Osteoarthritis Diet: 8 Foods to Avoid

If you have osteoarthritis, you probably know that your diet can affect how you feel.

The relationship between joint health and diet is not as clear-cut as for other diseases like diabetes or heart disease. But over time, the quality of the food you eat can affect the health of your cartilage, synovial fluid, tissue, and the level of inflammation in your body. (Synovial fluid lubricates the joint, making it easier to move.)

Knowing which foods are associated with faster progression of osteoarthritis can help you maintain your activity level and quality of life as you age.

This article identifies eight foods that people with osteoarthritis should avoid. These foods often cause inflammation, which can irritate the condition and exacerbate pain.

Western diet portends trouble

The researchers looked at the relationship between osteoarthritis progression and nutrition. They found that following a Western diet — rich in red meat, sugar, fat, salt and refined grains — was associated with increased osteoarthritis progression and higher rates of obesity.

Meanwhile, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains, and legumes was associated with slower disease progression.

Here are eight foods linked to increased inflammation that people with osteoarthritis should limit or avoid:

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is caused by the breakdown of cartilage in the joints. It is the most common type of arthritis – often referred to as “wear and tear” arthritis. It most commonly afflicts the hands, hips, and knees.

1. Sugar

Added sugars are found in many processed foods, such as baked goods, sugar-sweetened beverages, and candy. Condiments like barbecue sauce also contain a lot of added sugar.

Studies have shown that excessive intake of sugar increases the likelihood of inflammation and obesity, which can damage joint health.

2. Salt

Salt is an important part of a healthy diet because it helps your body function properly. Too much salt can cause you to retain too much liquid. This, in turn, increases inflammation and swelling of the joints.

Most dietary sodium (about 70%) comes from processed and prepared foods. Therefore, an easy way to control your sodium intake is to check the nutrition labels on the foods you buy.

Use the % Daily Value (DV) column as a shopping tool. 5% DV or less is low in sodium; 20% or more is too high.

6 Ways to Reduce Your Added Sugar Intake

3. Saturated and trans fats

Diets high in saturated fat are associated with increased inflammation in the body. Foods high in saturated fat include butter, red meat, processed meat, full-fat dairy, fast food, fried foods, and coconut.

Small amounts of trans fatty acids occur naturally in some animal products. It can also be artificially created during processing for added texture, flavor and shelf life.

Trans fats increase levels of “bad cholesterol” (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL). It is closely related to systemic inflammation.

4. Refined Carbs

During processing, fiber and nutrients are removed from the grain, causing it to lose most of its nutritional value. White flour and rice are simple carbohydrates that are easier to digest and absorb into the bloodstream, leading to a spike in blood sugar.

Many foods that contain refined grains—such as breakfast cereals, baked goods, snacks, and candy—are highly processed with added sugar, salt, and fat. They are all bad news for people with osteoarthritis.

healthy eating principles

5. Omega-6 Fatty Acids

There are two main types of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the diet: omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Each has a different effect on the body.

Omega-3 fatty acids produce anti-inflammatory properties, while Omega-6 fatty acids have pro-inflammatory properties.

In general, Americans tend to consume too much omega-6 fatty acids and too little omega-3 acids. If you have osteoarthritis, you can reverse the habit by eating more soybean, corn, safflower, sunflower, canola, poultry, and seeds. Instead of red meat, meet your protein needs with more dairy-, soy, and nut-based portions. (Nuts and beans are similar, but beans store seeds in pods, like peas and green beans.)

6. Dairy

Full-fat dairy products are high in saturated fat and have been linked to increased levels of inflammation. Cheese, whole milk, cream, and butter are all high in saturated fat.

In addition to being high in fat, some dairy products, such as ice cream, sweetened yogurt, and chocolate milk, are also high in sugar. The combination of high fat and high sugar makes these types of dairy products more inflammatory.

What is a low-fat diet?

7. Alcohol

Chronic alcohol intake is associated with systemic inflammation that can damage the body over time.

The CDC recommends drinking alcohol in moderation to reduce short- and long-term health risks, or no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

Some alcoholic beverages are also high in sugar, which increases their inflammatory effects.

8. MSG

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a food additive that acts as a flavor enhancer. It is commonly used in Chinese meals, soups, processed meats and canned foods.

Some studies suggest a possible relationship between MSG and negative health effects such as headaches, sweating, nausea, inflammation, and weakness.

Research on the effects of MSG is inconclusive. However, if you have a lot of inflammation, you can try limiting MSG in your diet and pay close attention to see if you feel any changes.

Alcohol and Arthritis: Is Moderation OK?


Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease often referred to as “wear and tear” arthritis. Obesity is a risk factor for osteoarthritis because the extra weight puts pressure on the joints. Likewise, it’s important to watch your diet when you have osteoarthritis, because the wrong food can not only lead to weight gain; it can also lead to inflammation that can put pressure on your joints. Some “common suspects” appear on this list, such as salt, sugar, fat and carbohydrates. But at least one (MSG) might surprise you.

VigorTip words

Keeping your joints healthy can help slow down the wear and tear that is common in the aging process. This is an even bigger priority if you have osteoarthritis. Physical activity, stretching, posture, and nutrition are all lifestyle factors that help keep your joints healthy and pain-free.

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