A diet high in vegetables helps protect the joints in a variety of ways, supplying nutrients like vitamin C, which is needed for calcium and iron absorption, collagen formation and protection against free-radical damage. The high fiber, water and other nutrient content in plant-based foods also help with weight management, making it easier to avoid obesity, which places unhealthy stress on vulnerable joints. And Harvard researchers have found a link between low vegetable consumption and the higher risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
Butternut squash is rich in beta-cryptoxanthin, a provitamin A carotenoid. In a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, subjects with the highest intake of fruit and vegetables containing beta-cryptoxanthin reduced their risk of developing polyarthritis by 50 percent. Other beta-cryptoxanthin sources include oranges, pumpkins, tangerines, and papayas.
One large red bell pepper can supply 340 percent of your daily vitamin C—and high vitamin C intakes have shown promise in reducing later risk of osteoarthritis of the knee. For 10 years, Australian researchers tracked the diets of 293 healthy adults and then used MRIs to test for osteoarthritic markers. The results showed that those adults with the highest fruit and vitamin C intakes were least likely to develop the kind of bone abnormalities that indicate incipient arthritis of the knees.
When broccoli and other cruciferous veggies are eaten, they release a compound called sulforaphane that triggers the body’s own antioxidant defenses. Research suggests that this process may block the COX-2 enzymes which cause inflammation. Broccoli sprouts are one of the most potent sources of these compounds. Other sources include cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.
Kale holds the line against osteoarthritis due to its high-calcium content, which helps slow bone loss. Other sources include nonfat dairy products, collard greens, soybeans and arugula.
Research suggests that those who meet their daily vitamin D requirements are less vulnerable to arthritis pain. This may be due to vitamin D’s anti-inflammatory benefits and its promotion of calcium absorption. Portobello mushrooms are a top vitamin D source, supplying 100 percent of daily requirements in just 3 ounces (85 grams). Other vitamin D sources include oysters, sardines and fortified nonfat milk.