The Arthritis Diet Myth

While it's enticing to load up your plate with the latest findings, nutritionists caution that there is no specific "OA diet," and consuming large quantities of just a few "proven" foods can be harmful.

"A bad diet is any diet that is extreme, because you do not want to put yourself at risk for deficiencies that may affect how your body functions - your muscle strength, your muscle tone," says Carol Wolin-Riklin, a licensed dietician and nutrition coordinator at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston.

Instead, nutritionists recommend that a healthy, balanced diet full of whole grains, fruits and vegetables with less emphasis on meats and dairy is the best way to make long-term improvements to your health.

"There is some indication that more of a plant-based diet – not necessarily a vegetarian diet, but more of your food coming from plant-based sources – could be beneficial and anti-inflammatory," Sandon says. "If you are consuming a more animal-based diet, you are consuming more saturated fat, which can be pro-inflammatory and aggravate your arthritis more."

Also be aware that how foods affect inflammation varies from person to person. While no studies have definitively concluded that foods in the nightshade family – potatoes, peppers, tomatoes and eggplants – are harmful, for example, some people report that it increases pain, while others say these foods do not bother them. 

"There's no specific OA diet," says Wolin-Riklin. "It's not one size fits all."

Making Diet Changes

Before you start any new dietary change, talk to your healthcare provider or registered dietitian, who can suggest ways to adjust your diet to help alleviate inflammation and pain.

"The best thing when you're looking to get into a healthier pattern is to start with small changes – like giving up drinks with sugar in them," Wolin-Riklin says. "Liquid calories are really one of the leading causes of weight gain that I see in my practice. Some of my patients can take in 1,000 calories above what their body needs to function every day just in sodas in sweet tea and juices."

Taking control of your diet by reducing sugary drinks and eating more fruits and vegetables, experts agree, can help in more ways than just reducing your weight.

"It's about being an active participant in your care," Wolin-Riklin says. "That's one of the ways you can actively be involved in getting yourself better and getting yourself functioning and feeling better. The doctor directs your medications, your tests, [but] this is one thing you can direct, and family members feel like they can help and have an impact when it comes to food."