9 Common Foods to Avoid with Arthritis

Quincy AdamArthritis Lifestyle

9 Common Foods to Avoid with Arthritis
For several decades now, some physicians and nutritionists have suspected that certain food allergies may trigger inflammation.

In 1989, a survey of more than 1,000 arthritis patients gave professionals more tangible evidence.1

While osteoarthritis is more common with rheumatoid arthritis and gout, osteoarthritis sufferers also run a risk of inflammation in the joints, which only makes a painful condition even worse. And just as some foods are loaded with vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids that relieve pain and inflammation, many others actually exacerbate the symptoms of osteoarthritis. These are the foods to avoid with arthritis.

As you go through the list below, don’t become discouraged or depressed that you’re going to have to give up all your favorite foods. The bottom line is about:

  • Adopting a good diet full of natural, whole foods
  • Identifying those foods that trigger your inflammation
    Not everyone reacts the same way. Your goal is to find the foods that you need to avoid with arthritis.

Single Out Your Inflammation Triggers

Read through the list of potential food allergens and inflammation triggers below. Consider which ones you consume most often and how you feel in the hours and days after their consumption. Then begin experimenting: Try eliminating one or two items at a time for a couple of months and track your results. If you can find the sources that contribute to your joint inflammation, you may not have to eliminate everything. And you may even get away with occasional “cheating.”

The key is to use your common sense. Be honest about your results. And talk with a healthcare professional, naturopath and/or nutritionist who is familiar with the many foods to avoid with arthritis.

Foods to Avoid with Arthritis

1. Sugars—In any form, sugar, candy and refined carbohydrates (e.g., white flour, muffins, donuts, carbonated beverages and many juices) are thought to be primary sources of inflammation. By cutting out sugars and reducing your calorie intake, you will also lose weight. For every pound you lose, you’ll take four pounds of stress off your joints.

2. Caffeine—Although the jury is still out, the caffeine in tea and coffee may stimulate joint pain, particularly with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The acidic effect of coffee may trigger inflammation for osteoarthritis as well.

3. Dairy— While dairy products do have some benefits, these may be foods to avoid with arthritis. That’s especially true if you are:

  • Lactose intolerant and allergic to the milk proteins whey and casein
  • Drinking milk from grain-fed, GMO cows

4. Salt—Excess consumption of table salt may cause swelling and inflammation. Rather than giving up salt, try reducing your intake.

5. Corn Oil—The omega-6 fatty acids in corn oil may be a source of inflammation. While your body needs a certain amount of omega-6, it’s the quantity that is probably the problem. Omega-6 is in our snacks and baked goods, many of our favorite processed foods, margarine and shortening. Try both cutting back on omega-6 fats and balancing them with more beneficial omega-3 fats in your diet.

6. Processed Foods—While they’re convenient and our supermarket aisles are filled with them, processed foods bring together many of the foods to avoid with arthritis: excess salt, sugars, refined carbohydrates and omega-6 fatty acids. To that combination, you can add any number of chemical preservatives and artificial additives that also may trigger inflammation in your joints. Fresh, whole, raw and natural may be better choices.

7. Fried foods—Similarly, fried foods combine several of the foods you may need to avoid with arthritis: salt, corn oil, and even chemical preservatives. Also, studies suggest that a toxin produced when cytokine proteins are cooked at high temperatures—whether frying, grilling, baking or microwaving—may trigger inflammation.2

8. Nightshade Plants—While historically nightshade plants (e.g., white potatoes, bell peppers, chili powder, eggplant, tomatoes) have received a worse rap than they probably deserve, their alkaloid chemicals may trigger pain and inflammation by interfering with calcium metabolism in some people. Tobacco—also a nightshade—contains a significant amount of the alkaloid nicotine, and according to a 2007 study smoking may lead to cartilage loss.3

9. Alcohol—When it comes to alcohol, there are two considerations:

  • Alcohol contributes to weight gain, which increases stress on joints
  • Alcohol can interfere with the effectiveness of some medications

If you can identify the food allergies that trigger your joint inflammation, you may be able to reduce your arthritis pain and your reliance on medications.


1 Sobel D, Klein, AC. Arthritis: What Works. New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1989. Out of print but widely referenced in other articles, such as Foods and Arthritis. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Available at http://www.pcrm.org/health/health-topics/foods-and-arthritis. Accessed July 21, 2015.2 Feldmann M, Brennan FM, Maini RN. Role of cytokines in rheumatoid arthritis. Annu Rev Immunol. 1996;14:397-440. Available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8717520. Accessed July 21, 2015.

3 Amin S, Niu J, Guermazi A, et al. Cigarette smoking and the risk for cartilage loss and knee pain in men with knee osteoarthritis. Ann Rheum Dis. 2007;66(1):18-22. Available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1798417/. Accessed July 21, 2015.