Knee pain is one of the most common problems that affect patients every year. Almost one-third of Americans will report experiencing knee pain at some point in their lives due to an injury like a ruptured ligament or a medical condition such as osteoarthritis and gout. Fortunately, minor knee and joint pains respond well to most self-care measures, including a proper diet.
So what foods should you avoid when you have knee pain? Ideally, you should avoid foods and beverages that lead to additional inflammation and weight gain like alcohol, red meat, and processed products. With a better diet, you can reduce the severity of joint inflammation and improve your overall quality of life.
Your diet can have a great impact on the health and longevity of your knees and joints. Eating smart can lead to benefits such as building up bone density, strengthening connective tissues, and reducing inflammation. These effects can preserve the condition of your knees and add a cushion against injuries. A balanced diet can also help you keep your weight under control so your knees won’t be too strained under the pressure.
Inflammation is often both a cause and symptom of knee pain, with symptoms like redness and swelling. Inflammation is the natural response of your immune system to irritation, disease, or injury. When inflammation occurs, your body produces a harmful byproduct called free radicals to respond to toxins and other natural processes.
However, oxidative stress happens when too many free radicals build up in the body. Oxidative stress can damage cells and tissues, including synovium and cartilage which are responsible for protecting the knee joint. Additionally, oxidative stress can trigger further joint inflammation so it’s important to avoid products with inflammatory substances.
Remember: the right diet can be healing for you but the wrong foods can cause many harmful effects. It’s best to follow a few simple tricks to keep your knees happy.
It’s hard to say for sure which foods or beverages are causing your knees pain because each person has a different body which may respond differently to certain things. There could also be other lifestyle factors like stress or lack of rest that aggravate the aches your knees feel.
When it comes to the diet, you don’t have to do a complete overhaul. The trick to figuring out which foods you can or cannot continue to enjoy is to remove two or three foods from your diet for three weeks, then reintroduce them to see which ones are causing you joint pain.
Here are some foods you can try avoiding first:
Sugar is such a common ingredient in our foods that we don’t notice its effects on us because of how much we consume daily. High blood sugar can release inflammatory cells by stimulating the immune cells, which release molecules that can irritate your tissues and joints. Fast food, processed snacks, and gluten-filled baked goods contain a lot of sugar, transfats, saturated fats, and preservatives.
Aside from causing inflammation, too much sugar can lead to obesity and heart disease. As much as possible, avoid products that use white flour or processed sugar like that in candy, ice-cream and soda. Consider natural sugar alternatives like honey, coconut sugar, and maple syrup as well.
Salt is known to attract water to the body’s cells, which can aggravate knee pain and joint inflammation. Monosodium glutamate or MSG is another food additive that is a culprit of chronic joint inflammation and enhances joint pain. Avoid foods containing too much of these ingredients, especially processed or prepackaged products like canned soup, pizza, specific types of cheese, and fast food.
Aside from harming your health in general, large quantities of alcohol intake can interfere with pain-relief drugs and other medications you may be taking for your knees. Alcohol also exacerbates symptoms of arthritis and can increase the severity and frequency of gout attacks.
People who consume diets which center on red meats like pork, beef, and lamb may find their joint pain symptoms are worse. Red meats have high levels of inflammatory markers and may contain trans fat or partially hydrogenated oil.
On the other hand, people who eat plant-based diets experience improvements with their symptoms so it’s best to reduce the quantity of red meat found in your meals.
While we do need omega-6 fatty acids in our diets, too much can be detrimental to our knees and joints. Omega-6 can boost the amount of inflammatory chemicals our bodies produce. Omega-6 can be found in various cooking oils like corn, sunflower, safflower, grapeseed, vegetable, and peanut oils. Check for these ingredients in condiments such as salad dressing and mayonnaise as well.
Although many people claim that a Mediterranean diet is the best for alleviating knee pain, there really is no one specific diet that can treat the problem directly. Generally, research tells us that healthy diets full of fish, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains can help with osteoarthritis and other knee conditions. To take better care of your health, load up your plate with these foods:
Omega-3 is a substance known to decrease morning stiffness, relieve joint pain, and reduce inflammation. Products rich in omega-3 also improve brain function and lower the risk of getting heart disease or diabetes. Eat at least two 3-ounce servings of fatty, cold-water fish weekly like salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, tuna, halibut, and sardines to fill up on omega-3. Nuts and seeds like walnuts, almonds, chia seeds, flax seed, and pine nuts are also a great source of omega-3 and protein.
Green, leafy vegetables are full of antioxidants, fibers, and calcium which can support your recovery from knee pain. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and brussel sprouts also contain a natural compound called sulforaphane. When combined with glucosinolate, another substance found in pungent plants like mustard and horseradish, sulforaphane can block the inflammatory process and slow down cartilage deterioration for osteoarthritis.
Other vegetables to include in your diet are arugula, cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, kale, and collard greens.
Spices and pungent root vegetables in the allium family can help you make your food tastier and combat the effects of knee joint inflammation. Include a lot of garlic, onions, leeks, cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric in your dishes. Research on turmeric has found it especially rich in the chemical curcumin, which works about as well as ibuprofen in soothing knee aches and pains.
Plant-based foods are rich in antioxidants, molecules that protect you from free radicals, support your immune system, and fight inflammation. Most fruits are rich in antioxidants like Vitamin C, which preserve the bones, protects cartilage cells, and boosts collagen production in the body. To boost your overall health and protect your knees from joint inflammation, eat a lot of:
Choosing anti-inflammatory, antioxidant products are not enough. Learning how to prepare and portion your meals can contribute to your overall health. Some tips you can follow for a nutritious diet include:
Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are compounds that can cause inflammation. Research has also linked AGEs to other diseases such as diabetes and atherosclerosis, a condition where fat builds up inside the artery walls of your heart. When you cook meat at a high temperature, AGEs are created. It’s better to avoid frying, roasting, broiling or microwaving your meats and opt to bake or steam them instead.
When you’re cooking, swap out butter, vegetable oil, sunflower oil, and peanut oil for olive oil instead whenever possible. Olive oil is a staple in a Mediterranean diet and it’s a source of Omega-3. According to research, olive oil also contains a compound called oleocanthal, which works as both an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant. Oleocanthal is a natural agent that works similarly to the drug ibuprofen so it will help manage any knee pain you may experience.
Your knees will feel much better if you can lose extra weight because the heavier you are, the more stress your joints will feel. Lower your calorie count by avoiding junk food and taking much smaller portions. Trick yourself into eating less by using a much smaller plate for your meals and switch out white flour in bread or pasta with whole oats, whole wheat, barley, rye, quinoa, or brown rice. Pay attention to the nutrition labels of the food you eat so you can make healthier choices based on their contents.
Don’t let knee pain and discomfort interfere with your daily routines. At The Spine & Rehab Group, we work hard to treat our patients so they live full and active lives.
Our board-certified doctors will take a comprehensive look at your condition and consider all the non-surgical, alternative, or interventional treatment options available to you. Specialists and professional staff will then work with you to develop a customized plan that can relieve your pain and promote a complete recovery. Schedule an appointment with any of our New York or New Jersey clinics so you can begin your healing process.