A crucial element of health often overlooked until later life, our joints are integral to keeping us moving and doing the things we love. We even need them just to walk and talk! Making joint health a priority earlier in life can help ensure our joints remain in tip-top condition down the line – prevention is better than cure!
Typically, chronic joint pain and conditions linked to this, such as arthritis, are caused by inflammation within the tissues of the joints. Therefore, choosing foods that help fight inflammation can help protect joint health, and may even help alleviate existing pain.
Now, it's important to note that no single food can prevent or cure joint pain/arthritis. Taking a whole-diet approach by consuming a variety of these foods regularly over a long period of time is where we tend to see results.
We know nuts are a great source of healthy fats, but walnuts in particular are high in a special type of fat called omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties, lessening the production of pro-inflammatory markers that might be responsible for joint pain. They're also a source of vitamin E, which acts as an antioxidant within the body. Antioxidants may protect our joint tissue from being damaged by chronic inflammation.
All nuts provide a dose of healthy unsaturated fats, so don't worry if walnuts don't float your boat. Almonds are known for being packed with vitamin E, while Brazil nuts are one of the best sources of selenium, which is also an antioxidant.
One of the many benefits of tasty cherries is that they're rich in anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are what give cherries their iconic pinky-red colour, and they also have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. A study discovered that drinking tart cherry juice decreased blood levels of a compound called uric acid, which is heavily implicated in a type of arthritis called gout. Of course, this is only one study, but the findings are interesting nonetheless, particularly if you already love cherry juice!
Again, if you're not a cherry fan, you can also include other berries to harness the antioxidant power of anthocyanins – raspberries, blueberries and blackberries are all good sources.
Famed as the secret behind the long healthy lives of people in Mediterranean regions, olive oil is one of the richest sources of mono-unsaturated fatty acids, which may have anti-inflammatory properties. It's also rich in antioxidants, including one type called oleocanthal. Research has shown this compound may actually work to address pain through the same pathway as NSAIDs like ibuprofen!
Like all fats, olive oil is higher in calories, so just make sure to carefully measure your olive oil if you're looking to lose weight, using scales or spoon measures.
The humble carrot makes our list because it's packed with beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A and a powerful antioxidant. Beta-carotene may also play a role in affecting inflammation pathways, reducing pro-inflammatory markers. It's also the compound that gives carrots their signature orange hue. Carrots also contain other antioxidants, including zeaxanthin and lutein.
You can also include other types of orange veg to get the same benefits, including sweet potatoes, butternut squash and pumpkins.
When it comes to omega 3s and anti-inflammation, our list wouldn't be complete without oily fish. I'm talking salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines, pilchards and tuna steaks (not the tinned stuff I'm afraid!).
Oily fish is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known for their positive effects on reducing inflammation. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids has been linked with a reduced risk of rheumatoid arthritis. The types of omega-3 found in oily fish (DHA and EPA) are the best form for our bodies to absorb and use.
While these ingredients are often famed for their anti-inflammatory benefits, much of the evidence is based on animal studies. More research is needed in humans to truly understand how effective they are in specifically promoting joint health. It's worth noting we tend not to eat these foods in very high quantities, which raises further questions around how significantly they can impact our health. Of course, both are tasty additions to a variety of dishes, so there's no harm in including them and seeing if they work for you personally.
Nutritionist Emma White (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.