The proverb goes, you are what you eat.
The notion represents the idea that to be and stay healthy, you should eat well. Good nutrition not only helps you feel good, but it also helps prevent chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. And in Canada, there are few more prevalent diseases than arthritis. In fact, according to Statistics Canada, over 4.2 million Canadians (16%) aged 15 years and older reported having arthritis. And that number is expected to grow as the population ages.
Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints, and it can affect any part of your body. There more than 100 different types of arthritis, each with different mechanisms and causes. While there is no cure for arthritis, there are a number of effective potent treatments for the condition. At or near the top of the list of treatments is nutrition. By avoiding foods that exacerbate joint pain and eating foods that reduce it, you can improve your quality of life, curb the effects of arthritis, and limit its arthritis.
In this article, we’ll go over the best (and worst) foods for arthritis and joint pain.
Why Does Diet Affect Arthritis?
Most of the foods that are “bad” for arthritis are foods that promote inflammation.
As explained above, arthritis is a disease defined by joint inflammation. While inflammation is actually part of our body’s process for healing itself, with arthritis, too much inflammation continues to build up over time. This produces excessive swelling, restricts the joint’s movement, and triggers pain. The inflammation build-up ultimately erodes healthy tissue and bone. This leads to joint deformities and damages the surrounding ligaments, tendons and muscles.
The types of foods you eat can affect inflammation. Simply put, eating foods that trigger even more inflammation will make arthritis worse, whereas those that inhibit it can work as a natural “anti-inflammatory”. Wondering what foods those are? Keep reading to find out.
What are the worst foods to eat if you have arthritis?
There are many foods that can aggravate arthritis. The main thing they all have in common is that they trigger a chain reaction that triggers our body to produce inflammation, which makes arthritis symptoms worse.
Artificial trans fats
Fast food can be great when you’re on the go. Unfortunately, it’s also loaded in artificial trans fat, which is not so great if you have arthritis. On the spectrum of fats to avoid if you have arthritis, artificial trans fats ranks near the top. This is because, per the Arthritis Foundation, trans fats and saturated fats raise low-density lipoprotein (aka the “bad” cholesterol) while reducing high-density lipoprotein (aka “good” cholesterol). This increases risk factors associated with arthritis, like weight gain, while sending signals to our brain to release inflammation to the joints.
- French fries
- Fried foods
Like artificial trans fats, saturated fats can also trigger inflammation, which can contribute to arthritis flare-ups. Saturated fats specifically stimulate inflammation in fatty (adipose) tissue.
The following foods are high in saturated fats:
- Whole dairy products, like butter, lard, creams and cheese
- Red meats
- Baked Goods
- Milk and white chocolate
Dietary adjustments have been used to treat rheumatoid arthritis with varying results. One link is between that of gluten. According to a study published in 2021 in the National Library of Medicine, evidence suggests that a gluten-free diet may improve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Refined carbohydrates and white sugar
When there’s too much sugar in our system, our insulin tries to store the excess within fat cells. This makes fat cells grow in size.
- White bread
- Sweetened beverages
- Granola bars
Foods with high amounts of a chemical named purine can raise uric acid levels, which contributes to gout. Avoid red meat and organ meats (for instance, liver) for this reason. Consuming red meat may increase your levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), C-reactive protein (CRP), and homocysteine, which can cause inflammation.
As alcohol may worsen arthritis symptoms, anyone with inflammatory arthritis should restrict or avoid it. One study linked alcohol to spinal structural damage in patients with axial spondylarthritis (a type of arthritis that primarily affects the spinal cord and sacroiliac (SI) joints).
Studies have also shown that alcohol intake may increase the frequency and severity of gout attacks. Moreover, some studies associate chronic alcohol consumption with an increased risk of osteoarthritis.
What are the best foods to eat if you have arthritis?
Foods that are good for arthritis are typically good for your joints, help reduce inflammation, and are rich in vitamins.
Green tea contains antioxidants called polyphenols that have been shown to slow cartilage degradation. Polyphenols also help reduce inflammation in your joints. People with rheumatoid arthritis may benefit from another antioxidant called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG).
Fish — salmon, herring, tuna, sardines, mackerel — is great for people with rheumatoid arthritis because it is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which naturally fight inflammation.
These fish contain the highest amounts of omega-3s:
Vegetables are good for people with arthritis for a number of reasons. They’re rich in vitamins, including vitamins A, C, and K, which protect cells from free-radical damage. These foods are also high in calcium, which helps bone strength and density.
Examples of vegetables good for arthritis include:
- Brussels sprouts
- Swiss chard
- Bok choy
Some nuts are rich in magnesium, l-arginine, and vitamin E, which can play a role in fighting inflammation. Studies show that people who eat a diet high in these nutrients tend to have lower levels of some inflammation-causing molecules and higher levels of the anti-inflammatory protein, adiponectin.
Whole grains are rich in B vitamins and in antioxidants, which protect cells from damage.
Soy is another food rich in omega-3, therefore being naturally effective in reducing inflammation. Soybeans are high in protein and fiber but low in fat, making them a great addition to any plate.
Examples of food that contain soy include:
- Soy milk