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Arthritis Diet: Foods to Avoid for Better Joint Health

Foods to Avoid for Better Joint Health

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Certain foods, notably those heavy in salt, have been proven in studies to exacerbate symptoms. In some people, a high-salt diet can promote inflammation and aggravate arthritic symptoms, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In fact, according to a survey done by the Arthritis Foundation, 68% of arthritis patients experienced an improvement in their symptoms after reducing their salt intake.

Processed meals, quick foods, and canned foods are high in salt because they often have additional salt for preservation purposes. Fast food meals can easily surpass the daily salt limit. Patients with arthritis should also avoid salty sauces and seasonings such soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and garlic salt.

We'll go into the research that shows how particular foods might aggravate joint pain and inflammation, and then offer suggestions for making dietary changes that will help. In this piece, we'll go over some of the ways in which your diet can help or hurt your joints, giving you the information you need to make educated decisions about what to eat to alleviate arthritis pain.

The Role of Diet in Arthritis Management

Can you cure arthritis? There is no cure for arthritis but keeping a healthy weight and adjusting your diet can help reduce symptoms. While there is no one-size-fits-all diet for arthritis, research has shown that certain foods can exacerbate symptoms, while others can help reduce inflammation and pain in the joints. An arthritis-friendly diet is one that focuses on whole, nutrient-dense foods and avoids processed and inflammatory foods.

What is Inflammatory Arthritis?

Inflammatory arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's joints, causing inflammation. This type of arthritis includes conditions such as psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and reactive arthritis. Inflammatory arthritis can affect people of all ages, including children, and it can cause joint pain, stiffness, and swelling.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is also an autoimmune disorder, but it primarily affects the synovial membrane, which lines the joints. This chronic inflammatory disorder can damage cartilage, bone, and other tissues. Rheumatoid can cause pain, swelling, stiffness, and fatigue. It usually affects women more than men, and it typically develops in individuals between the ages of 30 and 60. This is the type of arthritis that occurs as a result of the body's immune system mistakenly launching an attack on the joints. 

What are the Differences Between Inflammatory Arthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis?

While both inflammatory arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are autoimmune disorders, they differ in several ways. One significant difference is the joints that they primarily affect. Inflammatory arthritis affects the peripheral joints, such as the hands, wrists, and feet, whereas rheumatoid arthritis primarily affects the hands and feet.

Another difference is the severity of the inflammation. Inflammatory arthritis often causes acute inflammation, which can occur suddenly and be severe. In contrast, rheumatoid arthritis usually causes chronic inflammation, which can be less severe but can last for extended periods.

Finally, the underlying causes of the two types of arthritis differ. While both are autoimmune disorders, inflammatory arthritis is often associated with other conditions such as psoriasis or inflammatory bowel disease, while rheumatoid arthritis is typically an isolated condition

Foods to Avoid for Arthritis Patients

Now that we understand the role of diet in arthritis management, let's take a look at the top foods to avoid if you have arthritis.

Red Meat

Red meat is high in saturated fat, which can trigger inflammation in the body. A study published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism found that people who ate a high amount of red meat had a higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis than those who ate less red meat.

If you have arthritis, it's best to limit your consumption of red meat and opt for lean protein sources such as fish, chicken, and plant-based proteins like beans and lentils instead.

Dairy Products

Dairy products can also trigger inflammation in some people with arthritis. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that women who consumed high amounts of dairy products had an increased risk of developing arthritis.

If you have arthritis, it's best to limit your consumption of dairy products or opt for non-dairy alternatives such as almond milk or soy milk.

Gluten

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Some people with arthritis may be sensitive to gluten, which can trigger inflammation and exacerbate symptoms. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism found that a gluten-free diet improved symptoms in people with arthritis.

If you have arthritis, it may be worth trying a gluten-free diet to see if it improves your symptoms. Good sources of gluten-free grains include quinoa, brown rice, and buckwheat.

Nightshade Vegetables

Nightshade vegetables include tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes. While these vegetables are nutritious, some people with arthritis may be sensitive to the compounds found in nightshade vegetables, which can trigger inflammation and exacerbate symptoms.

