People with arthritis may wish to avoid inflammatory foods, such as saturated fat and added sugar. It may also involve avoiding foods that are high in purines. Doing so may improve a person’s symptoms.

In this article, we look at eight types of food a person with arthritis may benefit from avoiding.

We also look at which foods may help people with the condition and discuss an anti-inflammatory diet.

The article then explores other methods that people with arthritis can use to help manage their condition.

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Read on to find out which foods to limit with arthritis.

1. Inflammatory fats

Several types of fat increase inflammation in the body. According to the Arthritis Foundation, a person with arthritis should limit the following:

  • Omega 6 fatty acids: Several oils, such as corn, safflower, sunflower, and vegetable, contain high levels of these acids. Omega 6 fatty acids are not harmful in moderation, but many people in the United States consume a lot of them.
  • Saturated fat: Meat, butter, and cheese contain this type of fat. Saturated fat should account for less than 10% of a person’s total calorie intake daily.
  • Trans fats: This type of fat can be harmful because it reduces “good” cholesterol, increases “bad” cholesterol, and raises inflammation levels. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned trans fats from prepared foods in 2018. However, some processed foods may still contain trans fats, so people should check the nutrition facts panel and ingredients list to be sure.

2. Added sugar

A 2020 study indicates that people who drink regular sugar-sweetened soda have an increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Frequent consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages can also lead to obesity, inflammation, and other chronic diseases.

Many products contain added sugars. Always check food labels on breakfast cereals, sauces, and soft drinks, as these may contain surprising amounts of added sugars.

3. High-salt foods

Excessive salt, or sodium, intake may increase the risk of developing autoimmune diseases such as RA. It may also worsen RA symptoms.

High sodium consumption can also increase blood pressure and raise a person’s risk of developing other chronic conditions such as cardiovascular and kidney disease, heart failure, and stroke.

People should keep their sodium intake below 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day (about 1 teaspoon of salt).

4. Nightshades

Nightshades are a group of vegetables that contain the compound solanine. Studies have not confirmed that nightshades can trigger arthritis pain.

Some research suggests that solanine-containing vegetables may interfere with the gut microbiota and indirectly increase inflammation, while an animal study found that many nightshades might, in fact, reduce inflammation.

However, the Arthritis Foundation advises that people who suspect nightshades may exacerbate symptoms exclude them from their diet for a couple of weeks, then reintroduce them one at a time.

Nightshade vegetables include:

  • tomatoes
  • bell peppers
  • chili peppers
  • eggplant
  • potatoes

Keeping a food diary may help a person keep track of any reactions they have to a specific food. If any nightshades trigger symptoms upon reintroduction, they should exclude these vegetables from their diet.

Learn more about nightshades and arthritis here.

5. Foods high in purines

For people with gout, a doctor may advise a low-purine diet combined with their medications.

Purines are substances in foods that the body converts to uric acid. Uric acid can build up in the bloodstream, causing a gout attack. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the following foods are high in purines:

  • organ meat, such as liver
  • beer and other alcohol
  • cured meats such as ham, bacon, or lunch meats
  • some seafood, such as mussels and scallops

However, a 2018 review identified that some purine-rich vegetables, such as cauliflower, mushrooms, and beans, have no links to gout risk.

6. Advanced glycation end products (AGEs)

AGEs are inflammatory compounds that can accumulate in tissues, particularly as someone ages. People with diseases such as diabetes and RA often have increased AGE levels. So, reducing AGE levels may help reduce inflammation.

Fat and sugar both increase AGE levels in the body. Some food processing methods and high-temperature cooking also increase the AGE levels in food.

7. Processed and red meats

Diets high in processed red meat and dairy may worsen RA symptoms. Some studies have also linked red meat intake with early onset of RA.

In contrast, plant-based diets may reduce arthritis symptoms.

8. Refined carbohydrates

Refined carbohydrates include added sugars and grains that undergo additional processing, which removes fiber and nutrients. Examples of foods high in refined grains are white bread, many baked goods, and desserts.

Diets high in refined carbohydrates may increase inflammation in arthritis. Refined carbohydrate consumption can also increase insulin resistance and has an association with a higher risk of obesity. Both of these are risk factors for arthritis.

Studies show that a low-carbohydrate diet can reduce pain symptoms in people with knee osteoarthritis.

