Your joints are essentially pillows for your bones and cartilage. Within each joint is a pocket of synovial fluid. This yolk-like liquid works as a cushion for your cartilage when it bends to allow your bones to move over and around each other.
Every source of joint pain or inflammation is related, in some way, to either the cartilage or the synovial fluid, which is why it’s important to take care of them.
Joint pain is commonly thought of as a concern for the elderly, but the truth is it can affect anyone. Athletes, especially, are vulnerable to joint pain and need to take proper steps to ensure their joints remain healthy.
Fortunately, there are numerous foods that have the right nutrients to promote strong joints and reduce pain. The next time you go to the grocery store, keep your eyes peeled for any of the following:
1. Extra-virgin olive oil
EVOO (more commonly known as extra-virgin olive oil) is a good source of lubricin. As the name suggests, lubricin is a protein that improves the ability of synovial fluid to both protect the surrounding cartilage and serves as a lubricant. A good dose of EVOO is a lot like oiling your biological hinges. Since drinking straight olive oil is kind of gross, even for the sake of promoting joint health, it would be best to buy—or make your own at home—salad dressing or pasta dishes with EVOO instead. It also makes good oil to sauté your veggies in!Related reading: How Castor Oil Can Help Relieve Joint Pain
While EVOO works on the synovial fluid and, by extension, your cartilage, salmon helps bolster your bones. This pink fish is a great source of calcium and vitamin D—two important minerals for maintaining the strength and integrity of your skeleton. Salmon is also known for being rich in omega-3 fatty acids—an important anti-inflammatory.
Since joint pain is partially rooted in inflammation response, salmon can both strengthen your bones and help relieve existing joint paint. Although some people swear by getting their fish fresh, for the purposes of your joints, it won’t matter whether you get salmon from a can or not.
Related reading: Take Fish Oil to Help Maintain Your Joints
3. Red peppers
Vitamin C is the targeted nutrient in this category, and red peppers are riddled with the stuff. Vitamin C is used by the body for making collagen, a substance most people hear about in connection with various beauty treatments. However, collagen is also what tendons, ligaments, and cartilage are made of. Adding more vitamin C to your diet not only lets you build healthier cartilage, but it will improve restoration in cases where your cartilage has been damaged. Of course, red peppers aren’t the only foods high in vitamin C—any form of citrus is a welcome source, as are tomatoes.
Technically, it’s not the cherry that’s important. What you want is the chemical that gives cherries their red color. Any rich-colored fruits, like cherries, blueberries, or pomegranates, are good at promoting joint health. This is due to a substance called anthocyanins that is responsible for their color.
Anthocyanins also have anti-inflammatory properties, which make them good for helping to relieve joint pain caused by injury or arthritis. If you have gout, this is doubly important. In addition to helping to ease inflammation in general, there are some indicators that cherries can help reduce the number of flare-ups you will experience.
Walnuts are another good source of omega-3 fatty acids and make up an extra source of this inflammation-easing chemical. They are also delicious. Unfortunately, walnuts are also high in calories, so while they can fight joint pain, they aren’t something you should eat a lot of.
Still, you can have about a handful a day without compromising your diet and still get the benefit of their omega-3 levels. Consider munching on a few as a snack, or mix them into your salad or pasta—preferably one prepared with some extra-virgin olive oil and salmon!
Related reading: Top 10 Benefits of Eating Walnuts
This is almost as close to an all-in-one package as you can get, as far as joint health is concerned. Vitamin C for cushier cartilage, tendons, and ligaments? Check. An excellent source of calcium to get your bones nice and strong? Check. Assorted goodies, like the antioxidant beta-carotene for added protection? Also included! Admittedly, vitamin C can also be found from other vegetable sources.
In fact, any green, leafy veggie will provide vitamin C—the darker the vegetable, the more C it contains. Due to the other nutrients it has, kale is generally preferred, but if you can’t get any, things like broccoli or bok choy make good substitutes.
Your body always tries to maintain a specific level of synovial fluid and under normal conditions, this amount doesn’t change. However, if you have injured your joint, then it is probable that the level of fluid has gone down. Part of the healing process is going to involve restoring your synovial fluid, so try some soy to help move things along.
Soy is a good joint health food because it contains estrogen, which in turn affects the production of hyaluronic acid—one of the key components of synovial fluid. Soybeans, soy milk, edamame, any source of soy can help your joints restore and ease pain.
Apples are an important food for joint health for two main reasons. The first is that they are a source of quercetin, an antioxidant that’s also used in the formation of collagen. Red apples have higher quercetin levels than other types and—much like leafy greens and vitamin C—the deeper the red, the higher the quercetin levels. Apples are also a good source of magnesium, one of the nutrients capable of promoting the formation of hyaluronic acid.
In case you were wondering, hyaluronic acid has no external source. It’s produced internally and could only be found in the synovial fluid of other species. Since we don’t eat the joints of other animals, the only way to use diet to improve hyaluronic acid levels is to do things like chow down on an apple a day.
Read more: The Joint-pain-fighting Secret Inside Apples
Protect your joints with garlic! You could also use onions, leeks, or chives—these foods have organosulfur compounds in them, which, unsurprisingly, are an organic source of sulfur. Sulfur is not something normally thought of when considering diet, but for preventing joint pain, it is rather important.
Producing collagen takes a surprisingly large amount of sulfur; so some extra garlic here and there will make it easier on your joints in the long run.
It shouldn’t be too remarkable that a yolk-filled food helps out your yolk-like synovial fluid. The similarity is coincidence of course, but eggs are still high in sulfur, helping produce the cartilage shell that surrounds the fluid. Eggs can also be high in omega-3 fatty acids, making them yet another great anti-inflammatory nutrient.
Whether you’re looking to improve your cartilage cushion or ease some existing joint pain or injury, you can get both health benefits from munching down on some (cooked) eggs.
If you treat your joints right, they’ll treat you right in return. Keep these foods in mind so you can have stronger, more resilient, and pain-free joints, which in turn will allow you to live life to its fullest.
Applegate, L., “Joint Food.” Runner’s World web site, August 20, 2014; http://www.runnersworld.com/nutrition-for-runners/joint-food.
Jennings, K., “Eat Right to Maintain Healthy Joints,” WebMD web site; http://www.webmd.com/arthritis/features/joints-food, last accessed July 21, 2015.
“How to Improve Synovial Fluid With Foods,” Ehow web site; http://www.ehow.com/how_8342413_improve-synovial-fluid-foods.html, last accessed July 21, 2015.
Curinga, K., “List of Foods High in Sulfur,” Livestrong.com, April 13, 2015; http://www.livestrong.com/article/289250-list-of-foods-high-in-sulfur/.