The #1 Worst Food for Arthritis, Says Dietitian — Eat This Not That

Additional reporting by Leo Andreoli.

Choosing the worst food to eat if you have arthritis is not easy, because the diagnosis of arthritis comes with a lot of variables.

For example, what makes one person’s joint pain worse may be very different from what makes another person’s joint pain worse, according to Heidi Turner, MS, RDN, CD, an integrative dietitian registered with Food Logic, specializes in autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.

Second, there are different types of arthritis, each of which may be exacerbated by something different in the diet. Four common forms of arthritis are: in the spine, which is the erosion of cartilage in the joints due to aging; Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks healthy cells and causes inflammation in the hands, wrists, and knees; gout, which usually affects one joint at a time, often beginning with the big toe and ankylosing spondylitis; or Ankylosing spondylitis (AS)This reduces the flexibility of the spine.

Related: Telltale Signs You Have Arthritis

“Everyone is different; one person with arthritis can eat food (and feel okay) while another can have a really bad reaction,” Turner says.

With that in mind, To find the worst arthritis food, the solution lies in trying the Elimination Diet. That is, excluding foods to determine which ones make you feel better when you stop eating them. Read on to learn more about how to try an elimination diet to identify foods that aggravate arthritis symptoms as well as the most likely culprits, and for more information on how to eat healthy, don’t miss the best juice for driving every day, says science.

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While an elimination diet will help you find the worst foods for arthritis, says Turner Processed foods that are high in sugar are generally considered the worst foods for people with any type of arthritis For the same reasons they are harmful to your overall health. “Foods with a lot of chemicals and preservatives, foods high in starch, sugars, highly processed grains, and things like that will encourage inflammation and are what you want to eliminate first from your diet and replace with whole foods,” she says.

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New research from the Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine suggests a link between an unhealthy gut microbiome and rheumatoid arthritis. According to the study, trillions of bacteria in your digestive system are affected by what you eat, and an imbalance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria can worsen rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

What are those foods that cause an unhealthy gut? Inflammatory foods such as saturated and trans fats, fried foods, corn oil, and baked goods. “If you work with a lot of gut issues, you might try eating those known inflammatory foods, including gluten and dairy,” Turner says.

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Some people with arthritis find that eating tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes and peppers causes swelling and stiffness in their arthritis. “Eating eggplant plants can irritate the joints; I see that a lot in my practice,” Turner says.

The inflammatory reaction may be caused by a buildup of a bitter chemical found in nightshade plants called solanine, according to the Cleveland Clinic. However, giving up eggplant has a downside: You’ll miss out on some highly nutritious foods, the Cleveland Clinic notes.

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The form of arthritis known as gout occurs when there is too much uric acid in the body and uric acid crystals build up in the joints, causing swelling and pain. Uric acid results from the breakdown of chemical compounds in certain foods called purines. “Gout is its little beast,” Turner says. She says that the worst foods to eat if you have gout are “foods that are high in purines such as organ meats, alcohol (especially beer), sardines, sweet drinks such as soda, and juices that contain high-fructose corn syrup.” Even some vegetables, such as broccoli and asparagus, are higher in purines than others and may cause joint inflammation.

Because foods can affect people very differently, cutting out certain inflammatory foods and monitoring how your body reacts may be the best way to identify those that exacerbate your arthritis symptoms, Turner says. She says other tactics to try are a paleo diet or a Mediterranean-style diet. Both include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, lean meats and fish and avoid added sugars and processed grains. To learn more about the health benefits of this style of eating, read What Happens to Your Body on the Mediterranean Diet.

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