9 Foods to avoid with arthritis-3 habits too-feel better immediately!

By Kim Crawford, M.D. Last updated: September 6, 2018
foods to avoid with arthritis

Are there foods to avoid with arthritis because they are giving you more pain? YES!

Before I delve into inflammation caused by all of the foods to avoid with arthritis, let me define arthritis. I’m talking mainly about osteoarthritis, the common wear-and-tear arthritis. However, these rules apply to alleviate rheumatoid arthritis symptoms as well.

Inflammation is a very common denominator for all arthritic conditions. When we lower it by reducing consumption of foods that can cause it, we decrease the pain of all arthritis. I know you have read about the usefulness of curcumin, more often known as turmeric for pain and inflammation, but today we’re going to hone in on how changing your diet will change your quality of life.

Inflammatory Foods:

While there is no definitive and specific diet for arthritis in “conventional medicine,” research suggests including anti-inflammatory foods in your diet and limiting foods that may trigger joint pain will improve both the stiffness and pain of arthritis.

Now, that said, we KNOW by following an anti-inflammatory diet such as the one here, we see a diminution of “inflammatory bio-markers” and a decrease in arthritis pain every single time someone gets a Dr.Kim Crawford consult and discusses their symptoms with me. Here are some tried and true research findings we anti-aging doctors have known about for 15-20 years:

Fried & Processed Foods:

Researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine examined disease prevention through diet. Findings showed that “cutting back on the consumption of fried and processed foods, such as fried meats and prepared frozen meals, can reduce arthritic inflammation.”  My response is a big, fat no kidding!

Lower Your AGE’s:

An advanced glycation end product (AGE), is a toxin that appears when foods are heated, grilled, fried, or even pasteurized. AGE’s damage certain proteins in the body. Then, the body tries to break these AGE’s apart by using cytokines, which are usually inflammatory chemical messengers. AGE’s are also formed when your blood sugar is too high. To explain, not necessarily diabetic high but glycation (insulin resistant) high. Depending on where the AGE’s occur, they may result in arthritis or other forms of inflammation.

Sugars & Refined Carbs:

High amounts of sugar in the diet result in an increase in AGEs, which, as discussed above, can result in inflammation.
What to do: Cut out processed foods, fast foods, candy and other sugary foods, white flour, baked goods, and sodas to reduce your arthritis pain. It works. Try it! These are the foods most responsible for diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Additionally, they are the big time foods to avoid with arthritis pain and stiffness as well.


Meat contains saturated fat, which increases your risk for heart disease, certain forms of cancer and obesity. It also contains inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. Consuming too many omega-6 fatty acids and too few omega-3 fatty acids exacerbates arthritis pain and inflammation. Another key point is omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fatty fish such as wild caught salmon and sardines as well as flaxseed.

This is something you can believe if you’re a big meat eater. Try eliminating meat from your diet and I double-dog-dare you to tell me it didn’t help your arthritis pain. Meats are one of the main foods to avoid with arthritis. Your choice: your palate or your health and well being.

Dairy Products:

foods to avoid with arthritis

Dairy products may contribute to arthritis pain due to the type of protein they contain.

This protein called casein is high in, you guessed it, inflammatory omega- 6 fatty acids.

For many people, this protein may inflame the tissue around the joints.

Some sufferers of arthritis pain have success switching to a vegan diet—which contains no animal products whatsoever.

However with our new-found knowledge of how inflammatory beans and grains are, we are finding that vegan is likely not the “way to go.”


Salt & Preservatives:

Be aware of what’s in your food. Many foods contain excessive salt and other preservatives to promote longer shelf lives. For some people, excess consumption of salt may result in inflammation of the joints. It may be worth trying to reduce your salt intake to “no added” which is about 2 grams per day. The data about preservatives is less clear, but in my opinion, how can food which claims to be fresh in a year or two post-purchase not be “bad for you?” Seriously.

Corn Oil:

Many baked goods and snacks contain corn or other oils high in omega-6 fatty acids. While these treats may satisfy your taste buds, they also trigger inflammation. Some studies have looked at the pain-relieving effects of omega-3’s on individuals with rheumatoid arthritis, and have found that fish oil, which contains omega-3s, may help with joint pain relief.

What to do: Replace foods containing omega-6 fatty acids with healthy, anti-inflammatory omega-3 alternatives such as olive oil, nuts, flax seeds, and pumpkin seeds.

Trans Fats:

diet for arthritis

Trans fats are created through a process in which hydrogen is added to vegetable oil. They can increase your “bad,” or LDL, cholesterol, and decrease your “good,” or HDL, cholesterol.

