12 Foods to Avoid If You Have Arthritis

Limit red meat, sugars, dairy, fats, and more

When you have arthritis, the amount of inflammation you experience can be affected by many factors—including your diet. Foods high in sugar, fat, sodium, or simple carbs can cause inflammation that may worsen your arthritis symptoms.

Beverages and foods to avoid when you have arthritis include:

  • Red meat
  • High-fat dairy
  • Foods high in omega-6s
  • Salt
  • Sugary foods and drinks
  • Fried foods
  • Canned foods
  • Alcohol
  • Refined carbs
  • Processed foods
  • Gluten-containing foods

This article discusses these 12 foods and drinks you may want to avoid when you have arthritis.

Man eating cheeseburger, personal perspective view with other fast food on the table

Alexander Spatari / Getty Images

Red Meat

Red meats are higher in fat—particularly saturated fat—than white meats and plant-based protein. Studies have associated red meat intake with increased levels of inflammation, which may worsen swelling in the joints and arthritis symptoms.

One study found that substituting red meat with a serving of chicken, fish, legumes, or nuts was associated with lower inflammatory biomarkers.

High-Fat Dairy

Milk, yogurt, and other dairy products can be bad for arthritis, but it depends on the amount of fat and sugar a particular product contains.

In general, avoid full-fat dairy and products with added sugar when you have arthritis. Research has shown a link between a high-fat diet and inflammatory reactions.

If you suspect you are sensitive to or intolerant of dairy, eliminate dairy for a brief period of time. This step could help you discover if you feel better when dairy is absent from your diet.

Note that some dairy products—such as yogurt and kefir—have probiotics, or beneficial bacteria. (Kefir is a milk product that is similar to yogurt.) Research suggests that probiotics and a healthy mix of gut bacteria decrease inflammation and could help reduce arthritis symptoms. Opt for low-fat options.

Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, in excess, can worsen inflammation. Common sources of omega-6 fats include:

  • Soybeans
  • Corn
  • Safflower
  • Sunflower
  • Canola oil
  • Nuts
  • Meat

Try cooking with olive oil, which is primarily monounsaturated fat. And eat more fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, and cod.


Your body needs the sodium in salt for many functions, but consuming too much (which is common) can be problematic. Research has associated high salt intake with greater inflammation and an increased risk for developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Look for foods that are low in sodium and have no added salt. Try flavoring your food with herbs and spices, such as ground pepper, oregano, cumin, minced garlic or powder, or onion powder instead. They will enrich the taste of your food in ways that salt can't.

Or try a seasoning mix that doesn’t have any added salt. Many grocery stores devote shelves to such seasoning mixes, so the choices are plentiful.

Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

Soda, fruit juices, sweet tea, and other sweetened drinks often contain a large amount of sugar. Try to limit your total added sugar intake to 9 teaspoons per day. (For the sake of comparison, a 12-ounce can of soda has about 36 grams of sugar, or more than 8 teaspoons.)

Try unsweetened versions of your favorite sweetened beverages or add natural flavors (like fresh lemon or lime slices) to your plain drinks.

Fried Foods

Fried foods are often cooked in oils that are high in saturated fat and omega-6 fatty acids. Both have been associated with increased inflammation and an increase in arthritis symptoms.

Fried foods often have other ingredients—breading, salt, and added sugar—that can lead to inflammation, too.

Try making your meals at home more often, so you can control what goes in them. Opt for air frying or baking instead of frying.

Canned Foods

You don't have to steer clear of all canned goods, just those high in sugar or salt.

For example, fruit canned in syrup usually is high in added sugar, which can increase inflammation. Look for fruit that has been canned in water or 100% fruit juice without added sugar.

Salt is used as a preservative in many canned goods, including vegetables, meats, and soups. Look for products that are either low in sodium or include no added salt. Try to keep your salt intake to 2 grams per day.


Some types of alcohol, like red wine, can have anti-inflammatory properties because they contain antioxidants. In fact, drinking no more than 5 ounces of red wine per day has been shown to promote joint health.

For other types of arthritis, like gout, alcohol can trigger a flare. Studies have associated all types of alcohol with an increased risk for developing gout and more frequent gout flares.

Refined Carbohydrates

When grains are processed into white flour or white rice, most of the fiber and nutrients are stripped away. This leaves the grain as a simple carbohydrate, which is more likely to spike your blood sugar and increase inflammation.

Try to eat more complex carbohydrates, like brown rice, quinoa, and whole grains.

Candy and Dessert

Added sugars don’t offer any nutritional value. This is why they're often referred to as “empty calories.” Worse, they can increase inflammation.

Limit your added sugar intake to those 9 teaspoons per day. Common food sources of added sugar include candy, desserts, baked goods, ice cream, processed snacks, and condiments like ketchup and barbecue sauce.

Watch Out for Hidden Sugars

Read food labels to find the grams of added sugar and look for ingredients that end in “ose,” like sucrose and fructose.

Processed Foods

Highly processed foods such as frozen meals, lunchmeat, baked goods, fast food, and packaged snacks usually have refined grains and added sugars, salt, and fat to help them last on store shelves and maintain their flavor. These can all increase inflammation.

Eating a highly processed diet is associated with increased obesity and insulin resistance, which could indirectly worsen arthritis symptoms.


Gluten is a protein in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. Some research has found that a gluten-free diet can benefit rheumatoid arthritis patients by reducing inflammation.

Studies have also found an association between people who have celiac disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which gluten triggers inflammation in the gut and elsewhere in the body.

Not everyone is sensitive to gluten, though. You might try avoiding it to see if your arthritis symptoms improve.

Which Foods Are Good to Eat If You Have Arthritis?

Some foods can help reduce inflammation and are good choices if you have arthritis. These include:

  • Fatty fish like salmon and tuna
  • Nuts, including almonds, peanuts, pistacios, and hazelnuts
  • Berries, including blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries
  • Dark, leafy greens like kale and spinach
  • Olive oil
  • Garlic and onions


Food can play a role in the amount of inflammation you deal with every day. If you’ve been diagnosed with arthritis, simple diet changes could help manage your symptoms.

Research shows that foods high in saturated fat, omega-6 fats, sugar, and salt could intensify arthritis symptoms. Instead, aim for a diet full of vegetables, fruit, omega-3s, and whole grains to help reduce inflammation in your joints.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Ashley Braun, MPH, RD
Ashley Braun, MPH, RD, is a registered dietitian and public health professional with over 5 years of experience educating people on health-related topics using evidence-based information. Her experience includes educating on a wide range of conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, HIV, neurological conditions, and more.