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Foods to Avoid for Arthritis

13th November, 2020

Around 15% (10 million) of people in the UK have some kind of arthritis or another condition that affects their joints. If you care for, or are one of these people, then it’s likely you’ve spent some time Googling how to reduce the pain and discomfort that can be caused. What you might not know is that there are foods to avoid for arthritis; foods not to eat in order to prevent aggravating flare-ups.

The two most common types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, both often develop in the mid-40s or older and can result in severe pain, though we’re very grateful that we live in a world where the symptoms can be treated.

This might mean anything from surgery in more extreme cases, to physiotherapy and medication, though a healthy lifestyle is also recommended; adhering to a balanced diet and exercise plan and maintaining a healthy weight.

We discussed the worst foods for arthritis with our expert consultant Occupational Therapist, Julie Jennings Dip COT HCPC, who imparted the below knowledge around the relationship between arthritis and food:

“The most important link between your diet and arthritis is your weight; being overweight puts extra strain on weight-bearing joints like your back, knees, hips, feet and ankles. Because of the way joints work, the pressure in your knee is five-to-six times your body weight, so even losing a small amount of weight can make a huge difference when it comes to walking and relieving any pain or discomfort. Another aspect of this is having too much body fat, which may increase inflammation in the body, making your joints more painful.”

The following food, food groups and ingredients are said to exacerbate inflammation associated with different types of arthritis.

Foods high in saturated fat

Saturated fats are most often found in animal products, including beef, pork and chicken, as well as dairy products such as cheese, butter and cream, plus foods that are made with them, like cakes and pastries.

Studies have shown that saturated fats can prompt adipose (fat tissue) inflammation, which can not only lead to heart disease, but may also intensify arthritis inflammation and the accompanying pain.

That’s not to say that you must cut out saturated fats completely but reduce them; eat fish, vegetables like spinach and beans to source protein and try to steer clear of processed meats like burgers and sausages, battered or breaded meats and red meat where possible. When you do eat meat, choose chicken breast without skin, lean pork and lean beef.

Fried and processed foods

Cutting back on processed and fried foods may be top of mind when we think of a healthy diet, though you might not know why they can be bad for you when eaten in excess.

In order to extend a product’s shelf life and/or make foods tastier, ingredients like fat, salt and sugar are often added to processed foods, which can increase your day’s intake dramatically (of calories, too!). These products are often high in trans fats from hydrogenated oils to preserve them, which raise bad cholesterol and cause inflammation flare-ups.

The same can be said for fried foods, which can harbour large amounts of trans fats and advanced glycation end products (AGEs), a toxin that is produced or increased when foods are cooked at very high temperatures and is known to cause inflammation.

Keep your eyes peeled for ‘partially hydrogenated oils’ in ingredient lists and dodge fried and fast food options where possible to lower your AGEs and trans fat intake.

Refined carbohydrates

What’s the difference between refined grain products and wholegrain? The former are milled for a less grainy texture and to preserve the product for as long as possible, at the same time removing many nutrients including fibre, which means that wholegrains are better for you, so it’s definitely worth working some into your diet.

For those with arthritis, however, choice of grains can have a more significant impact. Refined grains, such as white flour (used to make white bread and pasta) and white rice, have been linked to increased levels of inflammation and may trigger your arthritis pain.

This is one of the simpler swaps you could make and there are some delicious wholegrain products out there to help you get used to a different taste!

Sugary foods

Do you have a sweet tooth? Proteins called cytokines are released in our bodies when we consume food or drinks containing sugar, which then provoke inflammation.

If you’ve got a weakness in the sugar family, whether it’s chocolate, pastries or cans of cola, we know it can be a hard habit to shift, but if it might improve your quality of life, it might just be worth cutting down. Be mindful of words like ‘fructose’, ‘sucrose’ and ‘maltose’ when you’re perusing those ingredient lists.

Salty foods

Beware adding too much salt to your food or buying products with high amounts of sodium on the label. Excessive salt consumption can not only stimulate inflammation but also contribute to joint damage.

Try seasoning your food with alternative herbs and spices like turmeric, ginger, garlic or black pepper, and eat home-cooked dishes as much as possible to stay in control of your sodium intake.

Also, alcohol

There are a number of reasons that people with arthritis are often advised to refrain from drinking alcohol. Not only can alcohol impact how your arthritis medication works, but it can also increase inflammation and put you at risk of other health issues that might affect your joints.

As sleep quality tends to improve when you reduce your alcohol intake, this is another plus point, as better rest can decrease pain and support healthy joints, so why not try cutting back for a month to see what happens, or even excluding alcohol from your diet altogether?

Debunking myths around food and arthritis

According to Julie Jennings, some people believe the below foods to be bad for arthritis, and that cutting them out helps to relieve the symptoms.

  • Citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons and grapefruit
  • Vegetables from the nightshade family (solanaceous plants) including potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, chillies and aubergines.

However, Julie was able to give us some clarity on whether this is true…

“There’s no scientific evidence that cutting out these foods can help with arthritis. With that in mind, it is not recommended to leave these fruits and vegetables out of your diet because of the important nutrients they contain. In fact, they’re rich in antioxidants – oranges and red peppers contain an antioxidant called β–cryptoxanthin, which studies have shown may slow down the progression of arthritis. If, however, you find you have a particular intolerance to a certain food type then you should avoid it.”

So, what next?

There is no one diet plan that is proven to lessen arthritis symptoms, and certainly not a one-size-fits-all solution; just because something worked for a friend, doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you.

If you’re unsure where to start, trying cutting certain foods or ingredients from your diet and keep an eye out for any improvements in the regularity of your flare-ups, before considering reintroducing them. Don’t forget to keep your doctor in the loop too!

For us at HSL, making you more comfortable is our mission; we believe that resting better means living better, and that’s why our chairs and sofas are designed with CleverComfort™, to perfectly support your body, and alleviate symptoms of common health problems like arthritis. Browse our selection of beautiful chairs, find a store or book a home visit today.

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