These 8 Foods Are Most Likely to Trigger Arthritis Flares

Protect your joints against pain and inflammation by avoiding these arthritis trigger foods.

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iStock/Ben Harding


One of the foods to avoid with arthritis are dairy products. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can specifically flare up in response to the proteins found in dairy. Some people with RA are actually intolerant to proteins found in milk; their bodies form antibodies to milk proteins, and attack those proteins when they’re found in the body, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. But not everyone reacts the same way to milk—or to other various types of dairy. In a 2015 study of women with osteoarthritis, milk improved knee pain but cheese actually made it worse. Experiment to see how foods tend to affect your particular type of arthritis.

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Fried foods

A study at Mount Sinai School of Medicine found that cutting back on fried, processed food may reduce inflammation in the body. Fried foods contain lots of saturated fats, which can worsen inflammation. Lona Sandon, RD, an assistant professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, suggests switching to unsaturated fats, like olive oil, rather than butter, to see improvements in symptoms.

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Processed sugars found in many prepackaged snack foods release an inflammatory trigger called cytokines into the body that can exacerbate arthritis symptoms, making it another one of the foods to avoid with arthritis. A study published in the journal Rheumatology found that participants reported immediate painful symptoms after indulging in refined sugar and sweets. Researchers believe that the increase in painful symptoms is a result of increased glucose levels.

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Meats are higher in fats and calories, which are easily metabolized into chemicals that cause inflammation in the body. It’s worse if you grill, sear, or fry meats at high temperatures because that mouth-watering charred flavour is actually from toxins called AGEs (advanced glycation end products) that damage proteins in the body. AGEs are broken apart by cytokines, which can then cause inflammation. “We expect that increased levels of AGEs increase inflammation, although a direct link to arthritis is not firmly established,” says Jaime Uribarri, MD, a nephrologist at Mount Sinai Hospital who has lead many studies on the topic.

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White flour-based products

White foods are bad news for arthritis. We’re talking white rice, potatoes, breads, and crackers—all of which contain refined carbohydrates. These foods also hike production of AGEs and cause inflammation, according to the Arthritis Foundation. The molecular structure of refined (aka white) grains is fairly simple: “The body turns them into sugar more quickly, and sugar is highly inflammatory,” says Barbara Olendzki, nutrition program director of the Center for Applied Nutrition at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. Choose whole or multi-grain carbohydrate options whenever possible. If you don’t want to give up all your favourites for good, learn how to cook white rice and potatoes in a way that increases resistant starch.

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Sorry, java lovers. Coffee has been linked to increased chance of developing RA and it’s one of the foods to avoid with arthritis. Researchers believe that some ingredients in coffee trigger rheumatoid factor, which can later progress to RA, although the findings are based on a study of Finnish coffee drinkers who drank boiled coffee, which may influence its impact on the body. However, it’s still cause for concern. A 2009 study published in Arthritis Research and Therapy found that even decaffeinated coffee contributed to the development of RA and suggests switching to antioxidant-rich tea.

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Gluten, a sticky protein found in wheat and related grains, such as barley, oats, and rye, can promote inflammation. People who have celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which gluten prompts the body to literally attack certain food proteins and injuring the digestive tract should go 100 per cent gluten-free, as should arthritis patients who have gluten intolerance, a less serious condition that can still trigger inflammation and other symptoms. Nutritionist and health expert Joy Bauer suggests that people with certain types of arthritis get tested for celiac disease, as they are both autoimmune diseases that often occur together.

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Alcohol doesn’t just impact liver function, it also disrupts interactions between other organs, potentially causing inflammation. Although some research suggests that red wine can help to keep the heart, muscles, and joints healthy, a 2006 study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that excessive use of alcohol increases the production of inflammatory cytokines in the body. Stick with a maximum of one glass a day for women, two for men.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest

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