6 Foods That Worsen Arthritis and Joint Pain

In the United States alone, conservative estimates show that 1 out of 6 Americans have been officially diagnosed with some form of arthritis. 1 out of 4 of those people report they regularly experience severe joint pain related to their arthritis, while 1 in 2 experience persistent pain. 

Arthritis is a general term that covers over 100 conditions with rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and psoriatic arthritis being three of the most common. Arthritis is classified as an inflammatory condition that causes stiffness and poor mobility in addition to pain.

While there is no cure for arthritis, there are pharmaceutical treatments and natural remedies like CBD balms that work to reduce inflammation and pain that’s found at the center of the disease. 

Today, we are talking about one of those ways, and that’s foods that can worsen your arthritis and foods that can help your arthritis. Nailing down what triggers your inflammation vs. what doesn’t is essential to overcoming the disorder. 

Inflammatory Foods: Why Some Foods Are Bad For Arthritis 

While there is no best diet for arthritis, many people have luck eliminating foods that flare up inflammation while adding foods that can reduce it.

There are a host of reasons certain foods can trigger inflammation, which we will see below, and while certain foods can trigger inflammation in one person, they may not in another. 

If you suspect that they’re foods in your diet that may be worsening your arthritis, you can take an elimination approach by slowly cutting out foods known to trigger inflammation. 

As well, in many cases, you won’t have to cut out any food completely. Moderation is key as they say.  

1. Processed Foods

It’s a smart idea to avoid processed foods as much as possible as studies show they can increase inflammation and even lower our body’s natural defenses.

The same goes for fried foods and meats like ham, sausage, bacon, and jerky, which contains higher levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGEs are directly linked to causing inflammation

2. Sugar

Excess sugar, especially the processed kind, can trigger cytokines that promote inflammation in the body. That’s why the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition warns against sugar if you have arthritis.

As well, refined carbs like table sugar can feed certain gut bacteria that cause inflammation. Where unrefined sugars like whole-wheat bread contain fiber that feeds good gut bacteria that lower inflammation. 

3. Salt 

Salt the flavorer of foods, is an interesting mineral with a lot of controversy surrounding the recommended amount. For years, we’ve been told to avoid high sodium consumption because it can cause an array of issues: 

However, within the last decade, we’re learning more about salt (which is only 40% sodium). Some research shows that a low-sodium diet can put you more at risk for a stroke or developing heart disease than a high-sodium diet.

In fact, a high-sodium diet often causes no issues for people. But before you go downing salt, you need to understand that that can all change as many of us have a sensitivity to sodium.

High blood pressure and you guessed it arthritis, are two things among many that can flip the salt switch for people. Excess salt can flare up your inflammation leading to debilitating pain and stiffness.

Arthritis doesn’t always mean that excess sodium will increase inflammation, but because it can, we recommend creating a food diary where you can track your sodium intake. If you notice your inflammation is worse on some days, see if you consumed more sodium that day and adjust accordingly.  

4. Dairy 

Dairy is a funny guy as it’s the only food item to make our list twice. Both as a bad food for arthritis and as a good one for it. It’s similar to salt, where some people are sensitive to it.

If you do have a sensitivity to dairy —  or to be more precise a sensitivity to a protein in dairy —  you'll definitely want to avoid it if you struggle with an inflammatory condition.

After cutting out dairy, many with arthritis have seen their inflammation go down, even though that didn’t previously know they had a sensitivity. 

5. Alcohol 

Where some people can eat excess salt and dairy and have it cause no issues whatsoever with their arthritis, the same can’t be said for alcohol. Excess alcohol is directly linked to increasing CRP (inflammatory marker).

As well, it can cause bacterial toxins to “leak” out of the colon causing inflammation in other organs. You might know this by the term leaky gut. 

But it isn’t all bad news, as most people don’t need to completely avoid partaking in libations. 

Moderation is key as research shows that glass of wine or a pint of beer can reduce biomarkers of inflammation that can lead to rheumatoid arthritis. Plus, there are other good reasons for keeping your alcohol consumption down. 


But back to the bad news, while alcohol in moderation will likely not directly worsen arthritis, it can negatively mix with the medication prescribed for the disease.

You’ll want to discuss alcohol consumption with your doctor whenever they have you start a new medication. 

6. Corn Oil and Foods High in Omega 6 Fatty Acids 

Time and time again, you’ll hear how Omega 3-6-9 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation, improve heart health, and on, but there may be a catch.

Research shows that omega fatty acids may work best when there is a higher ratio of 3s to 6s as omega 6 fatty acids may block omega-3s’ anti-inflammatory effects. 

Foods like corn oil that contain a lot of omega-6s with little to no omega 3s are considered imbalanced. Instead, you want to eat foods that have a desirable high omega-3 and low omega-6 ratios like hemp seeds, nuts, flax seeds, olive oil, and pumpkin seeds. 


Bonus: Best Foods For Arthritis

Now that we’ve learned which foods we should avoid if we don’t want to increase inflammation, let’s learn what foods we want to include in our diet to alleviate joint stiffness and pain

1. Fish

We mentioned the anti-inflammatory benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, and fish, along with other seafood, is teaming with the stuff. It is recommended that we eat 3 to 4 z of fish twice a week, just make sure to avoid fish with high levels of mercury like Albacore Tuna.

Salmon is a popular choice for making fish oil omega-3 supplements, but sushi is more delicious and just as effective.   

2. Soy 

Like seafood, soy is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are renowned for their ability to fight inflammation and joint pain. As well, like fish, soy is high in protein and low in fat, making it an excellent alternative if fish isn’t your thing or if you’re looking to lessen the burden of overfishing. 

3. Broccoli 

Broccoli contains sulforaphane which has been directly linked to both preventing and slowing down the rate of osteoarthritis. As well, broccoli is full of calcium, which is linked to bone health.

4. Dairy 

Back on our list is dairy, though this time, it’s on the other side of equalization with some studies showing that dairy has anti-inflammatory properties. It all boils down to whether you’re sensitive to the protein in dairy or not. If you’re not, think about adding Greek yogurt and skim milk to your diet. 


While there is no cure for arthritis, eliminating foods that promote inflammation while introducing ones that reduce it, can go far in helping with the symptoms.

It’s unlikely that you’ll need to follow a set diet that’s already out there and instead, it’s better to create your own by following an elimination approach. And you can start by trying out the ones above. 

As well, you may want to look into natural health supplements like CBD that can directly target inflammation and reduce it along with pain. 

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