You may not realize it, but the foods you eat can affect your arthritis pain and symptoms. Inflammation, a major cause of arthritis, is often made worse (or better) because of a person’s diet.
Certain foods can either promote or suppress inflammation in our bodies. By eating anti-inflammatory foods, such as leafy greens and colorful vegetables, and avoiding inflammatory foods, you may be able to ease arthritis pain and symptoms.
Here’s a guide to the foods you should steer clear of in order to help your arthritis.
Avoid processed foods, such as baked goods and prepackaged meals and snacks. These items contain trans fats to help preserve them, and trans fats trigger systemic inflammation. To dodge trans fats, avoid any foods labeled as containing partially hydrogenated oils.
Omega-6 fatty acids
Corn, peanut, sunflower, safflower, and soy oils, as well as most meats, are high in omega-6 fatty acids, which are only healthy in small doses. Excessive omega-6 consumption can trigger inflammatory chemicals.
Sugar and certain sugar alternatives
Foods that contain refined sugar—including pastries, chocolate, candy, soda, and even fruit juices—trigger the release of proteins in the body called cytokines, which cause inflammation. Sugar is labeled many ways in food items; in addition to sugar, watch out for corn syrup, fructose, sucrose, or maltose in the ingredient list.
Cutting back on regular sugar may lead people to seek out foods made with sugar alternatives, such as aspartame and sucralose, when a sweet tooth hits. However, some people are sensitive to these substances, which can cause an inflammatory response from the body. Sugar alternatives are often found in diet sodas, gum, sugar-free candy, and low-fat yogurt and pudding.
Red meat and fried foods
Meat—especially red meat—is high in saturated fats, which cause high cholesterol and inflammation. On top of this, meat also contains high levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) that stimulate inflammation, particularly when meat is cooked by broiling, grilling, roasting, or frying. 1
It’s not just fried chicken you should avoid, though. Other fried foods, such as donuts and french fries, contain trans fats in addition to AGEs.
White flour products, such as white bread, white pasta, and crackers, are considered refined carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates, also called refined grains, cause a spike in blood glucose, which has been shown to increase inflammation in the body.
Another factor to consider about grains: People with gluten sensitivities may experience joint pain and inflammation from consuming wheat products.
Mono-sodium glutamate (MSG)
You might want to think twice before ordering Chinese takeout. Mono-sodium glutamate (MSG) is a food additive that can trigger inflammation and is commonly found in prepared Asian food, as well as prepared soups and salad dressings, deli meats, and fast food.
Cheese and high-fat dairy
Cheese, butter, cream cheese, margarine, and mayonnaise are all high in both saturated fats and advanced glycation end products (AGEs)—they’re big inflammation triggers and should be consumed sparingly. However, a recent study found that some dairy products, especially fermented dairy products like greek yogurt, are anti-inflammatory for people who are not sensitive to cow’s milk.2
Avoiding foods and drinks that trigger inflammation is not just good for your arthritis. An anti-inflammatory diet can also help prevent other chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
Before you despair that everything tasty seems to be off-limits if you want to practice an anti-inflammatory diet, keep in mind that a few simple swaps can often make the difference between healthy and unhealthy food choices. For example, cook with olive oil instead of corn oil, or swap out white bread for whole grain bread.
- Uribarri J, Woodruff S, Goodman S, et al. Advanced glycation end products in foods and a practical guide to their reduction in the diet. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010;110(6):911–16.e12. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2010.03.018
- Bordoni A, Danesi F, Dardevet D, Dupont D, Fernandez AS, Gille D, Nunes Dos Santos C, Pinto P, Re R, Rémond D, Shahar DR, Vergères G. Dairy products and inflammation: A review of the clinical evidence. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2017 Aug 13;57(12):2497-2525. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2014.967385. Review. PubMed PMID: 26287637.