Processed foods, salt, red meat, alcohol, and other foods may exacerbate the joint pain and inflammation of arthritis. Stick to low-calorie whole foods with lots of vitamins and fiber, like leafy greens and beans.
Processed foods, salt, red meat, alcohol, and other foods may exacerbate arthritis' joint pain and inflammation.

Certain foods may make arthritis worse by contributing to joint inflammation, weight gain, or both.

The following foods may exacerbate arthritis joint pain and inflammation:

  • Processed foods
  • Salt
  • Red meat
  • Alcohol

19 types of foods that make arthritis worse

Not all people with arthritis will have the same food sensitivities or triggers. It's always a good idea to keep a food diary to track any symptoms related to diet. Consult with a health professional and dietitian for personalized advice.

  1. Nightshade vegetables
    • Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes contain a chemical called solanine that can aggravate inflammation in people with arthritis.
  2. High-purine foods
    • Purines are naturally occurring substances in certain foods that can break down into uric acid. High-purine foods such as organ meats, anchovies, and gravy can worsen arthritis symptoms by increasing uric acid levels in the body.
  3. Fried or grilled foods
    • Fried foods are high in unhealthy fats, which can increase inflammation and worsen arthritis symptoms.
    • Frying, roasting, or grilling foods (especially meat) at high temperatures for consumption can increase the levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) in the blood.
    • AGEs are found in people with inflammatory arthritis and are associated with increased inflammation in the body. Dietary AGEs are found in fried or grilled forms of beef, pork, fish, and even leaner cuts of chicken when cooked with dry heat.
    • Fried foods are high in oils (fat) and can contribute to obesity.
  4. Sugars, refined carbohydrates, and foods containing refined (white) flour
    • Consuming too many refined carbohydrates and sugars can lead to weight gain, putting extra strain on joints and worsening arthritis symptoms.
    • Sugar present in sweetened drinks and sodas, desserts and pastries, as well as foods containing refined flour, such as white bread, pasta, and white rice, are not your friend when it comes to rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
  5. Alcohol
    • Excessive alcohol consumption can increase inflammation in the body and worsen arthritis symptoms, particularly gout.
  6. Gluten
    • Some people with arthritis are sensitive to gluten, a protein in wheat, barley, and rye. Consuming these foods can cause inflammation and worsen symptoms.
    • Although not much research exists about foods containing gluten (a sticky protein) being bad for RA, doctors may still recommend cutting them from your diet if they worsen your RA symptoms.
  7. Dairy
    • Dairy products, especially those high in fat, can worsen arthritis symptoms due to their potential to increase inflammation in the body.
    • Full-fat dairy products are one of the foods to avoid if you have RA. Proteins found in dairy may cause RA flare-ups.
    • Many varieties of dairy include saturated fat. Dairy is also a significant allergen, with 25 percent of individuals being allergic to lactose or casein proteins present in dairy.
    • In any case, an allergic reaction might cause an inflammatory response. If you feel bloated after eating dairy, you should reduce or eliminate dairy from your diet.
  8. Caffeine
    • Can dehydrate the body, leading to joint pain and stiffness in people with arthritis.
  9. Processed meats
    • Processed meats such as bacon, sausage, and deli meats are high in sodium and unhealthy fats, which can worsen arthritis symptoms.
    • Processed and ready-to-eat foods or foods that can be prepared instantly within a few minutes are often loaded with sugar and refined flour. They can cause spikes in your blood sugar levels and trigger the production of cytokines, which are pro-inflammatory chemicals that can worsen your RA symptoms.
  10. Salt
    • Consuming too much salt through diet can lead to fluid retention, worsening joint pain, and inflammation in people with arthritis.
  11. Alcohol
    • Drinking alcohol, particularly beer and liquor, can increase the risk of gout, a type of arthritis caused by the buildup of uric acid crystals in the joints.
    • There are mixed studies that report the effects of alcohol drinking on RA. Drinking in moderation is OK, but an excessive alcohol intake can trigger the inflammatory process in your body and worsen your RA.
  12. Red meat
    • Although red meat is high in protein, it is also high in saturated fats, which are bad for your RA. Saturated fats can cause inflammation, increase uric acid levels, and contribute to weight gain.
  13. Foods containing omega-6 fatty acids
    • Consuming foods that contain omega-6 fatty acids more than those that contain omega-3 fatty acids increases your risk of joint inflammation and weight gain.
    • Omega-6 fatty acids are found in vegetable oils, such as corn, sunflower, safflower, soybean, and cottonseed. They are also present in cookies, crackers, and cake mixes.
  14. Foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG)
    • MSG is a chemical ingredient that acts as a flavoring agent in soy sauce used in Asian cuisines. Foods that contain this ingredient are known to aggravate inflammation in the body.
  15. Tobacco
    • Studies have reported a strong correlation between smoking and interleukin-6 levels, a pro-inflammatory marker harmful to people with RA. People with RA should find ways to stay away from tobacco-related products as they may exacerbate RA symptoms.
  16. Artificial sweeteners
    • According to studies, artificial sweeteners reduce the number of beneficial bacteria in your intestines, which aid in releasing anti-inflammatory substances into your body.
    • Researchers have discovered a link between glucose intolerance and artificial sweeteners. The inability to properly digest glucose causes the body to release cytokines—messengers that sugar avoidance is intended to prevent from causing inflammation. Ultimately, it's best to avoid diet soda and other items with artificial sweeteners.
    • Although sugar substitutes might help you stay away from one trigger, products with artificial sweeteners (which are occasionally marketed as sugar-free products) can make RA symptoms worse. This is because some contain aspartame, a hazardous substance that the body cannot break down, causing an inflammatory reaction.
  17. Artificial additives
    • Chemical flavoring and synthetic coloring harm people with RA. If you are allergic to any of these ingredients, your body may initiate a chain reaction of inflammatory events.
    • Avoid processed foods with fruit flavors or bright colors or colors listed among their ingredients.
  18. Saturated fats
    • Studies report that saturated fats do not burn energy but cause inflammation in the tissue that stores it. With a high saturated fat intake, your fat cells expand and release unfavorable inflammatory-promoting substances.
    • Low-density lipoproteins, also known as unhealthy fats, are increased by saturated fats (low-density lipoprotein or bad cholesterol). Saturated fats have risks for the heart and general health, but when digested, they can also cause inflammation in the fat tissues.
    • High concentrations of these fats can be found in foods such as cheese, red meat, palm, coconut, and butter. Avoid eating burgers, pizza, chips, and other processed foods that are high in fat if you want to avoid a chain of inflammatory reactions.
  19. Trans fats
    • Your body can't properly process these, which can result in an inflammatory immune reaction. Additionally, trans fats are regarded as unhealthy fats. They can exacerbate systemic inflammation and harm cardiovascular health.
    • Trans fats are frequently present in highly processed foods and are frequently referred to as "partially hydrogenated vegetable oils."

