What to eat for healthy joints

March 5, 2024
What to eat for healthy joints

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What are joints?

A joint is where two or more bones join together. They can be rigid or movable dependent on where they are located in the body. Many bones have cartilage at the end where they meet; keeping cartilage healthy allows the bones to glide over one another and protects bones from rubbing and damaging each other. Physical activity, a healthy diet, adequate sleep and avoiding injuries are key to maintaining joint health.

Read on to discover how to eat for healthy joints.

Which nutrients are important for healthy joints?

Ideally, aim to eat a healthy, nutrient-dense diet that includes proteinvitamins and minerals – including vitamins D and K, calcium, vitamin C and collagen for robust, protective cartilage.


Protein is key for bone health and for building strong connective tissue; eating too little may also lead to a loss of muscle mass and reduced strength. As we age, problems with digestion combined with poor appetite may result in an inadequate protein intake. Studies suggest older adults should ideally consume between 1.2-2g of protein per kg of body weight each day.

Poultry, fish and plant-based proteins such as beans and pulses are great options.

Healthy fats

Oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines and trout contain a potent form of an essential fatty acid called omega-3. This fat dampens inflammation and may help to relieve stiffness by lubricating joints. Aim for two portions of fish per week, of which at least one should be an oily variety. Use gentle methods of cooking such as poaching and baking to protect these beneficial oils.

Other sources of omega-3 fats include nuts and seeds, such as walnuts, flaxseed and chia seeds.

Vitamins and phytonutrients

Eating a rainbow of fresh, dried and/or frozen fruit and vegetables will mean your diet is full of protective vitamins and phytonutrients that may help reduce the damage caused by inflammation. Stars of the show include kale and broccoli, which research has shown may protect joints from damage, thanks to a compound called sulforaphane.

Two specific vitamins needed for bones and joints are vitamins D and K. These play a role in our absorption of calcium, which is key to maintaining bone strength. Eggs and oily fish are useful sources of vitamin D, while green leafy vegetables and fermented foods – including live yogurt – may help support vitamin K levels. Vitamin C from citrus, strawberries and peppers may help support the production of collagen, which is an important component of cartilage.

Other useful food sources of protective phytonutrients include green tea, pomegranate, berries, ginger and turmeric.


Calcium, magnesium and phosphorus all play a part in maintaining bone health and ensuring cartilage in joints remains healthy.

Useful food sources include dairy produce, small-boned fish (such as sardines and anchovies), green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds (such as almonds and sesame seeds), tofu and apricots.

What might limit my nutritional intake?

Certain medications interfere with the metabolism of vitamins and minerals, especially folate, vitamin B6, zinc and magnesium. Low levels of nutrients like B vitamins (which includes folate and B12) may increase your risk of joint degeneration, so include dark green leafy veg as well as wholegrains like rice, buckwheat and amaranth.

To optimise the nutritional benefits from wholegrains, consider soaking them overnight – this reduces levels of a natural anti-nutrient called phytic acid, which means you will absorb more of their nutritional goodness. Try this with oats, amaranth and quinoa.

Is there anything I should avoid?

Some arthritis sufferers have reported that omitting certain foods has helped alleviate their symptoms. Foods cited include oranges, tomatoes and peppers as well as dairy foods and wheat. However, to date there is no scientific evidence to support these claims so it may be worth keeping a food diary to see what works for you.

Don’t omit any major food groups from your diet without seeking the advice of your GP or dietician first.

For more information, visit Arthritis Research UK.

Regular gentle exercise will help your joints

What else can I do to protect my joints?

  • Keep to a healthy weight – for every extra pound you lose, you can reduce the load on your joints three-fold.
  • Stay active – aim for 30 minutes of gentle exercise most days. Try joint-supportive activities such as swimming.
  • Rest your joints regularly – listen to your body and know when you need to take time out.
  • Stop smoking – those who smoke are twice as likely to develop cartilage loss.
  • Boost vitamin D levels – the action of sunlight on your skin promotes the production of vitamin D. Low levels of the ‘sunshine’ vitamin are associated with osteoarthritis, so head outside in the morning or late afternoon when the sun is less intense.
  • Medicate mindfully – take painkillers with or after your meals to prevent gut discomfort – ask your GP for guidance.

Recipes for healthy joints

Amaranth porridge with green tea & ginger compote
Berry bircher
Vegan kale pesto pasta
Sesame salmon, purple sprouting broccoli & sweet potato mash
Salmon & purple sprouting broccoli grain bowl
Lemon & marjoram sardines with walnut & pepper dressing
Ponzu tofu poke bowl

For more information on joint health read our top five diet tips to help ease arthritis and visit Arthritis Research UK.

This page was last updated on 6 February 2024 by Kerry Torrens.

Kerry Torrens is a qualified Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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