What Foods Make Arthritis Worse?

What Foods Make Arthritis Worse?

Did you know that arthritis is the most common cause of disability in America? More than 52 million people (22% of American adults) have arthritis.

It's estimated that by 2040, 26% of American adults (78 million people) will have doctor-diagnosed arthritis. The CDC tells us that 44% of people who have arthritis endure activity limitations, both in their professions and everyday life.

With such an increase in this debilitating rheumatic condition, doctors and scientists alike continue their search for the best treatment methods. Just like most things in life, diet plays a huge role in conditions, diseases, and the toll they take on the individuals they affect.

So what foods make arthritis worse?

Do you want to learn all about foods that cause inflammation and make arthritis symptoms that much worse? Keep reading to find out!

Arthritis and Inflammation

Arthritis isn't one condition, but rather a broad term used to describe 200 conditions that affect joints, the tissues that surround them, and other connective tissue. 

Arthritis is a rheumatic condition, with the most common form being osteoarthritis.

Rheumatic diseases are characterized by inflammation. It's the inflammation that affects the structures of the body, most commonly the joints. It can also, however, affect the ligaments, bones, muscles, and tendons. Some rheumatic diseases can even affect the organs.

If you have arthritis, you're aware that inflammation is a culprit for your discomfort and pain. That inflammation is the exact reason why eating inflammatory foods can make the effects of the disease significantly worse!

Now let's take a look at those foods to avoid and why those suffering from arthritis should avoid them.


If you love sweet treats made with sugar, it's time to find some alternatives. Processed sugars are found in a myriad of packaged snack foods and baked goods.

Some other foods that contain refined sugar are:

  • Pastries
  • Chocolate
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Sweets

Processed sugars release an inflammatory trigger by the name of cytokines. When cytokines are released into the body, they can exacerbate the symptoms of arthritis.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information says that targeting the cytokine imbalance could represent a sound way to control the arthritis disease.

Be careful of products advertised as "sugar-free." Many of these foods contain artificial sweeteners like aspartame, which is a toxic chemical that is difficult for the body to process.

The body can't process it naturally, and thus it often triggers an inflammatory attack response when it's digested.

How can you still get your sweet fix? Opt for honey or maple syrup.

Honey is a natural source of antioxidants, and maple syrup contains minerals like zinc and manganese. Just make sure that if you use maple syrup, it's the all-natural kind. Many "syrups" are full of high fructose corn syrup! 

Fried Foods

Even though fried foods might make your mouth water, they'll make your inflammation even worse.

Fried foods contain saturated fats, which can worsen inflammation, especially in high quantities.

If you decrease the amount of processed and fried foods in your diet, you can significantly reduce inflammation in your joints and help to restore your body's natural defenses.

Got a french fry craving? Opt for oven-baked sweet potato fries dressed in olive oil. You can also make your own zucchini or kale chips!

White Flour and Other White Foods

A lot of white foods, like white potatoes, white flour, white rice, and those foods containing these ingredients, cause inflammation. They're all refined carbohydrates, which, when ingested, hike the production of AGEs.

AGEs (advanced glycation end-products) are toxic compounds. They're produced by nonenzymatic glycoxidation reactions.

Those reactions take place while reducing sugars and freeing amino groups of lipids, nucleic acids, or proteins. As a result, the end products are structurally compromised.

When you eat refined grains, your body turns them into sugar more quickly, and sugar happens to be highly inflammatory.

What's the alternative? Opt for multigrain or whole-grain foods whenever you can. You can also get creative by doing things like replacing your potatoes and white rice with cauliflower.

Anything With Gluten

If you're wondering what foods to avoid with arthritis, gluten is one of the biggest contenders.

Did you know that gluten is a protein? It's a sticky one too, found in wheat and other related grains like oats, barley, and rye. That sticky protein can promote inflammation.

Anyone with gluten intolerance and arthritis should avoid gluten altogether. Arthritis patients without an intolerance should still avoid it as much as possible because it can still trigger inflammation and other symptoms.

Most doctors will suggest anyone with arthritis get tested for celiac disease, as the 2 often go hand-in-hand. 

What can you do to satisfy those bread cravings? There are plenty of gluten-free products and bread made with alternatives such as almond or coconut flour.


When it comes to what foods not to eat with arthritis, dairy is at the top of the list, but it's also still up for debate. 

Specifically, rheumatoid arthritis often flares up in response to the proteins that are found in dairy. Some people even have an intolerance to proteins found in cow's milk. As a result, their bodies form antibodies to those milk proteins, and then they attack those proteins every time they're found in the body.

Dairy is a tricky category, though, because not everyone reacts the same way to the various types. Some osteoarthritis patients claim that milk improved their knee pain, but that cheese made it worse.

The evidence is conflicting because some studies claim that milk has anti-inflammatory effects, except for when someone is allergic to it.

When it comes to dairy, talk to your doctor and experiment to find out what works and what doesn't.

Many arthritis patients find success in switching to a vegan diet, containing no animal products at all.

