10 Foods to Avoid With Joint Pain
Joint pain is a frustrating health problem because it impairs our mobility, our freedom to move on our own with ease. Whether that joint pain comes from chronic conditions like arthritis or a momentary injury, the same thing is happening to cause the extreme discomfort, swelling, and lack of motion: inflammation.
Inflammation is actually a good thing spurred on by our immune system to protect our bodies.
But when the inflammation gets too extreme or when it becomes chronic, we are in for real trouble. Beyond difficulty walking or moving an elbow, systemic inflammation can contribute to conditions like diabetes and cancer.
One option is to constantly take pain medication (or anti-inflammatories) for joint pain, but we all know this is not the ideal solution. Not only can anti-inflammatories cause you immediate side effects, but they can also cause long-term damage to the body. Not to mention, it’s a Band-Aid fix. It doesn’t actually lower your inflammation over the long term; it only helps for a few hours.
The goal needs to be healing our inflammation from the inside out. When your inflammation is down for good, your joint pain is down for good as well.
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One of the best ways to make this happen is through diet. Food can be our medicine; it can also be our worst nightmare. Where some foods gently calm or halt inflammation; others make it significantly worse.
Below you are going to find 10 top inflammatory foods you should avoid if you have joint pain.
10 Best Foods to Avoid For Joint Pain
This is by far one of the most harmful substances on this list and still one of the most widely used.
Sugar actually releases something called cytokines into your body, which causes inflammation. It is also linked to insulin resistance, gut health problems, and – as we all know – weight issues (which makes joint pain much worse).
There was a study of 29 healthy people. They were instructed to drink one can of soda each day, which contained 40 grams of added sugar. They compared their stats before and after. Just one can of soda led to increased inflammation.
A similar study found the can of soda not only increased inflammation, but also uric acid. Since too much uric acid is responsible for painful gout (another type of joint inflammation), we have a real problem here.
While getting 0 grams of added sugar each day would be ideal, it’s also pretty unrealistic. The American Heart Association recommends that:
- Women get no more than 25 grams of sugar per day (which is equivalent to about 6 teaspoons)
- Men get no more than 36 grams of sugar per day (which is equivalent to about 9 teaspoons)
This can add up really quickly and not just through desserts. Two tablespoons of BBQ sauce will be approximately 14 grams of sugar. One cup of baked beans can have approximately 5 teaspoons of sugar. Some smoothies can have upwards of 96 grams of sugar. Many cereals have 12 grams of sugar in one serving
If you think you can cheat the system with artificial sweeteners, you have to think again…
2. Artificial Sweeteners
Synthetic artificial sweeteners are terrible for you overall, so you cannot rely on them to replace sugar. They are inflammatory in nature. On top of that fact, both aspartame and sucralose are associated with joint pain, as well as headaches.
It’s best to sweeten things with berries, cacao nibs, coconut flakes, or very small amounts of honey (which needs to be, of course, kept much lower than your recommended sugar grams per day).
There are a couple potential alternative sweetener options as well. Stevia is often touted as a much healthier alternative, though the flavor is definitely distinct. Some natural sugar alcohols – like Erythritol – may be an option on occasion.
Bonus: Download This 21-Day Inflammation Reset that will show you how to tackle your worst joint pain symptoms quickly.
3. Refined Carbs
Despite what some diet trends have told us over the years, carbs are not the enemy. In fact, some are quite good for you. We need a diet rich in produce – veggies and fruits. And some grains like quinoa are a health powerhouse of protein and fiber.
The real problem comes from the refined carbs which are super high on the glycemic index and offer no additional benefits. They are low in or completely depleted of protein, fiber, and nutrients – and they also encourage inflammation. The three big offenders are:
- White flour
- White rice
- White potatoes
Think about how many products you consume made from these 3 basic ingredients. Pastas, breads, French fries, pastries, cookies, crackers, cereal, baked potatoes, etc.
