

Experts recommend aiming for and maintaining a healthy weight if you have overweight or obesity.

Ways of doing this include:

Other dietary tips that may help you manage or prevent OA of the knee include:

  • Coloring your plate with fruits and vegetables.
  • Choosing fish, nuts, and healthy oils over meat and trans fats.
  • Flavoring dishes with spices, such as ginger and turmeric.
  • Getting enough vitamin C and vitamin D.
  • Avoiding processed foods with added fats and sugar.