What Foods Can Make Arthritis Worse?

Arthritis can be a challenging condition to manage, often causing pain and inflammation in the joints. But did you know that certain foods can actually make arthritis symptoms worse? In this article, we will explore the dietary culprits that can exacerbate arthritis and provide you with valuable insights on how to make informed choices to alleviate discomfort and promote joint health. So, let’s uncover the truth about the foods that can worsen arthritis and discover the key to finding relief.

Foods that Can Aggravate Arthritis Symptoms

Arthritis is a condition characterized by inflammation and pain in the joints. While medication and lifestyle changes can help manage symptoms, it’s important to also pay attention to your diet. Certain foods have been found to worsen arthritis symptoms and contribute to inflammation in the body. By identifying and avoiding these foods, you can potentially reduce pain and improve your quality of life. In this article, we will explore ten types of foods that can aggravate arthritis symptoms and discuss alternatives that are healthier for individuals with arthritis.

Highly Processed Foods

Highly processed foods refer to foods that have undergone extensive processing and contain added artificial ingredients, preservatives, and high levels of refined carbohydrates. These foods are often stripped of their natural nutrients, fiber, and antioxidants, and can contribute to inflammation in the body.

The impact of highly processed foods on arthritis symptoms is significant. Studies have shown that these foods can trigger inflammation responses in the body, leading to increased joint pain and swelling. Additionally, highly processed foods are typically high in unhealthy fats, such as trans fats and omega-6 fatty acids, which can further promote inflammation.

Examples of highly processed foods that should be avoided by individuals with arthritis include packaged snacks, sugary cereals, frozen meals, sugary drinks, and processed meats. Instead, opt for whole foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.

Foods High in Added Sugars

A diet high in added sugars has been linked to various health issues, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. For individuals with arthritis, consuming foods high in added sugars can worsen symptoms and lead to increased inflammation.

Research has shown that high sugar intake triggers the release of inflammatory cytokines in the body, exacerbating arthritis symptoms. Additionally, foods high in added sugars often contain refined carbohydrates, which can cause blood sugar spikes and contribute to weight gain. Excess weight puts additional stress on the joints, leading to increased pain and discomfort.

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Common sources of added sugars in the diet include sugary beverages, candy, baked goods, and processed snacks. It’s important to read food labels carefully and avoid products that contain added sugars. Instead, choose naturally sweetened alternatives, such as fresh fruits or foods sweetened with natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup.

Fried and Fast Foods

While fried and fast foods may be convenient and tempting, they can have a detrimental effect on arthritis symptoms. These foods are typically high in unhealthy fats, such as trans fats and saturated fats, which can promote inflammation in the body and contribute to joint pain.

The link between fried and fast foods and arthritis symptoms is undeniable. Studies have shown that individuals who consume high amounts of fried foods are more likely to experience increased inflammation and joint pain. Additionally, these foods tend to be calorie-dense and low in essential nutrients, leading to weight gain and worsening of arthritis symptoms.

Unhealthy fats commonly found in fried and fast foods include hydrogenated oils, which are known to increase inflammation in the body. To reduce arthritis symptoms, it is important to limit consumption of fried and fast foods and instead focus on incorporating healthier options into your diet, such as grilled or baked lean proteins, whole grains, and steamed or roasted vegetables.

Red Meat

Red meat, including beef, pork, and lamb, has been a staple in many diets for centuries. However, it may not be the best choice for individuals with arthritis. Consuming high amounts of red meat has been found to worsen inflammation and contribute to joint pain.

The potential role of red meat in worsening arthritis symptoms lies in its high levels of pro-inflammatory compounds. These compounds, such as advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) and arachidonic acid, can trigger inflammation responses in the body and increase arthritis pain. Additionally, red meat is often high in saturated fats, which can further contribute to inflammation.

Healthier alternatives to red meat include lean proteins such as poultry, fish, and plant-based protein sources like beans, lentils, and tofu. These alternatives provide essential nutrients and are generally lower in pro-inflammatory compounds.

Refined Grains

Refined grains, such as white bread, white rice, and pasta, have gone through a milling process that removes the bran and germ, stripping them of their fiber and nutrients. Consuming refined grains can lead to a spike in blood sugar levels and contribute to inflammation.

The impact of refined grains on arthritis symptoms is significant. Research has shown that a high intake of refined grains is associated with increased inflammation and joint pain. Additionally, these grains lack the fiber and antioxidants found in whole grains, which are essential for overall health and reducing inflammation.

