The best foods for joint health

Research suggests that what you eat may play a role in joint health, but which diet is best? And can individual foods make a difference? Here’s what you need to know.

Written by Medibank
July 2023

If you’re wondering what you can do to look after your joints, there’s good news. From exercising strategically, to maintaining a healthy weight and doing what you can to avoid an injury, it turns out there are many different things that can help you achieve your goal. And among them is making some smart dietary choices. 

Here’s what to put on your plate if you’re interested in improving your joint health.


2 men cooking in the kitchen

Which foods are best for knee joints and ligaments?

The best foods for knee joints are likely to be the same foods that support all joints and, generally speaking, it’s probably choosing a pattern of eating that has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body, while avoiding diets with a higher inflammatory potential, that may help. Keep reading to learn more about why an anti-inflammatory diet supports joint health, and which specific foods can help to produce the effect. 

What is the best BMI for joint health?

There’s no denying there’s a link between weight and joint health – in fact, being overweight is considered the biggest risk factor for developing knee osteoarthritis.

You can read more about how weight impacts joint health below, but when it comes to what the ideal body mass index (BMI) is for joints, the key thing to keep in mind is that maintaining a healthy weight can make a significant difference. 

What is an anti-inflammatory diet for osteoarthritis?

Diet can play an important role in helping to prevent a number of chronic diseases, and one of the ways it does this is by regulating inflammation – and research has shown that chronic, low-grade inflammation is involved in the development of osteoarthritis. 

Unlike acute inflammation, which is the body’s response to a temporary infection or injury, chronic inflammation often begins without the presence of illness or injury and it’s persistent, lasting for months or even years. While the cause of chronic inflammation isn’t fully understood, it has been linked to an increased risk of a variety of health problems.

Eating an anti-inflammatory diet can help protect against chronic inflammation.  

This may help explain why research not only suggests there’s a link between eating an anti-inflammatory and improved quality of life for people living with osteoarthritis, but that targeting how inflammatory the diet is may play a role in reducing the risk of knee osteoarthritis.

5 foods that may fight inflammation of joints

Research shows there is some link between adhering to an anti-inflammatory diet, which is rich in minimally processed plant-based foods and where fish and poultry feature more often than red meat, as a whole, rather than simply eating one or two foods that contribute to it, that may provide an anti-inflammatory effect. However, there are some particular foods you could consider eating more of, for the sake of your joint health. 

1. Oily fish

Fish such as sardines and salmon are among the richest sources of marine-sourced omega-3 fats, which may help to reduce inflammation. Omega-3 fish oils are also a common component of joint health supplements, however it’s important to ask your doctor before you start taking any supplements.

2. Olive oil

A key ingredient of an anti-inflammatory diet, olive oil is a rich source of polyphenols, a type of antioxidant which some research suggests has an anti-inflammatory effect. 

3. Turmeric

This contains a natural compound called curcumin, which research shows is anti-inflammatory. In fact, a 2020 study found that a joint support supplement containing turmeric showed some promise in relieving osteoarthritis knee pain.

4. Blueberries

Rich in antioxidants, research suggests that when eaten daily, blueberries may improve both pain and inflammation for people living with knee osteoarthritis.

5. Walnuts

These are a good source of proteins, phenolic compounds and unsaturated fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties. 

Inflammatory foods to avoid

In the same way that some dietary patterns can help to lower inflammation in the body, others have been linked to higher levels of inflammation. 

For example the typical ‘Western diet’, low in fruits, vegetables and other plant-foods and rich in calorie-dense, ultra-processed foods, is considered pro-inflammatory. 

So, as well as eating a diet that’s rich in plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and legumes, as well as olive oil and oily fish, try to reduce your intake of foods that may fuel inflammation. These include foods high in saturated and trans fats, such as fried foods, commercially baked goods and fatty cuts of meat. 

How does being overweight affect your joints?

There are a couple of different reasons why weight can impact joint health. For starters, carrying excess weight creates extra load for joints. However, fatty tissue can also have an inflammatory effect on joints – and as you’ve just read, inflammation may contribute to the development of osteoarthritis.  

How to achieve and maintain a healthy weight  

The good news is the same Mediterranean diet that’s potentially anti-inflammatory for your joints, has also been shown to protect against being overweight, too. Other tips to achieve healthy weight loss include:

  • Keeping a food diary. Writing down everything you eat and drink, as well as how you’re feeling and your hunger level at those times, for a couple of weeks may help you to identify any patterns or themes in your eating habits. For example, it might show that you tend to choose certain foods depending on your mood or the environment you’re in. 
  • Identifying and tackling habits that encourage weight gain. Food-related habits that can lead to weight gain include things like eating in response to your emotions, snacking mindlessly throughout the evening and ‘distracted eating’. Social eating, for example eating differently when you’re around certain people, is another one. Noticing any of these after reviewing your food diary is an opportunity to start making healthier choices. For example, you might choose to phone a friend rather than eating something the next time you’re stressed. Or you might make a conscious effort to eat lunch away from your desk to avoid ‘distracted eating’.
  • Avoiding fad weight-loss diets. You may lose weight while you’re following them, but as soon as you quit, the weight is likely to creep back on. And over time, this kind of yoyo dieting can actually lead to greater weight gain in the long run thanks to the impact it has on metabolism. Just remember that if the weight-loss strategies you’re using aren’t things you can do for the rest of your life, any weight you lose is unlikely to stay off. Instead, it’s making small, achievable changes to the way you eat that’s likely to deliver long-lasting results.
Senior couple

Better Knee, Better Me

This 12-month program combines personalised plans for exercise, weight loss and pain management that aims to help eligible members better manage painful knee osteoarthritis and help reduce the impact it has on their quality of life. Clinical and product eligibility criteria apply.

Read more about taking care of your joints

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Things you need to know

While we hope you find this information helpful, please note that it is general in nature. It is not health advice, and is not tailored to meet your individual health needs. You should always consult a trusted health professional before making decisions about your health care. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them. For these reasons we are unable to accept responsibility for any loss that may be sustained from acting on this information (subject to applicable consumer guarantees).