Eating For Joint Health & Pain Relief

By Alyssa Krejci, RD, LD, LMNT
May 13, 2024

joint-pain.jpgThe weather is finally getting warmer, the days are longer and the outdoors are calling! It is time to bust out the bike gear, pickleball paddles, golf clubs, fishing poles, kayak paddles, and those walking shoes. Getting a good dose of vitamin N, aka Nature, along with moving your body in a way you enjoy every day are two important things you can incorporate to support your overall health and well-being.

But what if you are experiencing pain in your joints? Do you have knee pain chronically or from time to time? Doing the activities you love, like going for a walk or getting into your garden, can become challenging if you are experiencing stiffness or pain in your hips, knees, and other joints.

Understanding Arthritis: Causes and Types of Joint Pain

Arthritis pain comes from the swelling and tenderness in the joints. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the two most common types of arthritis pain.

In a healthy functioning joint, cartilage cushions the ends of the bones to assist in smooth joint motion. When an injury or wear and tear over time happens to the cartilage, there's deterioration of connective tissue that holds the muscle to bone. It can cause pain and restriction due to the friction of bone on bone. This is what happens with osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid is an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks the lining of the joints and can eventually break down the joint and bone. The lining and tissues become swollen and inflamed, which causes pain.

Dietary Strategies for Reducing Inflammation and Arthritis Pain

Because certain foods have anti-inflammatory properties, one thing you can control regarding pain management is the food you put on the end of your fork. Start by looking at the foods and drinks you are choosing to consume on a regular basis to reduce inflammation in your body.

At Nutritional Weight & Wellness, we have seen many clients reduce joint pain after choosing to start eating the Weight & Wellness way, which means eating a diet focused on whole, nutrient rich foods full of essential minerals with many health benefits, including foods that support your joints and inhibit inflammation.

What Inflammatory Foods Lead to Knee and Joint Pain? 

If you guessed eating low nutrient, low fiber, ultra-processed foods - you are correct! These foods can lead to joint swelling and knee pain.

Regularly eating highly processed, low nutrient foods can create inflammatory responses in the body. This inflammation can then lead to the actual physical pain you feel in your knees and joints. The joints and connective tissue are particularly vulnerable to inflammation. 

Other common pain triggers we see include a diet high in refined oils, added sugar and sometimes dairy. If you're curious if dairy is an issue for you, learn more about Dairy Intolerance: Causes, Symptoms, Solutions.

Gluten and Joint Inflammation

If you live with the autoimmune arthritis condition, celiac, or experience non-celiac gluten sensitivity, foods with gluten lead to inflammation in the body. There is no such thing as a “typical” celiac case, so it's important to do a deep dive into your own inflammatory markers. 

It may surprise you to learn there are at least 200 symptoms of celiac and adults with this disease are less likely to have digestive symptoms, with only one third experiencing diarrhea. Adults with celiac are more likely to experience other symptoms including bone or joint pain, arthritis, osteoporosis, or osteopenia. 

In nutrition counseling sessions, after conducting a nutrition assessment we sometimes recommend clients be screened for celiac WHILE they are eating enough foods with gluten every day to rule it out BEFORE going through the gluten free trial. If tests come back negative, we may still recommend a gluten free trial since there may be a non-celiac gluten sensitivity. 

For some clients with a negative celiac screening, they try a gluten free plan and their pain and inflammation greatly reduce. If they have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, their pain and inflammation often come back when they go through a gluten re-introduction trial. The reintroduction process helps us determine if they are experiencing non-celiac gluten sensitivity and if they would benefit in the long term from a gluten free plan to reduce joint pain.


Foods To Avoid For Joint Pain:

  • Alcohol
  • Ultra processed foods, like white bread, crackers, chips, pasta, cake, cookies.
  • Industrial fats - take a look at ingredient lists and if it lists “partially hydrogenated”, then the food contains trans fats.   
  • Refined oils - plant oils, like vegetable oil or soybean oil, are often extracted using chemical solvents. These unhealthy fats are susceptible to oxidation, both on the shelf and in your body.
  • High sugar foods, like soda, juice, candy, pastries.
  • Gluten - if you have celiac or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and often contaminated in oats. It can be in many foods including sauces, condiments (like salad dressings), soups, and spice mixes.
  • Dairy, like milk, cheese, and yogurt, if you are dairy sensitive. Not everyone needs to avoid dairy. For example, I experience lactose intolerance, yet dairy is one of my favorite food groups. If I choose lactose free or lower lactose dairy foods, my system is okay. Experiment with cutting this out for a time and see if there's a difference in your joint pain.

