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Many patients with arthritis find that they feel better when they make a lifestyle change such as a change in diet. This article outlines the 9 inflammatory foods that you should avoid if you have arthritis.

Arthritis is an inflammatory condition that causes joint pain, stiffness, and swelling. There is currently no cure for the disease. However, different treatments can help improve symptoms, increase joint functioning, and lead to a better quality of life. Often, patients also look towards lifestyle changes to reduce their symptoms.

The lifestyle steps you may take include making changes to your diet and exercise routine. While there is no curative diet for arthritis, some foods and drinks have anti-inflammatory properties while others promote inflammation and should be avoided. These are the nine different types of foods that arthritis patients should stay away from. 

1. Red meat

You have several excellent reasons to steer clear of red meat, and one very important one is that it has high levels of saturated fats and omega-6 fatty acids. These contribute to inflammation if you eat them regularly. Additionally, eating a lot of fats is associated with obesity, which is bad for arthritis as extra weight adds extra stress to your joints. Some patients also report that they feel better after they stop eating red meat. Patients can, however, eat lean cuts of red meat as these can be an important source of protein and nutrients. Talk to your doctor before making any significant diet changes.

2. Saturated fats

Saturated fats have been shown to trigger inflammation of fat tissue, which can worsen arthritic inflammation. Besides red meat, other sources of saturated fats include pizza, cheese, pasta dishes, and desserts. None of these offer you any real nutritional benefits, so it's best to just avoid them.

3. Sugar and refined flour

Sugar and refined flour, which are simple carbohydrates, can increase your blood sugar levels. You should try to say no to them, because a sudden spike in blood sugar levels causes the body to increase the levels of chemicals that promote inflammation, which can worsen your condition. Furthermore, eating sugar and refined flour leads to a build-up of advanced glycation end products, which are toxins that increase inflammation. Other such foods to avoid include:

  • Sugary snacks
  • Sugar drinks, such as pop
  • White-flour bread
  • Pasta
  • White rice
  • Candy
  • Baked sugary goods
  • Chocolate bars
  • Fruit juices
  • Pastries and other types of desert.

4. Fried food

Reducing levels of fried foods has been shown to lower inflammation. Fried foods also tend to contain advanced glycation end products. These chemicals increase levels of oxidation in the cells, leading to higher levels of inflammation. Furthermore, fried foods that are high in fat also contribute to obesity, which, again, can make your arthritis worse. Finally, studies reveal that reducing the amount of fried and processed foods in your diet can lead to a reduction in inflammation and help restore the body’s natural immune system.

5. Gluten

In a subset of the population, a compound called gluten causes inflammation. Therefore, doctors believe that patients with arthritis who have a gluten intolerance or allergy should cut out gluten in order to improve their condition. Gluten is found in grains such as:

  • Wheat
  • Rye
  • Barley

6. Alcohol

While studies have not proven a clear association between the consumption of alcohol and development or progression of arthritis, it has been shown that drinking too much alcohol leads to an increase in levels of a protein called C-reactive protein which is a signal of inflammation. Furthermore, alcohol consumption is known to a be risk factor for the development of gout. Interestingly, other studies have actually indicated that drinking low to moderate levels of alcohol can be more beneficial for patients with rheumatoid arthritis than not drinking at all. If you do choose to indulge, it is important to not to overdo it. 

7. Processed foods

The reason why processed foods are bad for you is because they tend to come loaded with ingredients that are pro-inflammatory. This includes several of the components we have mentioned earlier including sugar, refined flour, saturated fats, and others. These ingredients, when consumed regularly, can aggravate your condition and induce an inflammatory response in your body.

8. Dairy products

Similar to gluten, a subset of the population is intolerant or allergic to dairy. In such cases, dairy consumption can illicit an inflammatory response, which can worsen your arthritis by irritating the tissue that surrounds the joint. In fact, some people who are intolerant to dairy tend to switch over to a vegan diet that contains no animal products as they find that it helps lower their disease activity. If you choose to become vegan, you still need to make sure you get the recommended amount of protein. In this case, you can get your protein from:

  • Spinach
  • Nut butters
  • Tofu
  • Lentils
  • Quinoa
  • Beans

9. Tobacco 

It is well known that smokers have a higher risk of developing arthritis, particularly rheumatoid arthritis. Thus, it is best for your condition to avoid smoking and tobacco products all together.

  • Messier, Stephen P., et al. "Effects of intensive diet and exercise on knee joint loads, inflammation, and clinical outcomes among overweight and obese adults with knee osteoarthritis: the IDEA randomized clinical trial." Jama 310.12 (2013): 1263-1273.
  • Adam, Olaf, et al. "Anti-inflammatory effects of a low arachidonic acid diet and fish oil in patients with rheumatoid arthritis." Rheumatology international 23.1 (2003): 27-36.
  • Belch, J. J., et al. "Effects of altering dietary essential fatty acids on requirements for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a double blind placebo controlled study." Annals of the rheumatic diseases 47.2 (1988): 96-104.
  • Photo courtesy of SteadyHealth

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