If you have arthritis, it's worth experimenting with eliminating nightshade vegetables from your diet to see if it improves your symptoms.

Fried and Processed Foods

Fried and processed foods are high in trans fats, which can trigger inflammation in the body. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that a diet high in trans fats was associated with an increased risk of developing arthritis.

If you have arthritis, it's best to avoid fried and processed foods and opt for whole, nutrient-dense foods instead.

Sugary Drinks

Sugary drinks such as soda and sweetened tea can trigger inflammation and exacerbate symptoms. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who consumed sugary drinks had higher levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation in the body.

If you have arthritis, it's best to avoid sugary drinks and opt for water, unsweetened tea, or low-sugar alternatives.

Alcohol

While moderate alcohol consumption has been linked to some health benefits, excessive alcohol consumption can trigger inflammation and exacerbate symptoms. A study published in the Journal of Rheumatology found that people who drank alcohol regularly had a higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis than those who drank less frequently.

Certain vegetable oils 

Corn, sunflower, and soybean oils are high in omega-6s. Fatty acids are needed, but too much can cause inflammation and exacerbate symptoms.

The Journal of Nutrition reported that a diet heavy in omega-6 fatty acids and low in omega-3s enhanced inflammation. A diet strong in omega-3 and low in omega-6 fatty acids decreased inflammation.

Fish, flaxseed, and olive oils contain omega-3 fatty acids, which helps reduce arthritic symptoms. Thus, arthritis patients should consume more omega-3 fatty acids and less omega-6.

Foods high in salt 

Salty meals can promote joint swelling and exacerbate arthritis symptoms.

Salt is needed, but too much can cause high blood pressure, heart disease, and kidney disease. The American Heart Association advises limiting daily salt intake to 2,300 milligrams, or one teaspoon.

Processed, quick, and canned foods are salty. Salt preserves processed and canned goods. Fast food generally exceeds the daily salt consumption. Soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and garlic salt should be avoided by arthritis patients. These add a lot of salt without being noticed.

Reducing salt intake improves health and arthritic symptoms. Arthritis patients can flavor food with basil, oregano, and rosemary instead of salt. These taste food without salt.

Healthy Alternatives for Arthritis Patients

Now that we've covered the top foods to avoid for arthritis patients, let's take a look at some healthier alternatives. Adding these foods to your balanced diet may help ease pain and other arthritis symptoms.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that can help reduce inflammation in the body. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines, as well as walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds.

If you have arthritis, it's recommended to consume at least two servings of fatty fish per week or take a high-quality omega-3 supplement.

Anti-Inflammatory Spices

Certain spices have anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce inflammation in the body. Turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon are all great choices for arthritis patients. You can add these spices to your meals or drink them as a tea.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients and antioxidants that can help reduce inflammation and improve overall health. Aim to eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables every day, and try to include leafy greens, berries, and citrus fruits. Several studies have looked at the effects of vegetarian and vegan diets on RA going back to the 1990s, before biologic medications were widely used.

Whole Grains

Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They can also help reduce inflammation in the body. If you have arthritis, it's recommended to choose whole grains over refined grains such as white bread and pasta.

The Impact of Dieting

 Losing weight can help reduce uric acid levels in your body, which will in turn reduce gout attacks. Weight loss will also help reduce the strain on your joints. But crash dieting or losing a lot of weight in a short time can increase uric acid and trigger attacks. A small Swedish study of rheumatoid arthritis sufferers who ate a Mediterranean diet (including lots of vegetables and fruits) for three months found that it reduced inflammation and enhanced joint function. Aim for seven to nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

Conclusion

While there is no cure following an arthritis-friendly diet is one of the most effective ways to reduce symptoms and improve joint health. By avoiding certain foods that can trigger inflammation and opting for healthier alternatives, you can reduce pain and stiffness in your joints and improve your overall quality of life.

Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all diet for arthritis. It's important to experiment with different foods and listen to your body to find what works best for you. If you're unsure where to start, consider consulting with a registered dietitian who can help you develop a personalized nutrition plan.

Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH

Aaron Bernstein is the Interim Director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics.

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