What are the 6 Worst Foods to Eat When You Have Arthritis?

Medicare Benefits Solutions
Jul 18, 2022

Arthritis can start out as discomfort in your joints, but it can escalate to severe pain that keeps you from performing daily tasks or enjoying activities. Whether you have mild, moderate, or severe arthritis, you may benefit from lifestyle changes that could reduce your symptoms.

Eating an arthritis-friendly diet can improve your quality of life, so understanding what foods to avoid can be an important step in managing your arthritis symptoms.

Common Types of Arthritis

Arthritis, described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as “inflammation or swelling of one or more joints,” is a broad term for a disorder encompassing over 100 types.
Some of the more common types of arthritis include:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Psoriatic Arthritis
  • Childhood Arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Gout
  • Lupus

Managing arthritis involves implementing strategies that lessen your symptoms. Knowing what foods can aggravate arthritis symptoms may help you stay active, manage your weight, and protect your joints.

One way to reduce the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis is knowing what not to eat.

Worst Foods to Eat if You Have Arthritis

If your doctor encourages you to practice self-management as part of your arthritis treatment, you are likely following an anti-inflammatory diet. At the same time that you are learning which foods can help ease your discomfort, be mindful of the worst foods to eat for arthritis. This approach may be beneficial during social occasions when you are presented with multiple choices, making strict adherence to a diet plan impractical.

The following are the six worst foods to eat if you have arthritis.

1. Foods with added sugars

As a general rule, health professionals urge everyone to minimize sugar intake, but this is especially true for people with arthritis. In 2015, researchers conducted a diet survey that included 217 rheumatoid arthritis (RA) participants.

Researchers asked the participants to eat a range of foods and provide feedback on which foods made their symptoms better, worse, or unchanged. “Soda with sugar (12.7%) and desserts (12.4%) were the most frequently noted to worsen RA symptoms among subjects who consumed them.”

2. Highly processed foods

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines processed food as a combination of products beyond what the USDA classifies as agricultural products. An article published in the National Library of Medicine explains that “food processing refers to any procedure that alters food from its natural state.”

Processed foods can range from minimal to moderate to highly processed. Highly processed foods possess so many ingredients and formulas that the food items are no longer recognizable as their source.

Examples of highly processed foods include soda, frozen meals, luncheon meats, pastries, processed cheese, and candy. The concern is salt content, additives and sugar that may contribute to inflammation and weight gain.

4. Nightshade vegetables

Nightshade vegetables are a part of a plant family that contain a substance named solanine, which can cause inflammation in some people. Trace amounts of solanine are found in tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, cayenne pepper, paprika and white potatoes.

While these are otherwise healthy foods, some people with arthritis have reported worsening symptoms when eating foods in the nightshade family. Studies have not proven a conclusive link between nightshade vegetables and inflammation, but if you find that these vegetables bring on any pain, you may want to avoid them.

5. High-sodium foods

According to Augusta University/University of Georgia (AU/UGA) Medical Partnership, animal and cell studies suggest that a high-sodium diet prompts immune cells, like T-cells, to produce more pro-inflammatory molecules.

Processed foods tend to have a higher sodium content. Although canned goods can be a great kitchen staple to keep in your pantry, they often contain added sodium. Get in the habit of reading food labels and look for low sodium or salt-free alternatives.

6. High-fat dairy products

A diet loaded in saturated fat can cause an inflammatory response in some people. Full-fat dairy products fit into this category, but dairy has also been touted for health benefits.

The Arthritis Foundation cited a study that found osteoarthritis patients on a high-dairy diet were more likely to require a hip replacement. However, studies show that consuming milk and yogurt may reduce the risk of gout.

Whether or not eating high-fat dairy will evoke flare-ups will vary from one person to another. You might try eliminating dairy and reintroducing it gradually to see how your body responds. There are also many non-dairy alternatives to choose from such as coconut milk yogurt, dairy-free cheese, and vegan butter.

The Importance of Gut Health in Arthritis

The Arthritis Foundation stresses your gastrointestinal (GI) tract’s critical role in your overall health. Your gut is home to the greatest quantity of immune cells of all the organs in your body.

A diet filled with functional foods plays a crucial role in optimizing the health of your gut. A varied, plant-based, anti-inflammatory diet can also help bring relief to arthritis symptoms. Also, to help manage any chronic condition try to exercise on a regular basis, get a good night’s sleep, and manage stress.

Managing Arthritis by Avoiding Certain Foods

Depending on your individual needs, your doctor may recommend a variety of different therapies or medications to help manage your arthritis. There are things you can do every day to help reduce your symptoms and keep your pain levels low.

Understanding what foods to avoid, like high sodium products and processed foods, can help you plan and prepare meals. Following a specific menu plan, such as the DASH Diet can also help manage inflammation symptoms. 

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