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Best and Worst Foods for Arthritis

Best: Fatty Fish

Fatty varieties of fish, such as salmon, can make a great addition to your diet. The omega-3 fatty acids found in this type of fish help suppress cytokines in the body, which is a type of chemical that can cause inflammation in arthritis patients. In addition to being great for arthritis, omega-3s are important for maintaining heart health as well.

Worst: Refined Sugar

Almost all of the processed foods we eat contain additional refined sugar to make them more appetizing. However, all this excess sweet goodness can cause serious inflammation—especially if you’re eating it every day. To help reduce your intake, consider cooking more of your meals from scratch so you have complete control over how much sugar gets included.

Best: Colorful Fruits and Veggies

Almost every variety of fruit and vegetable available is chock full of antioxidants, which are important for keeping free radicals in check. Free radicals are damaged cells within your body that have been shown to cause signs of aging and, more importantly, inflammation. However, with enough fresh produce in your diet, you can ensure that your body has the antioxidants it needs to protect itself. When choosing produce, go for as much color as possible—fruits and vegetables that are dark red, purple, or blue have some of the highest concentration of antioxidants.

Worst: Whole-fat Milk

C-reactive protein is a specific form of the nutrient that can cause inflammation. Unfortunately, there are very high levels of this chemical in whole milk and other products (such as cheese) that are made with whole milk. If you can’t imagine giving up dairy entirely, consider making the switch to skim milk instead—it’s c-reactive levels are much lower.

Best: Whole Grains

Most people know that whole grains are important for heart and digestive health, but they can also be great for dealing with arthritis as well. In addition to reducing levels of c-reactive protein, another chemical known to cause inflammation, whole grains are also lower in sugar than refined varieties. Since sugar is another inflammation culprit, reducing your intake to lower levels may prove to be beneficial.

Worst: Salt

Like sugar, there is way too much salt in many of the foods we eat today. Excess salt consumption has been shown specifically to increase inflammation of the joints, and that spells trouble for people with arthritis. To keep your salt levels in check, it’s best to follow the same advice as dealing with sugar—cook from scratch in order to control how much salt gets used. 

Best: Garlic

Turns out, garlic is designed to more than just make your breath smell funny--it can also help reduce inflammation associated with arthritis. According to one study, participants who ate more garlic had a smaller risk of developing osteoarthritis. 


Worst: Fried Foods

Fried foods are a common source of trans fat. In addition to being wildly unhealthy for your heart, trans fats can also contribute to inflammation in the body. 


Best: Ginger

Ginger is full of flavor and full of beneficial nutrients to help keep arthritis at bay. In addition to reducing inflammation, some studies have shown that ginger can reduce the pain associated with arthritis as well. 


Worst: Corn Oil

While omega-3 fatty acids are essential for health, their distant relatives--omega-6 fatty acids--are not. Corn oil is high in omega-6, which can lead to more inflammation and joint pain from weight gain. 


Best: Broccoli

We may have hated broccoli as a kid, but it can be very beneficial if you’re dealing with arthritis. This wonder vegetable contains the compound sulforaphane--which has been shown to stop cells responsible for rheumatoid arthritis. 


Worst: Red Meat

Red meat is high in saturated fat, which is one of the common culprits of inflammation. Sticking with leaner types of meat can help reduce this. 


Best: Walnuts

Walnuts are nutrient dense and a smart part of any healthy diet, but they may be particularly beneficial for people with arthritis. Their biggest benefit? They’re full of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce pain levels associated with arthritis. 


Worst: Alcohol

Alcohol, when consumed in moderation, can be acceptable for people with arthritis. However, alcohol has been known to interfere negatively with some types of rheumatoid arthritis medication. 


Best: Soybeans

Like many other foods on this list, soybeans are great for arthritis because of their omega-3 fatty acids. 


Worst: White Bread

White bread is a refined carbohydrate, which means most of the beneficial fiber is stripped away while the grain’s sugar is left. This can lead to blood sugar spikes which may cause joint or other kinds of inflammation. 


Best: Olive Oil

In addition to being full of healthy fats, olive oil has other benefits for people dealing with arthritis. These include the presence of oleocanthal--a compound shown to reduce inflammation associated with arthritis. 


Worst: Pasta

While whole-grain pasta might be fine for people with arthritis, the refined grains in tradition pasta can lead to more inflammation and pain. 


Best: Cherries

Cherries, like many dark-colored fruits, are full of anthocyanins--the pigment that gives the fruit its red hue. These can be beneficial for your immune system, which may help prevent or reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. 


Worst: Pre-Packaged Meals

There’s nothing inherently bad about a pre-packaged meal--the real culprit is all the salt that accompanies these kinds of food. Too much sodium can lead to increased symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. 

Best: Green Tea

Green tea isn’t just a tasty, mid-afternoon treat--it can also help with arthritis. Some studies have shown that the antioxidants in green tea can help prevent joint and cartilage damage. 


Worst: Aspartame

Sugar can be a big culprit of inflammation, but unfortunately, so can sugar substitutes--like aspartame. Finding a sugar substitute that works for you may take a little trial and error. 

Best: Grapefruit

Grapefruit--and most other citrus fruits, for that matter--are high in vitamin C. Without this essential nutrient, you increase the risk of things like joint damage or osteoarthritis. 


Worst: MSG

MSG may enhance flavor, but it can also be a source of inflammation. Fast food, salad dressings, and more can all contain MSG. 

Best: Low-Fat Dairy

Low-fat dairy foods like yogurt, milk, and cheese are an essential source of calcium and vitamin D. These two nutrients help ensure bones grow normally and that joints stay healthy and pain-free. 


Worst: Pretzels

Pretzels may be low calorie, but that doesn’t mean they are completely healthy. The combination of high salt levels and refined grains can lead to all sorts of inflammation in the body. 

Best: Beans

In addition to fighting inflammation associated with arthritis, there are other benefits to beans as well. They are also a good source of protein, which helps keep muscles (and the joints they surround) strong. 


Worst: Ice Cream

Ice cream spells double trouble for folks with arthritis--it’s full of both sugar and saturated fat. When you’re looking to reduce joint inflammation, ice cream isn’t the way to go. 


Best: Spinach

Spinach is a healthy, leafy green filled with inflammation-fighting antioxidants. Specifically, spinach is high in kaempferol--a nutrient that has been shown to reduce inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis. 


Worst: Margarine

Margaine might seem like a healthy alternative to regular butter, but it’s often full of trans fats--a common source of inflammation.