What foods are good for arthritis?

Eat fish to curb inflammation
Salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which are superstars in the fight against tender joints and stiffness.

No specific diet has been proven to cure arthritis, but some foods may help reduce inflammation and alleviate symptoms, such as:

  • Fish: Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties. These can help reduce inflammation and pain in people with arthritis.
  • Fruits and vegetables: Rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, which can help reduce inflammation in the body. Some specific fruits and vegetables particularly beneficial for people with arthritis include cherries, berries, ginger, and turmeric.
  • Whole grains: Quinoa, brown rice, and barley are good sources of fiber and other nutrients that can help reduce inflammation in the body.
  • Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, and flaxseeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and other anti-inflammatory compounds that can help reduce inflammation and manage symptoms.
  • Olive oil: A healthy source of fat that has anti-inflammatory properties. It is also a good source of monounsaturated fats, which can help reduce inflammation in the body.
  • Legumes: Legumes, such as lentils, beans, and peas, are a good source of protein and fiber and can help reduce inflammation in the body.
  • Mushrooms: Suitable for people with arthritis as they are rich in nutrients and delay inflammation. They are the richest vegetarian source of vitamin D, which is important in maintaining healthy bones, muscles, and immunity.

Examples of the best foods that may be included in your diet to manage symptoms of arthritis are as follows:

  • Fatty fish such as sardines, salmon, and fresh tuna
  • Unsweetened cocoa
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, and chard
  • Bananas and plantains
  • Berries such as blueberries and blackberries
  • Spices such as turmeric, paprika, ginger, and garlic
  • Beans
  • Lean meat, such as skinless chicken
  • Lentils
  • Soy, including soybeans and tofu
  • Nuts
  • Green tea
  • Citrus fruits such as lemons, oranges, and grapefruit
  • Broccoli
  • Cherries

Speak with a healthcare professional or dietitian to develop a personalized nutrition plan when dealing with symptoms of chronic arthritis.


The term arthritis refers to stiffness in the joints. See Answer

What exactly is arthritis?

Arthritis, or joint inflammation, is swelling and tenderness of one or more joints. Its main symptoms include joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. Arthritis is a general term for more than 100 diseases causing inflammation and swelling in and around the joints. 

Joint inflammation is a natural response of the body to a disease or an injury but becomes arthritis when the inflammation persists in the absence of joint injury or infection. Arthritis usually worsens with age and may even lead to a loss of joint movement.

Common types of arthritis

  • Osteoarthritis: Most common form of arthritis and is caused by the gradual wear and tear of the cartilage in the joints. Symptoms include joint pain, stiffness, and decreased range of motion.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: An autoimmune disorder in which the body's immune system attacks the lining of the joints, leading to inflammation, pain, and eventual damage to the joint. Symptoms include joint pain and stiffness, fatigue, and loss of function.
  • Gout: A form of arthritis caused by the buildup of uric acid crystals in the joints, leading to inflammation and intense pain. Symptoms include sudden, severe attacks of pain, redness, and tenderness in the affected joint.
  • Psoriatic arthritis: A form of arthritis that occurs in people with psoriasis, an autoimmune skin disorder. Symptoms include joint pain, stiffness, and inflammation, as well as psoriasis symptoms such as red, scaly patches of skin.
  • Ankylosing spondylitis: A form of arthritis that primarily affects the spine, causing inflammation and eventual fusion of the vertebrae. Symptoms include back pain and stiffness, as well as fatigue.