Start looking at some more sustainable alternatives like almond meal, sweet potatoes, or lentils instead of rice.
Let me start by saying not every single person needs to give up gluten. However, if you have undiagnosed Celiac disease or even a non-Celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten is going to be one of the worst causes of inflammation in your body.
Gluten is found in:
The best thing to do is to head to your doctor for a Celiac test. If it comes back positive, you know what to do. But realize that Celiac testing can sometimes end in a false positive, and it doesn’t include those with non-Celiac gluten sensitivity.
This means even if you end up with a negative, you still may want to try a 30- or 60-day elimination diet to see how removing gluten helps your joint pain symptoms.
This is another one, similar to gluten, that depends upon the person. In fact, some studies have shown that dairy can have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. However, if you are allergic/sensitive to milk or casein – or if you are intolerant to lactose – dairy products will cause major inflammation in your body.
Try an elimination diet to see if your symptoms improve after a month or two of eating no dairy.
This one is actually fairly simple since there are so many non-dairy alternatives like almond or coconut milk.
6. Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Fatty acids are interesting. Omega-3 fatty acids topped our list of best foods to eat for arthritis/joint pain. Now Omega-6 fatty acids wind up on our worst food list. Why is this?
Our bodies are supposed to have a proper ratio of these omegas. When omega-6 gets too high, inflammation in your body can skyrocket.
Here’s the problem: our western diet is filled with omega-6. Most of us do not have enough omega-3 to balance out our consumption of omega-6 and we get inflamed. Here are the top omega-6 oils. Cut these out of your diet (and toss them out of your kitchen!):
- Corn oil
- Safflower oil
- Sunflower oil
- Soybean oil
- Vegetable oil
Also check your condiments. Foods like salad dressings often have these oils hiding in them. Stick with avocado oil, olive oil, coconut oil, etc.
7. Trans Fats
By now everyone has probably heard how bad trans fats are for the body. They are a huge culprit of systemic inflammation. But the tricky thing is many people don’t know where those trans fats are hiding.
One clue is "partially hydrogenated oils" somewhere on the ingredient list of a pre-packaged food. You can also use this general list of common trans fat foods as a guide:
- Fast food
- Potentially any fried food
- Frozen products
And, of course, you can find lots of trans fats in our next food group as well…
8. Processed Foods
Any sort of processed food is a problem for those dealing with joint pain or inflammation. Here’s why: many added ingredients and many of the cooking methods are inflammation creators.
- First off, processed foods are often much higher in sugar than if you were to make something at home – often times that sugar is the dangerous high fructose corn syrup
- If there is a carb, say flour, it is most often refined
- They often have either trans fats or omega-6 fatty acids
- Finally, they are filled with all sorts of preservatives, colors, and texturants that can lead to all sorts of health problems
Make your food at home. Buy whole ingredients like meat, veggies, eggs, etc.
Most of us don’t go out and buy MSG to add to our foods, but many prepared dishes we purchase have it anyway. This is one of the worst foods for joint pain as it triggers two inflammatory pathways in the body.
You can often find MSG in the following items:
- Prepared Asian food
- Soy sauce
- Salad dressing
- Deli meat
10. Too Much Alcohol
An occasional glass of wine with dinner or a celebratory cocktail with friends is not going to burden your body enough to cause joint pain (in most cases). But excessive use of alcohol wears down your body and leads to both general inflammation and joint pain.
Healing Your Body Through Food
Getting rid of these harmful food groups is step No. 1. The next step is replacing them with healing foods that actively help you lower inflammation. Top choices include:
- Fatty fish (high in those omega-3 fatty acids!)
- Veggies (especially cruciferous veggies)
- Fruits (especially berries)
Then you can combine your diet with all-natural herbs and supplements to lower your inflammation safely. My favorites are: turmeric, boswellia, and vitamin D.
Joint pain may be extremely frustrating, but we do have genuine long-term solutions to calm the inflammation and get us mobile once again!