​​Foods You Should Avoid and Foods That Could Help If You Have Arthritis

Arthritis Basics

Arthritis is a common medical condition that affects millions of people in the United States. It causes pain and inflammation of the joints. The most commonly affected joints are in the hands, feet, hips, knees, and lower back. The pain caused by arthritis can be debilitating and makes it difficult to complete everyday tasks.

            There are several different types of arthritis but two of the most common are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis and is caused by joint cartilage breaking down due to wear and tear. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition where your own immune system attacks the synovial membranes of your joints. Both these types of arthritis cause pain, inflammation, stiffness, and swelling.

            Although it is impossible to completely prevent or cure arthritis there are treatment options available such as medication, physical therapy, surgery, and injections. Another important aspect of treating arthritis is diet modification. Research has shown evidence that some foods have anti-inflammatory effects while other foods could cause inflammation.

Foods to Avoid if You Have Arthritis

            The main key to avoiding foods that cause inflammation and can irritate your arthritis is to not eat processed foods that contain a lot of sugar, salt, and chemicals. These types of food are associated with diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Processed foods contain a lot of sugars which can worsen arthritis symptoms. Avoid baked goods, candy, sweet beverages, cereal, and desserts. In 2016, a research study published in the Nutrition & Diabetes journal concluded that consuming sweet enhanced beverages is linked with arthritis even among young people (DeChristopher, et al. 2016). Foods containing a high salt percentage are suggested to increase inflammation. Evidence shows that high sodium intake may be associated with rheumatoid arthritis (Salgado et al., 2015). Many processed foods contain a lot of salt such as canned soups, meats, and frozen meals. Red meat and processed meats such as hamburgers, steaks, hot dogs, and sausages should be avoided because they can cause inflammation and worsen arthritis symptoms. Alcohol should be avoided for many reasons including that it may cause worsening arthritis symptoms. Mixed drinks also usually contain a lot of sugar.

Foods That Could Help Reduce Arthritis Symptoms

To lessen arthritis symptoms you should eat foods that reduce inflammation. A research study published in 2019 concluded that eating a plant-based diet could improve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (Alwarith, et al., 2019). Eating a healthy diet and avoiding processed foods is key. A healthy diet is important to overall well-being, can reduce your risk of diseases, and improve your quality of life. An anti-inflammatory diet should include whole foods that come from the earth and are not processed such as fruits, vegetables, fish, and nuts. These foods contain antioxidants and/or have anti-inflammatory properties. Antioxidants help prevent cancer and other diseases. The main objective of a healthy diet that will reduce inflammation is to consume natural whole foods and avoid processed foods.

Key Points

  • Arthritis affects millions of people across the United States.
  • Arthritis causes inflammation of the joints which causes pain and can make everyday tasks difficult.
  • Eating a healthy diet with unprocessed whole foods may help reduce inflammation and arthritis symptoms.
  • Processed foods can cause inflammation and should be avoided.


Alwarith, J., Kahleova, H., Rembert, E., Yonas, W., Dort, S., Calcagno, M., Burgess, N., Crosby, L., & Barnard, N. D. (2019). Nutrition Interventions in Rheumatoid Arthritis: The Potential Use of Plant-Based Diets. A Review. Frontiers in nutrition, 6, 141. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2019.00141

DeChristopher, L. R., Uribarri, J., & Tucker, K. L. (2016). Intake of high-fructose corn syrup sweetened soft drinks, fruit drinks and apple juice is associated with prevalent arthritis in US adults, aged 20-30 years. Nutrition & diabetes, 6(3), e199. https://doi.org/10.1038/nutd.2016.7 

Foods that fight inflammation. Harvard Health. (2021, November 16). Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation

Salgado, E., Bes-Rastrollo, M., de Irala, J., Carmona, L., & Gómez-Reino, J. J. (2015). High Sodium Intake Is Associated With Self-Reported Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Cross Sectional and Case Control Analysis Within the SUN Cohort. Medicine, 94(37), e0924. https://doi.org/10.1097/MD.0000000000000924