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6 Inflammatory Foods that Can Make Your Arthritis Worse

According to the CDC, approximately 1 in 4 adults live with arthritis. It’s the most common chronic condition in the U.S., and unfortunately, we have yet to find a cure. However, we have found ways to lessen the symptoms, specifically inflammation, joint pain and stiffness. While medications and injections are the most common treatments, your diet also can contribute to the severity of your arthritis symptoms. 

That’s right. The foods you eat may have an impact on your condition, so knowing what to avoid and what to eat more of can reduce the inflammation in your joints. It’s essential that you learn which foods are prone to cause inflammation and then recognize easy alternatives so you still feel satisfied and don’t feel joint pain.

1. Red Meats

Besides being bad for your heart health, an excess of red meat in your diet may cause inflammation in your body. This includes any cut of beef, pork and lamb. 

These red meats have higher amounts of saturated fats, which can cause strain on your heart and may lead to weight gain — a factor that may adversely affect your arthritis. They can also promote inflammation throughout your body. 

Instead, opt for heart-healthy meats and protein-rich vegetables such as:

  • White meat chicken
  • Fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel
  • Beans such as pinto, black beans and garbanzos
  • Lentils

2. Meats Grilled at High Temperatures

In addition to red meats, you should avoid grilling, broiling or frying any meat at high temperatures. This can increase the amount of a harmful compound called advanced glycation end products (or AGEs) found within these meats. This material may produce a pro-inflammatory response in your body, which can worsen the symptoms of your arthritis.

You should try different cooking methods that use lower temperatures, such as:

  • Using a slow cooker
  • Steaming (using a steamer basket)
  • Poaching (simmering something in a liquid)
  • Braising or stewing

We realize a poached steak does NOT sound appetizing, but a slow cooking a brisket or pot roast in arthritis-positive olive oil is super delicious. We recommend experimenting with different cooking methods. Your culinary creativity might surprise you!

3. Heavily Processed Foods

It’s important to note that not all processed foods are bad for you. Technically, a “processed” food is anything that has changed in nutritional composition by freezing, cooking, preserving or fortifying with other compounds. Things like canned tuna, frozen vegetables and canned vegetables are technically considered processed goods but are still healthful options.

The processed foods you should avoid include:

  • Frozen TV dinners
  • Frozen pizzas
  • Frozen fried foods
  • Potato chips
  • Sweetened breakfast cereals
  • White bread
  • Packaged snacks and cookies
  • Processed meats (bacon, ham, hot dogs, etc.)

As you may have noticed, a lot of this is “junk food” — food with a lot of calories (mostly from added sugars, salts and fats) that lacks essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Specifically, it’s the added sugars, preservatives and fats in these foods that are the pro-inflammatory ingredients. 

Here are a few tips for reducing your intake of highly processed goods:

  • Swap processed meats for healthier ones like chicken and fish
  • Bake or sautee things you would otherwise fry
  • Make fresh versions of your favorite frozen dinners (i.e. homemade pizzas)
  • Reduce your intake of snacks (i.e. chips, cookies, crackers) for options that benefit arthritis such as fruits, berries and nuts. 
  • Replace sugary cereal for healthful versions or oatmeal

4. Fried Foods

Fried foods are a triple threat, as they contain high amounts of fat, salt and calories. All of those in excess are bad for your health and arthritis. The fat and calories lead to weight gain, which cause further stress on your joints. The increased salt and trans fats may also put you at greater risk for heart disease and high blood pressure. 

Like red meats, we recommend you try different cooking methods to achieve the same delicious results. 

5. Refined Sugars

Expanding on the processed goods category, let’s talk more about refined sugars. Like processed foods, not all sugar is bad for you. The sugars that naturally occur in fruits and vegetables are generally good for your health and provide you with natural energy, as they’re carbohydrates.

However, when you add too much sugar to your diet often in the form of refined sugar — sugars extracted from naturally sweet plants — this compound does more harm than good. An excess amount of sugar may cause your body to release an inflammatory protein called cytokines. Additionally, excess sugar contributes to weight gain and can promote the onset of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. 

The best way to avoid the wrong sugars in your diet is to reduce your consumption of foods containing processed sweets, such as:

  • Sodas
  • Juices
  • Sweetened yogurt
  • Peanut butter (with added sugars)
  • Sweetened coffee creamer
  • Premade beverages (like a latte)
  • Ketchup
  • Jams and jellies
  • Sweetened dried fruit

6. Alcohol

There is a debate about whether alcohol (in moderation) is actually healthy for you. Some studies have shown a link between moderate red wine drinking and reduced risk for heart disease. However, the nutrients from red wine can also be found elsewhere in grapes and peanuts. 

What we do know is that too much alcohol may put you at risk for health problems, especially certain types of arthritis, like gout. Excess alcohol may increase levels of purine in your body, which can trigger a gout attack. 

If you do drink, the American Heart Association recommends the following moderate alcohol consumption protocols:

  • 1-2 drinks per day for men
  • 1 drink per day for women

Next steps:

Now that you know what foods to avoid, you can begin incorporating foods that help relieve the symptoms of arthritis. To learn more about how your diet can affect your condition, we recommend reading our article entitled The 13 Best Foods for Arthritis that Reduce Inflammation and Relieve Joint Pain.”

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