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Top 5 Worst Foods for Arthritis

If you suffer from arthritis, you need to know about how these five foods can make your symptoms worse – and how avoiding them can help you a lot.

Looking for relief from arthritis symptoms? Some of the foods you’re eating might be making symptoms worse. Read on to learn about the five worst foods for arthritis.

What Is Arthritis?

Arthritis is an umbrella term for a group of conditions that cause pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints, along with a variety of other uncomfortable symptoms. The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, which separates it from the other forms of arthritis in several ways. This condition stems from an oversensitive immune system that causes swelling in the joints.

Other symptoms that come alongside rheumatoid arthritis include:

Pain that is localized to certain joints, as well as back and muscle aches

Fatigue and excessive tiredness

Lumps, bumps, and red patches on the skin

Dry mouth

A “pins and needles” sensation

Rheumatoid arthritis is sometimes treated with prescription painkillers. However, people with this autoimmune disorder often need to change or adapt their diet or lifestyle to get long-term relief. Removing certain foods from your diet may reduce your symptoms if you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, and switching up other aspects of your lifestyle may help as well (more on that shortly).


Unlike rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis isn’t an autoimmune disorder. Instead, this type of arthritis is primarily caused by the protective cartilage in the joints either wearing down over time or wearing down because of excess stress.

Pain from osteoarthritis is usually localized to the joints in your back, hips, knees, or neck, and the condition often affects several joints at once.

This type of arthritis can be tough to manage, but people with osteoarthritis often find relief from prescription medications.

In more severe cases, a doctor might recommend that a patient with osteoarthritis goes through surgery. However, the standard approach to treating osteoarthritis usually starts with medicine, physical therapy, occupational therapy (if needed), and lifestyle modifications before moving on to procedures like surgery.

Can Your Diet Make Arthritis Symptoms Worse?

If you’re looking for new ways to better manage your arthritis symptoms, an easy place to start is with your daily meals. The food you eat each day can majorly impact your arthritis for better or for worse, and even small changes to your diet may make a big difference.

So, how are diet and arthritis linked? Below are three key connections between what you eat and the severity of your arthritis symptoms.

Your Weight May Impact Your Arthritis

Higher body weight is associated with the development of certain types of arthritis, and what you eat impacts your body composition.

Choosing healthy foods and maintaining a weight within a healthy range may help to prevent the development or exacerbation of arthritis symptoms.

Why does your weight affect your chances of developing arthritis? Here are the two primary reasons.

Increased body weight puts more strain on your joints. When your joints can’t handle the amount of weight that they carry, you’re more likely to experience arthritis symptoms. The increased strain on your joints from heavy body weight is just one of the connections between weight and your arthritis symptoms.

Regular physical activity may help you maintain healthy joints. Exercise, even low-impact workouts like walks, can help keep your joints in good shape and minimize the risk of developing arthritis. In addition, regular exercise also helps you maintain a healthy body weight. That means that if you exercise consistently and keep your weight at a normal level for your age and height, you’re less likely to develop arthritis.

An Unhealthy Diet Can Lead to Increased Inflammation

What you eat has a major impact on your body as a whole, not just your weight. When you fill your plate with lots of high-fat, heavily processed food, you’re setting yourself up to deal with increased inflammation. This inflammation may increase your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis, the type of arthritis that stems from an immune system disorder, is often triggered by inflammation. An unhealthy diet can increase your risk of developing this condition in two ways.

First, unhealthy food gives your body more of what it doesn’t need – bad fats, unnecessary additives, and tons of refined sugar. Second, unhealthy food deprives your body of what it does need – vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and other essential nutrients that help to fight off inflammation.

A Diet Low in Nutrients Puts You at Greater Risk

Research on rheumatoid arthritis shows that the condition progresses much faster in people with a vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D, like many other nutrients, is often scarce in the highly processed food that comprises the Standard American Diet. Without vitamin D and other necessary nutrients, your body will be more vulnerable to developing rheumatoid arthritis and a host of other health problems.

What Are the Worst Foods for Arthritis?

Just like certain habits put you at greater risk of developing arthritis, other habits decrease the risk of developing the condition at some point in your life. If you want to be proactive in your arthritis prevention efforts, one of the best steps to take is intentionally avoiding or limiting certain foods.

1) Refined Sugar and Carbohydrates

Refined sugar is associated with increased inflammation, which is bad news for people with either form of arthritis. Since there is a direct correlation between inflammation and arthritis symptoms, you may want to steer clear from added sugar as much as possible if you want to keep pain and discomfort to a minimum.

