Worst Foods for Arthritis (What to Avoid)

June 5, 2023

junk food

If you’re living with arthritis, your diet can impact your comfort and mobility. While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to eating well with arthritis, certain foods are known to contribute to inflammation and should be eliminated or eaten in moderation. To help, we’ve compiled a list of the six worst foods for people with arthritis, why you should reconsider them in your diet, and recommendations for foods that can reduce inflammation.

Foods that can worsen arthritis symptoms

Gluten-containing grains and pasta

Gluten can be particularly detrimental for people suffering from arthritis. Gluten has been linked to inflammation and joint stiffness, which can increase pain. And while gluten may be hard to part with for some, studies show that a gluten-free diet can help reduce joint pain, stiffness, swelling, and fatigue.

For people with rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune conditions, the proteins in gluten can confuse the body’s immune system, mistakenly causing it to attack healthy cells and tissues. Research has shown that eliminating gluten for those with autoimmune diseases can significantly improve a patient’s condition and quality of life.

If you’re reducing or eliminating gluten from your diet, be sure to keep a careful eye on food labels. Gluten is commonly found in unexpected places, including soy sauce, sour cream, deli meats, condiments, and dressings.

Highly Processed Foods

Filled with added sugars, trans fats, and other additives, highly processed foods can increase inflammation in the body—including areas affected by arthritis. These foods include packaged snacks, pre-made meals, boxed food mixes, and frozen dinners.

Instead, opt for whole foods like fresh fruits and vegetables. These foods tend to be nutrient-dense with higher levels of fiber, minerals, and vitamins, which is good for your joints and overall health.


Dairy can be a problem for people with arthritis because it has been found to contain arachidonic acid, a type of fatty acid that research has linked to increased levels of inflammation. And when inflammation in the body worsens, symptoms associated with arthritis worsen, too.

The good news? There are more options than ever to replace dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt in your diet. These include plant-based options made from almonds, oats, cashews, and coconuts.

Sugary Drinks

Sodas, energy drinks, and sweetened coffees and teas may taste good, but they’re not doing your joints any favors. These drinks, which can even include some fruit juices, are packed with added sugar that can contribute to joint inflammation. Instead of reaching for sugary drinks when thirst strikes, opt for water or unsweetened tea. You can add natural fruits like lemons and limes for extra flavor or mix up your water with cucumber and mint for a refreshing kick.

Foods High in Salt or Sodium

Consuming excessive amounts of salt can increase fluid retention and lead to swelling. And while sodium is an essential electrolyte in the body, too much of it causes fluid imbalance and can increase blood pressure and volume, all of which puts strain on joints.

High sodium intake is also linked to increased cartilage breakdown. And since cartilage is the tissue that protects your bones and joints, it’s important to keep an eye on your sodium intake, especially with sauces and condiments that tend to be sodium-dense and often overlooked.

High-fat Foods

Diets with high levels of saturated fat can cause inflammation and other conditions that worsen the symptoms of arthritis. Examples of commonly consumed foods with high fat include red meat, full-fat dairy products, processed snack foods, and fried food. In addition to triggering inflammation, some fatty acids in these foods have been shown to increase the body’s sensitivity to pain.

People with arthritis should opt for healthy fats like fish, olive oil, and nuts, which have anti-inflammatory properties.

Orthopedic Doctors for Arthritis

Eating a nutritious diet and including anti-inflammatory foods can help if you have arthritis. However, seeing an orthopedic specialist regularly is essential for managing symptoms effectively and improving quality of life.

At Orlin & Cohen Orthopedic Group, our team of experienced orthopedic doctors specializes in helping patients manage their arthritis and chronic pain. Your doctor works closely with our in-house diagnostic team to carefully evaluate your condition and develop a customized treatment plan, which may include physical therapy or pain management.

Looking to find the best treatment for your arthritis? We’ve got specialists for that—and same-day appointments. Request yours now.