There are several types of arthritis, all of which cause pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints. The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis. Other forms include:

According to the CDC, 24 in 100 adults in the U.S. have a form of arthritis.

What a person eats can help:

  • reduce inflammation levels in the body
  • maintain a moderate weight
  • promote tissue health and healing

Usually, inflammation protects the body from harm by helping defend against infection and aiding wound healing. However, when inflammation persists for an extended period, chronic symptoms can develop.

What a person eats has an impact on inflammation levels. Some foods are inflammatory, and others are anti-inflammatory.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, numerous studies show that anti-inflammatory foods can reduce arthritis pain and progression.

A person’s body weight also influences inflammation levels. Fat cells produce cytokines, which are immune cells that increase inflammation.

A person can use a diet to maintain a moderate weight, which may help with inflammation and reduce joint pressure.

Finally, some types of arthritis have specific trigger foods. For example, foods high in purines can contribute to a gout attack.

Consuming the following foods may benefit people with arthritis.

Anti-inflammatory fats

The Arthritis Foundation lists the following as types of fat that can reduce inflammation:

  • Unsaturated fats: These include olive oil, avocado oil, and oils from nuts and seeds. Extra virgin olive oil contains the compound oleocanthal, which has anti-inflammatory properties similar to ibuprofen.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Oily fish, such as salmon, sardines, and herring, contain omega-3 fatty acids. Arthritis researchers recommend eating at least 2 servings of oily fish per week. Alternatively, a person can take a fish oil supplement. Walnuts, flax seeds, and their oils are excellent vegan omega-3 sources.

Fruits and vegetables

Research indicates that plant-based diets can decrease RA symptoms. These diets are typically rich in anti-inflammatory fruits and vegetables and naturally avoid many common RA trigger foods.

The Arthritis Foundation suggests that the following fruits and vegetables may be especially beneficial for people with arthritis:

  • Onions, garlic, and leeks: All of these contain the anti-inflammatory compound quercetin. They also contain sulfur compounds that may reduce cartilage damage.
  • Sweet potatoes, squash, and carrots: Orange and red vegetables contain carotenoids, which are antioxidants.
  • Green leafy vegetables: Vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, Swiss chard, and spinach contain calcium, which is essential for bone health. They also contain antioxidants.
  • Citrus fruits, strawberries, and kiwi fruit: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that foods with high amounts of vitamin C help protect bone and cartilage. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant.

Learn more about vegan diets here.

Eating an anti-inflammatory diet can help someone stay healthy and avoid the symptoms of chronic inflammation. One of the most-researched anti-inflammatory diets is the Mediterranean diet.

The Mediterranean diet focuses on the following foods:

  • olive oil
  • whole grains, fruits, and vegetables
  • lean meats, eggs, and fish
  • nuts and seeds

The diet also includes moderate levels of dairy products, but limits added sugar, alcohol, and red meat.

The Arthritis Foundation notes that a Mediterranean diet may reduce inflammation and pain in people with osteoarthritis and protect against fracture risk.

Some people who follow the Mediterranean diet may also lose weight without counting calories or limiting portion sizes.

A large population-based 2018 study found that men who followed the Mediterranean diet had a lower risk of developing RA. Another study suggests that the antioxidants in the Mediterranean diet may decrease pain for people with RA.

Plant-based diets may also help a person reach and maintain a moderate weight.

Other tips that may help someone manage their arthritis include:

  • Low-impact exercise: This type of activity helps a person stay active without damaging the joints. The CDC recommend walking, swimming, or cycling.
  • Cooking methods: Certain cooking methods can make nutrients more available. For example, steaming rather than boiling, and lightly frying in a healthful oil rather than deep-frying, can make nutrients easier to absorb.
  • Sun exposure: Vitamin D is essential for bone health because, according to the Arthritis Foundation, it helps the body absorb calcium. While some food sources contain vitamin D, the easiest way to get adequate vitamin D is to spend some time in the sunshine.

Foods that increase inflammation, such as added sugar and saturated fat, may worsen arthritis symptoms. Some people may also find that foods high in purines and nightshades trigger arthritis flare-ups.

To identify triggers, a person can try excluding suspected foods for a couple of weeks, then reintroducing them one at a time.

Anti-inflammatory foods may help someone with arthritis manage their symptoms. These include plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and anti-inflammatory fats.

Someone with arthritis who is struggling to find the best eating plan may wish to speak with a registered dietitian.