However, avoiding refined sugar completely can be tough, especially in the age of highly processed foods and pre-packaged meals. There’s added sugar in more foods than you might think, from granola and cereal to dairy products and dried fruit.

Thankfully, you still may be able to ease some of your arthritis symptoms with even a slight reduction in sugar consumption.

The primary culprits when it comes to added sugar are:

Soda, which has virtually no nutritional value and often contains almost your entire daily limit for sugar. Sugar might be tasty, but it’s best to keep soda to an absolutely minimum if you have arthritis – and even if you don’t.

Similarly, fruit juices are full of both natural and added sugars that can cause a blood sugar spike. While they offer some health benefits like vitamin C, they should be consumed in moderation.

Pre-packaged, processed snack foods are hyper-palatable but don’t usually contain many nutrients. Processed snack foods that you’d find in your average vending machine typically aren’t ideal for anyone to eat on a regular basis. These foods are best eaten in moderation – especially the ones that contain excessive amounts of added sugar.

Refined or simple carbohydrates include white flour, pasta, white rice, and potatoes. These break down fast in your body just like sugary goods are, which can lead to inflammation if consumed regularly in high amounts.

2) Processed Foods With Minimal Nutrients

Those snack foods that we were just talking about often contain plenty of sugar, making them problematic for people with arthritis. However, there are more problems with processed food than just sugar alone.

Highly processed foods often trade in nutritional value for what’s often called “hyper-palatability.” These foods taste almost too good, making them borderline addictive. However, they provide your body with virtually nothing that it needs to thrive.

In addition to having little to offer in terms of nutrition, highly processed snack foods often contain plenty of ingredients that you want to avoid. These include synthetic preservatives, artificial sweeteners, synthetic colors and dyes, and, here in America, lots of high fructose corn syrup.

To keep your arthritis symptoms in check and promote better health overall, it’s best to avoid these foods when you can. Instead, hone in on fresh, whole foods like vegetables, citrus fruit like grapefruit (which is full of vitamin C), berries like blackberries, cherries, or blueberries for antioxidants, whole grains like brown rice or barley, and spices like turmeric — these are all foods rich in antioxidants and sustaining nutrients that can help keep inflammation at bay while giving your body the support it needs to thrive as best as it can.

3) Excessive Alcohol

Drinking too much alcohol is another habit that is associated with higher levels of inflammation. That means that those wild nights spent partying aren’t doing you any favors if you have arthritis. When you wake up in the morning after partying too hard, you might find that your hangover is accompanied by excessive stiffness and joint pain.

Nevertheless, you might not need to quit alcohol completely to experience a change in your arthritis symptoms. A drink or two on occasion shouldn’t cause you any trouble – it’s when you drink excessively that you might deal with problems. Moderation is the key with alcohol, whether or not you have arthritis.

4) Too Much Salt

If you eat too much salt, your cells can become prone to drawing more water to themselves. This attraction of water can aggravate the symptoms of arthritis, causing more swelling, stiffness, and pain in your joints.

Because ultra-processed foods are some of the worst offenders when it comes to high salt content, these are the foods you want to limit to minimize arthritis symptoms. Too much salt can also be a risk factor for heart disease.

Instead of packaged foods and processed red meats high in salty preservatives, choose lean proteins and fish like salmon, tuna, or mackerel, which are full of omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids that both counter inflammation and support healthy joints!

5) Not Enough Water

Dehydration is problematic in too many ways to count, and it’s especially disastrous if you suffer from any type of arthritis. When you’re hydrated, your body has the fluids that it needs to mitigate joint stiffness and pain. In contrast, dehydration can make stiffness and other arthritis symptoms worse as your muscles and joints tighten.

The best way to avoid dehydration is to drink plenty of water on a daily basis — it’s recommended that adults drink an average of eight 8-oz glasses of water every single day.


If you want to be proactive about relieving your arthritis symptoms, paying attention to what you eat and drink is an excellent place to start. Intentionality with your diet can make a major difference in your ability to manage your arthritis, especially when it’s accompanied by the right medication.

Before getting started with lifestyle and diet changes, consult with your Provider for additional guidance.


The sweet danger of sugar | Harvard Health

Dehydration and Arthritis: How Not Drinking Water Affects Your Joints | Creaky Joints

5 Foods That Can Cause Inflammation | Cleveland Clinic


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