We've had clients who've stopped eating foods with gluten and added sugars for a period of time who say they feel their pain return in their joints the very next day after they partake again in those foods.

Working one on one with a licensed dietitian or nutritionist can be helpful. Our goal as registered dietitian nutritionists is to not over restrict a person’s diet. I like the saying: “be the pencil and not the eraser”.  What foods can we ADD to your day, like a pencil, that help inhibit inflammation and pain?

What Anti-Inflammatory Foods Help Relieve Joint Pain? 

Just like there are foods that INCREASE the inflammation in the body, there are also foods that help DECREASE inflammation. We're looking for foods that are nutrient-dense with plenty of naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and amino acids that nourish, protect, and give energy to our cells. These foods help your body build the cartilage and ligaments that support healthy joints.

Foods To Include:

  • Fatty fish - what counts as a fatty fish? Think SMASH: Salmon (wild caught is great), Mackerel, Anchovies, Sardines, Herring. These fish offer some of the highest levels of omega 3 fatty acids from EPA and DHA. 
    • Sidenote - Some canned fish companies, such as Wild Planet® or SafeCatch®, hand pack tuna with no water, oil or filler added (no need to drain the tuna). The process results in MORE omega 3 fatty acids being retained compared to traditional canned tuna processing, making them a convenient option to enjoy for an omega-3 boost.
  • Meats, like chicken, turkey, beef. If you are in the position to “level up” in the protein department, consider looking for 100% grass-fed beef, lamb or goat, pasture-raised chicken thighs or pasture raised pork (Sidenote – pigs don’t eat grass).
  • Pasture-raised eggs chickens are NOT naturally vegetarians. For healthy chickens and eggs, we want them eating a mixture of things out in the pasture.
  • Vegetables, like dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts), sweet potato, squash. Many vegetables and fruits are high in vitamin C. Vitamin C is needed to produce collagen, the most abundant protein in the body. 
  • fruits, like apples, strawberries, blueberries, kiwi fruit, citrus fruits like oranges, peaches, and pears. Tart cherry juice and Bing cherries may support joints as they have polyphenol, anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Nuts and seeds – some of my favorites include walnuts or pecans and pumpkin seeds.
  • Whole grains and legumes, like brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, sorghum, teff, lentils, and chickpeas.
  • Healthy fats for cooking, like extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, and grass-fed butter.
  • Seasonings and natural flavor, like garlic, onion, ginger, turmeric, bone broth. Turmeric is commonly recommended for muscle recovery due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Incorporating 1-3 teaspoons in your day may have benefits.


  • Pasture-Raised refers to WHERE the animal grazed (outside on pasture). Pasture-Raised are not always grass-fed animals. The animals might be fed grain indoors by farmers, especially in the winter months (Minnesota and Wisconsin winters are COLD). Also, grass-fed animals are not always pasture-raised animals because they may spend a significant portion of time indoors.
  • Grass-Fed refers to WHAT the animal ate. ALL cows start off grass-fed. Some are also grass-finished while conventional cows are grain-finished. 

This isn't an exhaustive list of all the anti-inflammatory foods for knee pain you can choose from to reduce inflammation but they all fuel and provide the body with nutrients to reduce pain associated with inflammation.

How many of these foods with anti inflammatory properties do you eat on a regular basis?  Is your current eating plan helping to alleviate your pain or adding to it? Be the pencil and ADD some anti-inflammatory foods to your day.

fast-frittata.jpgA Day Of Foods For Less Knee Pain

A fun experiment is to try the following eating plan, or variations of it depending on your energy needs, for a week or two and keep tabs on how you feel.

