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12 Foods to Avoid If You Have Arthritis

When you have arthritis, you want to keep inflammation at a minimum. Find out what foods you should avoid to feel your best.

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Couple beer cheersRanta Images/Shutterstock

Alcohol

Try to limit the amount of alcohol you consume as it can aggravate any inflammation happening in the body. (What is inflammation? Here’s a quick explainer.) This becomes a real concern if you’re drinking more than 1-2 drinks per sitting. Instead, give non-alcoholic party drinks a try to help you cut back but still have fun.

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Sliced white bread; Shutterstock ID 352819853Gamzova Olga/Shuttertock

White Bread

Refined carbohydrates like white bread not only provide your body with minimal nutrition but may also fuel the production of something called advanced glycation end (AGE) products. These compounds are known to promote inflammation, a red flag for those with arthritis. Swap out white bread for whole grain bread like this, which is also a healthy choice in terms of fiber, vitamins and minerals.

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Variety of ice cream scoops in cones with chocolate, vanilla and strawberryElena Veselova/Shutterstock

Ice Cream

Sugar is a major inflammatory agent in our diet, as is saturated fat—both of which can make arthritis symptoms worse! Ice cream has high levels of both saturated fat and sugar, making it something to enjoy every now and then. For dessert most nights, try one of these colorful fruit salad recipes.

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Golden French fries potatoes ready to be eatenilolab/Shutterstock

French Fries

Traditional french fries are (unfortunately) aggravating for those suffering from arthritis. Fried foods and refined carbohydrates both fuel production of AGEs. Also, french fries are typically fried in vegetable oils that are composed of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. Finally, they are typically loaded with sodium, which can promote inflammation.

All three of these factors make french fries a poor choice for those with arthritis. We’re recommending sweet potato fries as an alternative.

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Table with loads of cakes, cupcakes, cookies and cakepops.Halfpoint/Shutterstock

Cakes, Cookies and Other Sweets

Given that both sugar and saturated fats are inflammatory foods, traditional treats are something those with arthritis should steer clear of. Fortunately, there are many ways to satisfy your sweet tooth, whether that be swapping out sugar for a natural alternative and/or swapping out butter and cream for low-fat yogurt or avocado. Here are some great low-sugar desserts to try.

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Spicy Chinese Take Out Food with Chopsticks and Fortune CookiesBrent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Takeout Chinese Food

Take-out food tends to be loaded with sodium, making it highly inflammatory. Chinese food is a particular concern because it often contains monosodium glutamate (MSG), which can trigger two separate inflammatory pathways making it a big stressor for arthritis symptoms. If you’re hankering for some Chinese takeout, try one of these MSG-free takeout fake-out recipes.

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Women hand pour or fill drink in glass, double glass of soda on wooden tableKazitafahnizeer/Shutterstock

Soda

You’ll find sugar, aspartame and/or phosphoric acid on the ingredient list of most sodas. All three of these can flare arthritis pain through aggravating inflammation. Try replacing your soda with green tea or one of these fruity infused waters.

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Bottles with different kinds of vegetable oilAlexander Prokopenko/Shutterstock

Safflower, Sunflower, Corn and Soybean Oil

Safflower, sunflower, soybean and corn oil all have one thing in common: They’re composed of more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. Given that omega-6s are pro-inflammatory fatty acids, as opposed to the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, these oils can make arthritis symptoms worse. Try swapping these oils out for avocado oil, walnut oil, flaxseed oil or cod liver oil.

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Crispy potato chips in a wicker bowl on old kitchen tableJiri Hera/Shutterstock

Potato Chips

Similar to french fries, potato chips are an AGE-producing refined carb, loaded with sodium, and tend to be fried in a not-good-for-you vegetable oil. All three of these factors make them likely to irritate bodily inflammation. These brands of healthy chips may hit the spot when you’re craving something crunchy!

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grilling steaks on flaming grillJoshua Resnick/Shutterstock

Red Meat

Meats, particularly red meats, increase inflammation in the body through a number of pathways, from increasing inflammatory lab markers to containing AGEs after cooking using dry heat, like grilling. Try to reduce your red meat intake if you can and/or cook it off the grill.

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Butter, bread and a knife isolated on a wooden background; Shutterstock ID 325175198; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): Taste of HomeMarietjie/Shutterstock

Margarine

While trying to limit your saturated fat intake, you may want to turn from butter to margarine, but resist the temptation! Margarine is full of trans fats, an artificially created fat that turns unsaturated (liquid) fats into solids. When you eat these types of fats, they lower your good cholesterol while increasing your bad cholesterol as well as increase inflammatory markers in your body. Try to focus on heart-healthy, high omega-3 oils like avocado, walnut and flaxseed.

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cold cuts with breadValerio Pardi/Shutterstock

Processed Meats

Processed meats (and processed foods for that matter) are major inflammatory aggravators. Processed foods tend to contain saturated fats and loads of sodium while processed meats are known carcinogens and can be AGE-producing. Try to limit your intake of these as much as possible and stick to homemade foods and minimally processed, gently cooked meats.

Christina Manian, RDN
Christina Manian is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist based out of Boulder, Colorado. Hailing from Boston, Massachusetts, she has been involved with the nutrition departments of Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston Medical Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Mass General Hospital. She completed her nutrition education at the Mayo Clinic with a focus on medical nutrition therapy and most recently practiced clinical nutrition at the University of Minnesota Medical Center. While her background has largely been in the clinical setting, Christina embraces and is shifting her focus towards wellness nutrition as the backbone to optimum health.

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