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7 Foods That Protect Joints

Athletes can use diet to fight signs of arthritis.

While some cracking joints can be normal, arthritis is on the rise, particularly among young people. In her new book, Healing Arthritis, Susan Blum, M.D., founder of Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook, New York, warns that one of the biggest misconceptions about the disease is that it only affects the elderly.

"Of the many types of arthritis, osteoarthritis is the wear and tear variety that commonly affects athletes. People who lift and squat a lot often get it in their knees or hips and now we’re seeing it happen at a younger age,” says Blum. "And rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune condition that typically starts in the forties, is now being diagnosed in the twenties and thirties."

There are a number of contributing factors behind the shift including genetics, stress, as well as infections or injuries to the joints. However, a compromised microbiome and lack of gut diversity (which can result from a poor diet and thus increased inflammation) put you at greater risk, notes Blum. 

If you’re already experiencing post-workout joint pain, have a family history of arthritis, or just want to offset the potential negative effects, adding foods rich in polyphenols to your diet can both curb inflammation and support the gut. Says Blum, “Recent research shows polyphenols influence the function of gut flora—they stimulate the expression of good genes within the healthy bacteria.”  

Here, seven foods to incorporate into your meals.

Red beets
"These are at the top of my list because they’re very high in antioxidants," says Blum. "I recommend roasting them instead of potatoes, which are a nightshade and can be inflammatory. Try them as a side with eggs in the morning or grilled meat at dinner."

Tea
In addition to its ability to fight free radicals, the compound L-theanine in tea could minimize stress by promoting relaxation. Blum suggests subbing black, green, or red brews for coffee and adding a second cup in the afternoon to reduce the daily accumulation of oxidative stress, which can plague the joints.

Artichokes
In addition to beneficial phytochemicals, the vegetable contains prebiotics—indigestible fibers that feed healthy bacteria in the gut.

Cloves
"They're an unsung hero in your spice cabinet but one that packs the most polyphenols,” says Blum. Get a daily dose with seasonal spiced cider made from apples (another inflammation-fighter), cloves, and cinnamon.

Camu camu
Supplementing with vitamin C has been shown to have a positive effect on arthritis by reducing oxidative stress, notes Blum, so this Amazonian berry (which touts a high amount) is worth trying. 

Olive oil
"Choose extra virgin, which is cold-pressed once and contains the most polyphenols," says Blum. “Virgin is cold-pressed twice, reducing the count, and a more basic bottle will go through three extractions, minimizing that positive inflammation-fighting effect even further."

Walnuts
These are rich in omega 3s, which not only combat inflammation but also promote heart health and good cholesterol levels.