Eating a diet consisting of anti-inflammatory foods (quality animal proteins, carbohydrates from vegetables and fruit, and healthy fats like those listed below) provides the nutrients that are critical for fueling your body for other health benefits as well as to reduce joint pain:

  • Breakfast: 1 serving of a Fast Frittata plus half-cup of sweet potato.
  • Mid-morning snack: Half an apple with two tablespoons of peanut butter and two ounces of nitrate-free deli meat.
  • Lunch: 4-6 ounces of salmon in the Asian Salmon Salad Recipe, half-cup of brown rice (cooked in bone broth) and at least two cups of vegetables in the salad.
  • Afternoon snack: one cup of Summer Strawberry Smoothie
  • Dinner: 4-6 ounces of grass-fed beef (such as a steak tenderloin or hamburger patty), half-cup of butternut squash, and two cups of green beans sautéed in two teaspoons of avocado oil.

Joint Supplements We Recommend

While we always emphasize food first, sometimes a healthy diet and food choices alone are not quite enough to completely kick knee and joint pain to the curb, especially if the body has been trying to fight inflammation for an extended period.

For extra healing to improve joint pain, we often recommend adding the following supplements that have an anti-inflammatory effect:

Omega-3 fatty acids are a well-known anti-inflammatory supplement that contains essential fatty acids from cold-water fatty fish, also helps reduce joint pain.

We recommend starting 3000-4000mg from EPA and DHA in fish oil supplements daily.

Curcumin is the major polyphenol and anti-inflammatory compound found in turmeric. Curcumin400 was crafted to make sure this compound is in the most bioavailable form so the body can ingest all its antioxidant properties.

We recommend two softgels daily to see how you feel.

Vitamin D3:
This is probably our top supplement we recommend to clients. Most of us don't get enough vitamin D from sunlight and can easily become deficient. Vitamin D supports your immune system, bone health, heart health and even your mood. 

Depending on your current levels we often recommend 1000-5000 IU of Vitamin D3 a day.


Recap On How To Reduce Join Pain

There are plenty of doable steps to take to relieve joint pain and improve the quality of your joints. Remove the potential food sources that may be causing inflammation in your body, like gluten, sugar, processed carbs, soda, alcohol, and inflammatory damaged fats.

Add more anti-inflammatory diet foods onto your plate, making sure to incorporate plenty of natural fats for lubrication, animal protein for the amino acids, and plenty of fruits and vegetables for their antioxidants and essential minerals and vitamins.

With your doctors okay, consider adding in a supplement to help reduce your overall inflammation, like a fish oil supplement, and a supplement that helps target healthy joints.

While changing your food sounds simple, many people find they benefit from more guidance and support, which is why a nutrition consultation is often helpful, especially if you're looking to add in some supportive supplements, but you don't know where to start.

Reach out to us if you need additional support and want a customized plan. We can help you get back to enjoying your favorite activities outdoors, in nature, all season long!


Online Class: Eating to Reduce Pain & Inflammation

Discover which foods could be causing you pain & how changing your nutrition can help in this online class.

Learn More: Eating to Reduce Pain & Inflammation


For more information on this topic, check out these resources:

Listen: Arthritis & Joint Pain

Read: Reduce Inflammation to Support Weight Loss & Metabolism

Inspire: check out Bonnie's success story where she reduced her chronic pain

NutriKey Products Mentioned:

Omega-3 1000 and Omega-3 Extra Strength - containing essential fatty acids from cold-water fish

Curcumin400- featuring innovative BioCurc®—a patented ingredient that has been shown in clinical studies to surpass the bioavailability of virtually every other curcumin/turmeric extract product on the market

Vitamin D3 1000 and Vitamin D3 5000- 1000 IUs or 5000 IUs in each softgel for the right dose in the most bioavailable form

About the author

Alyssa loves helping her clients feel empowered to make better choices and to feel positive about the food choices they make and maintain every day. "Every client has a story and I love to fully listen and absorb that to provide them with the best nutrition therapy care and support in their health journey.” Alyssa is a registered and licensed dietitian through the Minnesota Board of Nutrition and Dietetics.  She is also a licensed dietitian in Missouri and a Licensed Medical Nutrition Therapist in Nebraska.  She received her Bachelor of Science in nutrition and dietetics from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln and completed her dietetic internship at Cox College in Springfield, Missouri.  In 2019, Alyssa completed specialized training on the LOW FODMAP diet to become a MONASH FODMAP Trained dietitian. 

View all posts by Alyssa Krejci, RD, LD, LMNT

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