Six Common Foods to Avoid with Arthritis Chronic Back Pain

Quincy AdamChronic Pain Lifestyle

Stop salt
If you have chronic back pain caused by arthritis, consumption of inflammatory foods only makes arthritis and chronic back pain worse. When striving to avoid painful flare-ups, it’s best to avoid foods that cause inflammation of the joints.

Here are just some of the worst offenders of which you should be aware:

1. Salty foods

According the American Heart Association, nine out of ten Americans consume too much sodium. The recommended daily limit is 1,500 milligrams, yet most people eat more than double that amount, at an average of 3,400 a day!1

When your kidneys can’t eliminate salt fast enough, it accumulates in your bloodstream. Since salt holds water, blood vessels swell with the extra blood volume. As blood vessels expand, they may place pressure on joint tissue and cause pain. Some medications can also cause you to retain sodium, so extra salt in your diet compounds the risk of developing complications (including heart disease). However, removing salt from you’re your diet isn’t as easy as just putting away the salt shaker. Salt is everywhere … in packaged foods, in the food we eat at restaurants and what we used from home.

The Centers for Disease Control states that 65 percent of our salt intake comes from food bought in retail stores, 25 percent comes from restaurants, and only ten percent comes from home cooking.2 Cured meats, lunch meats, frozen meals…all of these, and many more, are high in sodium. Even foods you might not suspect, such as breads and cereals, can be hidden sources of sodium. And most condiments are also guilty of sneaking extra salt into our diets. To reduce salt, start with your grocery list! Avoid these foods as much as possible, or seek out low-sodium alternatives. Use a salt substitute at home, and be sure to rinse any canned vegetables prior to eating as this can help rinse off any extra salt.

2. Sugar

Sugar can induce inflammation, which can cause back pain. As little as two teaspoons of it can cause imbalance in your body chemistry, releasing insulin and stress hormones.

In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) called on countries around the world to “reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10 percent of their total energy intake for adults and children.”3

This is no easy task, since the USDA reports that average American consumption amounts to between 150 to 170 pounds of the sweet stuff a year.4 The problem is that sugar is hidden in many foods, and sodas are a major culprit. The average 12-ounce can of soda contains around eight ounces of sugar, which means it only takes four 12-ounce cans to equal ¼ pound of sugar. Sugar also goes by other names such as “sucrose” and “fructose,” making it important to read labels in the grocery store. Avoiding juice, sweets and any sugary cereals or “low-fat” foods (which are notoriously high in sugar and sodium) is your best bet for avoiding arthritis pain flare-ups.

3. Aspartame

An alternative to sugar, this artificial sweetener, which can cause an inflammatory reaction in those who are sensitive to it, should also be avoided. In these situations, the person’s body will attack the chemical and cause inflammation – which is exactly what arthritis sufferers must avoid. Be sure to read the label on sugar-free foods to make sure you’re not accidentally causing a reaction while trying to avoid sugar.

4. Alcohol

Alcohol contains high amounts of sugar, and it is also a diuretic. It blocks the release of antidiuretic hormone (or ADH), which the kidneys need to reabsorb water for proper function. Diuretics cause the kidneys to release water through increased urination, which causes dehydration and can increase painful inflammation. Alcohol also burdens the liver, making it work overtime to remove toxins from the body.

5. Refined Grains

Processed grains, like white flour and corn, have a higher glycemic index than unprocessed grains and can cause inflammation. Processed grains can be found in crackers, breads, pastries and other snack foods. Avoiding processed or packaged foods in favor of whole foods, such as fresh leafy vegetables, sprouted grains and legumes, can help you regulate blood sugar and avoid inflammatory response.

6. Grain-Fed Beef

Speaking of processed grains, conventional beef comes from cows fed from the same grains that are likely to cause inflammation. It is also high in Omega 6 fatty acids, which can trigger inflammation and are thought to contribute to Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. A healthier balance of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acids is found in Grass-fed beef, as well as grass-fed chickens (and eggs).

Depending upon your current diet, making these changes may seem like a major inconvenience. However, when considered in terms of avoiding flare-ups of chronic back pain and other effects of arthritis, the inconvenience seems much more worthwhile.

If you suffer from chronic back pain caused by arthritis, be sure to discuss any changes in diet with your health care practitioner.


1 “About Sodium (Salt).” http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/About-Sodium-Salt_UCM_463416_Article.jsp#.VxZsEfkrLIU. Accessed April 19, 2016.
2 “Sodium and Food Sources.” http://www.cdc.gov/salt/food.htm. Accessed April 19, 2016.
3 “WHO calls on countries to reduce sugars intake among adults and children.” http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/sugar-guideline/en/. Accessed April 19, 2016.
4 Sowers, Robert. “Profiling Food Consumption in America.” http://www.usda.gov/factbook/chapter2.pdf. Accessed April 19, 2016.