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These 4 foods can trigger joint pain

The CDC has reported that over 50 million adults in the U.S. have been diagnosed with arthritis. Not only is it one of the most common chronic conditions, it’s also a leading cause of work disability in the nation.

“Arthritis is a general term for conditions that cause pain and inflammation in the joints,” says Dr. Michael Suk, chair of Geisinger’s Musculoskeletal Institute & Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. “While it’s often thought that these conditions affect only those 65 years and older, anyone can develop arthritis – even children,” adds Dr. Suk.

If you have arthritis, you know how challenging it can be to live with the condition. Everyday things like taking a walk, exercising or even holding a pencil can be very painful.

You may see an orthopedist or a rheumatologist for help treating and managing your arthritis symptoms. However, research suggests that you can also help reduce your joint pain by cutting back on foods that cause inflammation and following an anti-inflammatory diet.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all diet for people living with arthritis, reducing these 4 foods from your diet might give you some relief.

  1. Fried, processed foods
    “These foods are higher in saturated fat, which can worsen inflammation – and diets high in saturated fat can raise your risk of developing heart disease,” says Dr. Suk. Try cutting back on fried meats and frozen meals, and instead, try to eat more foods containing unsaturated fats.

    Try incorporating avocados, olive or canola oils, olives, nuts and seeds, and fatty fish high in omega-3 fats like salmon, mackerel and tuna into your diet. Hello, omega-3s! Research has shown that adding more omega-3 fatty acids into your diet can help cut down on arthritis pain.

  2. Sugars and refined carbs 
    Processed sugars found in prepackaged foods and refined carbohydrates (white rice, potatoes, bread and crackers) can worsen arthritis symptoms. “Our bodies turn refined carbohydrates into sugar more quickly, which can increase inflammation in the body,” says Dr. Suk. 

    Instead of “white” carbs, choose whole or multi-grain options. Also, watch for added sugars in your foods (look for ingredients that end in “ose,” such as sucrose and dextrose). Try cutting back on soda, candies and processed foods.

  3. Salt and preservatives
    Eating too much salt may increase inflammation in your joints. Many prepackaged foods contain a lot of salt and other preservatives to promote a longer shelf life. Try cutting back on the salt in your diet to see if your arthritis symptoms lessen.

    Avoid prepackaged meals, which are often high in salt. Instead, try eating more fresh fruit and vegetables.

  4. Dairy
    For some, high-fat dairy (milk, cheese) products may cause inflammation due to the type of protein they contain. “This protein may irritate the tissue around your joints and cause arthritis pain,” notes Dr. Suk. Cut dairy from your diet to see if your arthritis symptoms improve. 

    Instead of getting protein from meat and dairy, try getting it from foods like spinach, nut butters, tofu, beans, lentils and quinoa. 

Improve arthritis symptoms with your diet

“No one diet can make your arthritis go away, but paying attention to your diet and making slight changes can help ease your symptoms,” explains Dr. Suk. 

Cutting back on the foods that promote inflammation in the body (and joints), including more fresh fruits and vegetables and more foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids can really go a long way in reducing your arthritis pain.

Michael Suk, MD, JD, MPH, MBA, FACS, is chair of the Geisinger Musculoskeletal Institute and the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Geisinger Medical Center. To make an appointment with one of our highly trained and experienced orthopaedic specialists, call 800-275-6401 or visit

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