Trans fats can also lead to inflammation. Despite the fact, we were told to “eat margarine” in the 80’s in lieu of butter! By the way, that was totally wrong and unhealthy.

Trans fats are prevalent in shortening, margarine and all foods that list partially hydrogenated vegetable oil as an ingredient.

Frozen meals, canned soups, certain brands of peanut butter and numerous fast foods also contain trans fats.

Read your labels and then slowly try to get AWAY from foods with labels and onto whole, real foods!

 Now let’s move onto habits which make arthritis worse:

Alcohol & Tobacco:

foods that worsen arthritis

Tobacco and alcohol use can lead to many health problems, including some that may affect your joints. Smokers are more at risk for developing rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, while those who consume excessive alcohol have a higher risk for developing gouty arthritis.

I am sorry to be lumping these two together.  Moderate alcohol intake is just fine. No amount of smoking is just fine. Smoking causes “vasoconstriction*, ” and while we know what a “smoker’s face” looks like due to the decrease of blood flow to our faces, we don’t really think about it when it comes to our joints.

Smoking *decreases small vessel blood flow to your face, giving you visible lines and wrinkles. It can aggravate arthritis via the same physiology. If you have, for instance, spinal arthritis, the facets (spinal joints) are “fed” by small blood vessels, and you will seriously accelerate spinal arthritis if you smoke. You won’t see it, but you sure will feel it.

The wrong exercise:

As weight-bearing joints, your knees and hips and even your spine are particularly vulnerable to the development of “over-use” osteoarthritis. The shoulders and hands are also commonly affected. Exercise that exerts a high level of impact on the knees, hips and spine may aggravate or worsen an arthritic condition. I’m not saying these are causes of osteoarthritis as that is quite controversial. However, we must be aware of the activities which make our joints hurt. This does not mean you should stop exercising. Exercise is good for “all things health,” including arthritis.

High-Impact Exercise:

Participating in sports per se does not appear to cause osteoarthritis, but sports injuries may make it more likely that osteoarthritis will develop or develop earlier than “usual.”  Symptoms of osteoarthritis in this scenario include joint soreness after activity and improvement after resting.

Running, step aerobics and skiing, for example, exert a high level of impact on the knee, hips and spine and, therefore, may make arthritis worse in those joints. If you love the sport you’re doing you just need to be aware of how much cartilage you have.

The easiest way to keep track is with simple x-rays. Also, if your body is telling you to “cut it out” you might have to find a substitute sport. Don’t fight it. I did it and so can you. It beats having double knee replacements at age 52 which happened to someone I know who simply would not stop running.

Hyper-extension Risk:

Activities that include or pose danger of joint hyper-extension can lead to or aggravate osteoarthritis. For example, yoga may be practiced in a variety of ways. In some instances, poses that lead to the tendency to hyper-extend the hips may lead to bone-on-bone contact and promote osteoarthritis.

exercise for arthritis

People who have extensive flexibility or force extreme flexion through muscular strength may be able to rotate the upper leg into a position that allows contact between the leg bone and the hip socket.

Lunging the knee forward of the toes may also put undue stress on the knee and ankle joints.

The take-away here is that while “gentle” exercises such as yoga may be publicized to be, well, gentle…watch the cartilage here!

Sports such as basketball, volleyball and gymnastics are associated with an increased risk of knee hyper-extension. This occurs when the knee absorbs a sudden, extreme force while the leg is straight.

A fall or blow in sports or an accident can also occur in so-called “extreme sports.” Enjoy yourself but wear braces or pads as needed and watch your posture. Also, make sure the muscles around vulnerable joints are nice and strong via weight training.

exercising with arthritis

Pain Free is the way to be

Now all of this said, I want you to know I ski, windsurf, rock-climb and am aware NOT doing “bone on bone” turns and positions. You can enjoy your sports. You simply need to be careful that you are not destroying your cartilage in the process. If it hurts, there’s a problem.

I gave up doing marathons and triathlons years ago because I was having knee pain.

Running is great, but it’s hard on knees, hips and lower backs.

My knee pain has been gone for 15 years, and my knee x-rays are normal. I WILL discuss how this can happen when I get to the “how to treat naturally” article so have faith that you can be pain-free and pretty close to arthritis free. This regimen, of course, includes avoiding foods that harm joints and overall health.


You’ll feel the difference as soon you stop consuming the foods to avoid when you have arthritis.  If you are taking drugs such as Tylenol or Aleve, you should know there are alternatives that will not harm your liver, kidney or (few know this) GI tract. 

Yes -your GI tract with a big cause of leaky gut being arthritis medications. And guess what? You’ll get the same or better pain relief. No drugs, just what are called medical foods or pharma-grade pain and inflammatory pathway inhibitors.

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