6 Foods to Avoid If You Have Osteoarthritis

Medically reviewed by Natalie Butler, RD, LD on April 27, 2017Written by Kathryn Watson on April 27, 2017

Diet and osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a condition in which the cushion of cartilage between your joints breaks down and wears away. It can cause severe joint pain and swelling. Osteoarthritis (OA) is an inflammatory condition, so its symptoms can be aggravated by eating foods that contribute to inflammation in the body. Avoiding certain foods could help you to avoid triggering OA flare-ups.

1. Sugar

Sugar-rich carbohydrates, such as processed cakes, cookies, and bakery items, may actually change your body’s immune-response to disease according to one study. This reaction can worsen inflammation and leave your strained joints feeling even weaker. Natural substitutes such as pure maple syrup and honey may appease your sweet tooth without contributing to arthritis symptoms.

2. Salt

Eating too much salt causes your cells to retain water. This means that they swell up. Your body does need sodium to function, but eating too much leads to an inflammatory reaction. This can contribute to joint damage. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most Americans consume an excess of sodium daily. To cut back on sodium, try swapping out your salt for other spices, like lemon zest, or flavored peppers, like garlic pepper, to enhance your food.

3. Fried food

The Arthritis Foundation points out that foods that are high in saturated fats, such as french fries and donuts, can increase inflammation in the body and make arthritis pain worse. The chemical reaction in your body caused by the oils used to fry food can raise your cholesterol, too. Stick with foods that are baked without any oil additives. When you need to use oil to cook with, opt for a small amount of olive or avocado oil, instead.

4. White flour

Refined wheat products, like white bread, stimulate your body’s inflammatory response. That’s why eating a lot of refined pastas, cereals, and grain products might make your arthritis pain flare up. To avoid this, try to choose whole grains whenever possible. Avoid bread products that have been heavily processed. Gluten-containing whole grains and yeast additives may also impact arthritis pain.

5. Omega-6 fatty acids

According to the Harvard Medical School, you should limit your intake of foods containing omega-6 fatty acids, such as egg yolks and red meat. Saturated fats may increase levels of inflammation in the body, making arthritis pain worse. Eating foods rich in omega-3s, such as salmon, almonds, and beans, will give you the protein you need without worsening your symptoms.

6. Dairy

Dairy products are believed to cause inflammation in some people, and that triggers arthritis pain. A study found that people with arthritis that avoided animal milks experienced a significant improvement in their symptoms. Substitute dairy with a healthy source of fats, like almond milk, or an anti-inflammatory, like flax milk. Make sure to avoid carrageenan in these milks, which is an additive derived from seaweed that can cause gastrointestinal symptoms and weaken intestinal permeability.

Osteoarthritis and alcohol

Drinking alcohol to excess when you have osteoarthritis is discouraged by experts. Drinking alcohol, especially beer, can contribute to flare-ups because of high purine levels in commercial alcohol products. Most arthritis medication should never be mixed with alcohol because it interacts with the effectiveness of the drug and can actually be quite dangerous.


The foods that people with osteoarthritis should avoid also happen to be foods that interfere with a healthy diet. That means that limiting these foods could benefit your arthritis in two ways. It will reduce levels of inflammation in the body, and it will also probably help you to lose a bit of weight. Even small incremental weight loss can make a difference in arthritis symptom severity. Speak to your doctor about how your diet might be affecting your arthritis symptoms.

CMS Id: 120228