Arthritis may progress to limit everyday activities such as cooking, bathing, walking, and dressing. It affects almost one in five Americans and can affect people of any age and gender. It is the leading cause of disability among Americans older than 15 years. If you suspect you have arthritis, you must see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

What are the signs and symptoms of arthritis?

Different types of arthritis present in different ways; for example, fever may be present in tuberculosis-related arthritis but not in osteoarthritis. Not everyone who has arthritis will have all of these symptoms, and the symptoms can differ from person to person depending on the type of arthritis and the severity of the disease. Some symptoms may also come and go or vary in intensity.

Some common signs and symptoms of arthritis include:

  • Pain: A most common symptom of arthritis and can range from mild to severe. The pain is often described as a dull ache or stiffness and may worsen in the morning or after periods of inactivity.
  • Swelling: Arthritis can cause inflammation in the joints, leading to swelling and tenderness. This can also cause warmth in the affected joint.
  • Stiffness: Arthritis can cause the joints to become stiff, making it difficult to move them. This stiffness is often worse in the morning or after sitting for long periods.
  • Reduced range of motion: As the joints become more inflamed and stiffer, moving them through their full range of motion can become harder.
  • Fatigue: Arthritis can cause fatigue as the body tries to repair and protect the affected joints.
  • Loss of muscle mass: Arthritis can cause muscle wasting as the affected joints become less mobile, leading to weakness.
  • Cracking or popping sounds: Some people with arthritis may hear cracking or popping sounds when they move their joints.
  • Numbness or tingling: Some people with arthritis may experience numbness or tingling in their fingers or toes as the disease can affect the nerves.
  • Bone spurs: Arthritis can occasionally cause bone spurs (bony projections that form along the edges of bones), further limiting mobility.

Other symptoms include:

  • Warm skin over the joints
  • Redness of the skin over the joints

If you have persistent joint pain or stiffness, see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

What are the causes and risk factors of arthritis?

The cause of arthritis may vary according to the type of the disease. Most types of arthritis do not have a known cause.

Research has revealed the role of three major factors in certain types of arthritis:

  • Genetic (inherited) factors cause some types of arthritis to run in families.
  • Physical activity and diet affect arthritis symptoms.
  • The presence of other medical conditions such as infections and chronic diseases such as lupus puts you at risk for arthritis.

Several factors may increase a person's risk for arthritis:

  • Age: The risk of getting arthritis, particularly osteoarthritis, increases with age. Age may also worsen the symptoms of arthritis.
  • Gender: Arthritis generally affects women more often than men.
  • Weight: Being obese or overweight puts extra stress on the joints that support an individual's weight. Increased weight beyond the normal range for a person's age and height increases joint wear and tear, and the risk of arthritis.
  • Occupation: Certain jobs may involve the worker to keep doing the same movements repeatedly. These include jobs where one needs to do heavy lifting or repeated fine work as done by musicians. It can cause joint stress and/or an injury, which may lead to arthritis.
  • Injury: Joint injury or trauma may cause osteoarthritis.
  • Autoimmune diseases: These may misdirect the immune system toward the joints as seen in rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
  • Infections: Certain infections may lead to joint inflammation as seen in tubercular arthritis and septic arthritis.

How is arthritis treated?

Arthritis is treated with a combination of medication, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes.

Treatment options for arthritis may include:

  • Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen can help reduce pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs such as methotrexate and sulfasalazine can slow the progression of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Biologic drugs such as adalimumab and infliximab can also be used to treat RA.
  • Physical therapy and exercise: Physical therapy can help improve joint mobility and muscle strength, which can help alleviate pain and improve function in people with arthritis. Moreover, exercise is important for maintaining overall health and wellness in individuals with arthritis.
  • Occupational therapy: Can help teach people how to adapt their daily activities to make them easier to perform and conserve energy. This can include teaching people to use assistive devices such as canes or walkers and modifying their home or work environment.
  • Surgery: Surgery may be recommended in severe cases of arthritis, particularly if joint damage is significant. Procedures may include joint replacement (such as hip or knee replacement), joint fusion, or joint reconstruction.
  • Lifestyle modifications: Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, and getting regular exercise can help reduce the symptoms of arthritis. Quitting smoking and managing stress can also be beneficial.
  • Complementary and alternative therapies: Some people with arthritis may find relief from complementary and alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage therapy, and herbal supplements.

The best treatment plan for arthritis will vary depending on the type of arthritis and the person. Consult a healthcare professional for guidance on the best treatment options. It is best to work closely with a rheumatologist or another specialist to determine the best course of treatment.


What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)? Symptoms, Treatment, Diagnosis See Slideshow

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Medically Reviewed on 1/19/2023
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