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To reduce arthritis symptoms, it is recommended to replace refined grains with wholesome alternatives such as whole wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa, and oats. These whole grains are higher in fiber and contain important nutrients that can aid in reducing inflammation.

Dairy Products

Dairy products, including milk, cheese, and yogurt, are a common part of the Western diet. However, for some individuals with arthritis, dairy consumption may worsen pain and inflammation.

The effect of dairy consumption on arthritis pain can vary from person to person. While some studies have suggested a possible link between dairy consumption and increased joint pain, more research is needed to fully understand the relationship. It is believed that certain individuals may be sensitive to proteins found in dairy, which can trigger an immune response and contribute to inflammation.

If you suspect that dairy products aggravate your arthritis symptoms, it may be worth trying an elimination diet to see if there is any improvement. Non-dairy calcium sources, such as leafy greens, tofu, almonds, and fortified plant-based milk alternatives, can provide the necessary calcium for individuals with arthritis.

Nightshade Vegetables

Nightshade vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and potatoes, have been a topic of debate when it comes to their impact on arthritis symptoms. These vegetables contain a compound called solanine, which some claim can exacerbate joint pain and inflammation.

The potential impact of nightshade vegetables on arthritis symptoms is largely anecdotal, and scientific evidence supporting this claim is limited. While some individuals may experience sensitivity to nightshades, it is important to note that many people with arthritis can safely consume these vegetables without experiencing any negative effects. It is recommended to pay attention to your own body and keep a food diary to identify any potential triggers.


Consuming alcohol can have various effects on the body, including its impact on arthritis symptoms. While moderate alcohol consumption may not significantly worsen arthritis, excessive alcohol intake can contribute to inflammation and increase pain.

The effects of alcohol on arthritis pain and inflammation can be attributed to several factors. Alcohol can interfere with the immune system, impairing the body’s ability to fight inflammation effectively. Furthermore, alcohol can dehydrate the body, which can worsen joint pain and inflammation. Additionally, some alcoholic beverages, such as beer, contain gluten, which can trigger inflammation in individuals with gluten sensitivities.

If you choose to consume alcohol, it is important to do so in moderation. Limiting alcohol intake to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men is generally considered safe for individuals with arthritis. However, it is recommended to avoid excessive consumption and opt for healthier beverage choices, such as herbal tea, water, or fresh fruit juices.

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Excessive salt intake can have a negative impact on overall health, including arthritis symptoms. Diets high in sodium have been associated with increased inflammation and can contribute to the retention of fluids in the body, leading to joint swelling and discomfort.

The effects of salt on arthritis symptoms are partly due to its ability to promote water retention and increase blood pressure. This can put additional strain on the joints and exacerbate pain. Additionally, high sodium intake has been linked to an increase in pro-inflammatory cytokines, which further contribute to inflammation.

To reduce arthritis symptoms, it is important to limit salt intake and opt for low-sodium alternatives in cooking and food preparation. Incorporating fresh herbs and spices into your meals can add flavor without the need for excessive salt. Additionally, choosing fresh, unprocessed foods over packaged and processed foods can significantly reduce salt consumption.

Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Omega-6 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid found in various foods, including vegetable oils, seeds, nuts, and processed snacks. While omega-6 fatty acids are essential for the body, excessive consumption can lead to an imbalance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, which can contribute to inflammation and worsen arthritis symptoms.

The role of omega-6 fatty acids in arthritis lies in their conversion to pro-inflammatory molecules in the body. The Western diet typically includes a high intake of omega-6 fatty acids, often from processed foods and vegetable oils, while being deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties.

To balance omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, it is recommended to reduce the consumption of processed snacks and oils high in omega-6 fatty acids, such as corn oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil. Instead, opt for healthier fats found in foods like fatty fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and can help reduce inflammation.

In conclusion, making dietary changes and avoiding certain foods can play a crucial role in managing arthritis symptoms. By reducing or eliminating highly processed foods, foods high in added sugars, fried and fast foods, red meat, refined grains, dairy products, nightshade vegetables, alcohol, excessive salt, and balancing omega-6 fatty acids, individuals with arthritis may experience a reduction in inflammation and pain. It is important to listen to your body, keep a food diary, and work with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to personalize your diet and find an eating plan that works best for you. Remember, small changes in your diet can make a big difference in managing your arthritis symptoms and improving your overall well-being.