Although many studies show that maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most important components of managing – or even preventing – osteoarthritis (OA), there are no specific nutritional guidelines for what an arthritis diet should be.

Instead, most doctors recommend eating a healthy diet. What does that mean?

“Think small when eating,” recommends Ruth Frechman, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “As you get older you have to eat less to stay the same weight.”

But portion size isn't the only way to maintain a healthy weight for arthritis. The Food and Drug Administration, which regularly issues guidelines for Americans, recommends a balanced diet with a primary focus on plant-based foods. Approximately two-thirds of your diet should include fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The other one-third should include fat-free or low-fat dairy products and lean sources of protein.

Include All Food Groups for a Healthy Arthritis Diet

Fruit

Eating variety of fresh, frozen or dried fruit daily is important, but go easy on fruit juice, which can be high in sugar. Recommended servings of fruit vary with age, gender and level of activity. For adults that can be 1½ to 2 cups per day. The recommended amount can be reached with a large banana, an orange and a ¼ cup of dried fruit, for example.

Vegetables

Vegetables, especially dark green and orange vegetables, and dried beans and peas are essential to a healthy diet. As with fruit, recommended amounts of vegetables depend on your age, gender and level of activity. For adults, figure 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day from: 

  • dark green vegetables such as spinach, greens and broccoli 
  • orange vegetables such as sweet potatoes, squash and carrots
  • dried beans and peas such as black beans, black-eyed peas or garbanzo beans

Whole Grains

Your daily meals should also include whole grains – foods made with the entire grain kernel, including whole-wheat flour, bulgur, oatmeal, whole cornmeal and brown rice. The fiber in whole grains makes them a better choice than refined grains, such as white flour, white rice and white bread, which have no fiber. Eat three ounces of whole grains daily from foods such as brown or wild rice, buckwheat, oatmeal, popcorn, and whole wheat bread, pasta, crackers and tortillas.

Dairy

Calcium-rich dairy products are important in a healthy diet. Choose low- or no-fat milk, cheese and yogurt. Adults need about 3 cups of dairy per day. One and a half ounces of cheese, for example, equals 1 cup of milk.

Protein

Most Americans get enough protein each day; the challenge is to choose lean or low-fat sources, such as chicken, seafood, beans, peas, nuts and seeds. Broiling, grilling or baking poultry and fish can help lessen the amount of added oil and fat in your diet.