Avoiding eating certain foods may help people with arthritis manage their symptoms. This can include avoiding inflammatory fats, foods with added sugar, high salt foods, nightshades, and foods high in purines.

Consuming certain foods may also be beneficial for managing symptoms. This can include consuming a diet rich in whole fruits and vegetables and focusing on anti-inflammatory fats.

A registered dietitian can provide more information about anti-inflammatory diets and help a person create a suitable eating plan to manage arthritis while ensuring that they get enough essential nutrients.

Read on to learn more about foods a person with arthritis may choose to limit in their diet. This article also discusses foods to eat, anti-inflammatory diets, and more.

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Limiting intake of certain types of food may help a person manage symptoms of arthritis.

1. Inflammatory fats

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

Omega-6 fatty acids

Several oils, such as corn, safflower, sunflower, and vegetable oils, contain high levels of these acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are not harmful in moderation, but many people 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 total daily calorie intake for people ages 2 years and older.

Trans fats

This type of fat can be harmful because it reduces “good” cholesterol levels, increases “bad” cholesterol levels, and increases inflammation.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned partially hydrogenated oils, a major source of artificial trans fats, from prepared foods in 2018. But some processed foods may still contain them, so it is best to check the nutrition label and ingredients list to be sure.

2. Added sugar

A 2020 review 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 contribute to obesity, inflammation, and other chronic conditions.

Many foods contain added sugars. Always check labels for information about how much added sugar a product contains.

Foods and drinks that may add a lot of sugar to a person’s diet include:

  • cakes
  • pastries
  • cookies
  • jams and other sweet spreads
  • white bread
  • soft drinks
  • fruit juice
  • some types of alcohol, such as beer and cider
  • condiments such as ketchup, relish, and barbecue sauce

Learn more about added sugar.

3. High salt foods

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

People should aim to consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium (about 1 teaspoon of salt) per day.

High sodium foods that a person may wish to avoid include:

  • pizza
  • burgers
  • fast food tacos and burritos
  • deli meat sandwiches
  • chips and other savory snacks

Avoiding packaged foods and cooking with fresh ingredients may also help reduce a person’s sodium intake.

Learn more about foods high in sodium.

4. Nightshades

Nightshades are vegetables that contain the compound solanine.

Some research suggests that solanine-containing vegetables may interfere with the gut microbiota and indirectly increase inflammation.

The Arthritis Foundation advises that people who suspect that nightshades may worsen their symptoms should exclude these foods from their diet for a couple of weeks and 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, it is best for a person to exclude these vegetables from their diet.

Learn more about nightshades and arthritis.

5. Foods high in purines

For people with gout, a doctor may advise a low purine diet in addition to 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 and drinks are high in purines:

  • organ meats, such as liver
  • red meat
  • some seafood, including:
    • anchovies
    • mussels
    • sardines
    • scallops
    • trout
    • tuna
  • beer and other alcohol

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

6. Advanced glycation end (AGE) products

AGE products are inflammatory compounds that can build up in tissues, particularly as people age. People with conditions such as RA often have increased AGE levels. Lowering AGE levels may help reduce inflammation.

Fat and sugar both increase AGE levels in the body, and some food processing methods and high temperature cooking increase the AGE levels in foods.

Foods high in dietary AGEs include:

  • fried bacon
  • roasted poultry skin
  • pizza
  • some cheeses, such as Parmesan and cream cheese
  • salty snacks such as potato chips and crackers
  • butter and margarine

7. Processed and red meats

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

Types of red meat include:

  • beef
  • goat
  • lamb
  • mutton
  • veal
  • venison
  • pork

8. Refined carbohydrates

Diets high in refined carbohydrates may increase inflammation in people with 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.

Refined carbohydrates include added sugars and grains that undergo additional processing, which removes fiber and nutrients. Examples of foods high in refined grains include:

  • white bread
  • many baked goods
  • desserts

While more research is necessary in this area, a small 2020 study suggests that a low carbohydrate diet can reduce pain symptoms in people with knee osteoarthritis.

Eating certain foods can help people:

  • reduce inflammation levels in their bodies
  • maintain a moderate weight
  • promote tissue health and healing

Usually, inflammation protects the body from harm by defending against infection and aiding wound healing. However, when inflammation persists for a long time, chronic symptoms can develop.

The foods a person eats have an impact on inflammation levels. Some foods can promote inflammation, while 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.

Certain dietary habits may help a person reach or maintain a moderate weight, which can reduce inflammation and joint pressure.

Finally, some types of arthritis have specific trigger foods. For example, foods high in purines can contribute to a gout attack. Changing the diet to avoid trigger foods may help.

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 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. Researchers recommend eating at least two servings of oily fish per week. Alternatively, a person can take a fish oil supplement. Walnuts and flaxseed, as well as 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 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: According to the National Institutes of Health, foods high in vitamin C help protect bone and cartilage. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant.

Eating an anti-inflammatory diet can help people 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 amounts 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 reduce the risk of fractures.

Additionally, for some people, following the Mediterranean diet may be a way to lose weight without counting calories or limiting portion sizes.

A large 2018 study found that males who followed the Mediterranean diet had a lower risk of developing RA. And a 2018 review suggests that the antioxidants in the Mediterranean diet may decrease pain for people with RA.

Plant-based diets may also help a person reach or maintain a moderate weight, which in turn can help with pain management.

Learn more about the Mediterranean diet.

Other tips that may help someone manage their arthritis include:

  • Engaging in low impact exercise: This type of activity helps a person stay active without damaging the joints. The CDC recommends walking, swimming, or cycling.
  • Choosing healthy cooking methods: Certain cooking methods can make nutrients more available and easier to absorb. This can include steaming rather than boiling and lightly frying in a healthful oil rather than deep-frying.
  • Getting regular sun exposure: Vitamin D is essential for bone health because it helps the body absorb calcium. While some foods contain vitamin D, the easiest way to get enough vitamin D is to spend some time in the sunshine.

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

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

Consuming anti-inflammatory foods may help someone with arthritis manage their symptoms. These include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and anti-inflammatory fats.

A registered dietitian can help a person create an eating plan and identify foods they may want to avoid or consume to manage symptoms of arthritis.