There are plenty of milk and cheese alternatives. If you do find dairy is a trigger and you want to switch to a vegan diet, get your protein from nut butter, beans, tofu, and vegetables like spinach to see if your symptoms improve.

Red Meats

Meats are typically higher in calories and fat, which are then metabolized into chemicals that cause inflammation in our bodies. Plenty of red meat cuts contain high levels of saturated fat, which, as we mentioned earlier, can exacerbate inflammation.

If you can't live without it, look for leaner cuts that, in small quantities, may provide you with protein and other essential nutrients.

When you cook your meat, avoid grilling, searing, or frying it at high temperatures. When you do so, you create a charred flavor that contains those AGEs we talked about earlier.

If you've got a craving for a burger, try a turkey burger or a salmon burger on a whole grain bun. You can enjoy it with some baked sweet potato fries, guilt-free.


Research doesn't necessarily say to cut out alcohol altogether. In fact, moderate alcohol consumption may decrease the risk of RA or slow down its progression. Some research suggests that red wine can help to keep the muscles, joints, and heart healthy because of a compound it contains called resveratrol. 

Drinking too much alcohol, however, can cause a significant spike in the body's C-reactive protein levels (CRP). CRP is a sign of inflammation and can be detrimental to arthritis patients.

Plus, alcohol impacts liver function and disrupts interactions between the body's organs.

If you drink, try to stick to red wine, and only 1 glass for women, or 2 for men. Drinking much more in a day will inevitably negate any positive benefits. It's important to discuss options with your doctor and pay attention to those inflammation triggers.


The effect of coffee on arthritis symptoms is still up for debate. Coffee does contain polyphenol, which is an antioxidant that helps fight free radicals in the human body.

Some studies suggest that coffee does increase inflammation in the body, though. To play it safe, stick to drinking it in moderation. Stick to one to two cups per day and no more if you can't live without it.

Do you want to take a break from coffee but still get a morning caffeine fix? Opt for green tea! It has antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.

What Foods Are Good for Arthritis?

Now that we've laid out all the foods that can be inflammatory triggers let's take a look at the many foods that are good for arthritis patients.


Garlic has cancer-fighting properties. Plus, it's shown to have anti-inflammatory effects that can help decrease arthritis symptoms.

Some studies even show that garlic may enhance immune cell function, which strengthens the immune system overall. Additionally, garlic has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect that may help decrease symptoms of arthritis.

Fatty Fish

Fish like mackerel, sardines, salmon, and trout are packed with omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids have been shown to have very potent anti-inflammatory effects.

Omega-3 fatty acids can decrease joint pain, morning stiffness, and other symptoms of arthritis. 

Just be careful you're not getting too much. Eating lean meat or fish 4 times per week should give you all the omega-3s your body needs to reduce inflammation.


Do you want to give your tea, water, food, or smoothies some extra flavor? Add ginger!

Ginger and its components could help block the production of substances that promote inflammation in the body.

You can consume fresh ginger, dried, or powdered ginger to try and reduce inflammation and reduce arthritis symptoms.


Walnuts are loaded with nutrients. Plus, they're loaded with compounds that can help reduce joint disease inflammation.

Just like the types of fish we mentioned earlier, walnuts are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Plus, they're delicious as a snack, in salads, and in a variety of other tasty meals!


Broccoli is one of the healthiest foods that exist.

Sulforaphane, one of the compounds found in broccoli, helps to block the formation of a type of cell that's involved in rheumatoid arthritis development.

Plus, it's anti-inflammatory properties could help reduce arthritis symptoms when incorporated into a healthy diet.

Consuming collagen is an excellent way to fight cartilage breakdown. Bone broth is one of the best sources of collagen and an excellent base for a variety of healthy soups and stews!

Honorable Mentions

In addition to the foods we mentioned that are GOOD for arthritis, here are a few more:

  • Berries
  • Grapes
  • Spinach
  • Olive oil
  • Tart Cherry Juice
  • Citrus fruits
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Green Tea

Just remember when you're integrating new foods into your diet to keep a log of what you eat and your symptoms so that you can more quickly learn what foods work and what foods don't!

Do the same thing with your pain. Keep a log, for example, concerning your bone on bone knee pain and what works in alleviating that pain. Here are some natural treatments you can try at home.

What Foods Make Arthritis Worse?

If you're wondering what foods make arthritis worse, the simple answer is any foods that are inflammatory.

Arthritis is defined by inflammation in the body, particularly in the joints and surrounding tissues. It only makes sense that foods that encourage inflammation in an individual who suffers from arthritis should be kicked to the curb.

Luckily, there are so many foods that exist that help to fight inflammation, such as berries, nuts, certain seafood, vegetables, and much more!

You don't have to feel overwhelmed by a list of new foods to prepare, either. There are plenty of non-gluten bread options, for example, that exist at most natural food stores. And if you have a craving that you must satisfy, try to keep it as healthy as possible. 

If you're out for dinner and you just have to have fries, opt for sweet potato fries. If you need a drink or 2 at the end of a long day of work, opt for red wine.

Do you have questions about our products and want to know which one you'd benefit from? Do you need help finding the right knee braceContact us with any questions or concerns!

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