The Five Worst Foods for Joint Pain

Worst foods for joint pain

A few careful decisions at the dining table can make a world of difference for frustrating and exhausting joint pain.

It starts at about the age of 30 – that’s when we all begin to hear the warnings. We’re told that our mornings will soon be full of aches and pains and that our bodies will seize up.

This dire outlook doesn’t always come true, but for many people it does. Often, as we age, pain increases. One of the main culprits is arthritis and joint pain – in Australia about one in six people have arthritis and in America the figure is more like one in four.

But these changes aren’t just an inevitable part of getting older – research shows a strong link between joint pain and chronic inflammation.

The good news is that studies have found that the choices we make about food can affect inflammation and have an impact on how much joint pain we feel.

It’s useful to include foods that are actively anti-inflammatory in your diet if you have joint pain, but it’s equally important to avoid the foods that can make inflammation worse. These are the five foods to avoid if you want to say goodbye to knee pain, hip pain, and arthritic joint pain and get on with life.

#1 – The Effects of Red meat and Joint Pain

Red meats like lamb and beef are triple threats when it comes to joint pain-inducing inflammation. Firstly, digestion of meat, particularly if it has been cooked at high heat, ultimately results in the increased bodily presence of two molecules associated with inflammation – trimethlyamine oxide and advanced glycation end products. Meat is also high in saturated fat and studies show high-fat meals can cause an immediate increase in inflammation.

#2 – Processed and Fried Foods and Joint Pain

While not always the case, most processed and fried foods are high in partially hydrogenated oils, which are also known as trans fats. These are created when hydrogen is added to unsaturated fat to give it more stability – a process that can extend shelf life and boost flavour. Lots of research, including this 2011 study examining the effect of trans fats on cells, has shown that trans fats contribute to systemic inflammation, which underlies conditions like arthritis and joint pain.

#3 – The impact of White bread and other refined grains on Ageing and Joint Pain

While whole grains can have an anti-inflammatory effect, refined grains like those found in white flour, pastry, and white bread can increase inflammation – likely by encouraging the growth of inflammatory gut bacteria. Joint pain is only one of the consequences linked to the inflammation associated with refined grains – this 2010 study also suggests diets high in refined grains could be connected with early death.

#4 – Vegetable and seed oils

When it comes to oils and inflammation, there’s good oils and bad oils. Good oils, like olive oil, are high in omega-3 fatty acids while bad oils, like corn oil and other vegetable oils, are high in omega-6 fatty acids. Both omega-3 and omega-6 are necessary to be healthy, but modern diets tend to provide us with far more omega-6 than we need, and this can cause increased inflammation that leads to joint pain. Replacing oils high in omega-6 with olive oil could produce an anti-inflammatory effect and a reduction in pain.

#5 – High-sugar foods and the negative implications on Ageing

Sugar has found its way into all kinds of products – from breakfast cereals to canned sauces – but a diet high in sugar can be incredibly harmful. It increases the risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and – because the consumption of sugar triggers the release of inflammatory bodies called cytokines – it also has a negative effect on joint pain. In 2014, a study looking at the links between arthritis and soft drinks sweetened with sugar established a firm association between the two.

The Five Best Foods for Joint Pain

Proteolytic enzymes for knee pain

These readily-available foods are the natural secret to combatting debilitating joint conditions like knee pain and hip pain.

Pain is one of the most difficult side effects of arthritis – it can stop you from living to your full potential and it can be frustratingly difficult to treat.

Whether your joint pain is connected to rheumatoid or osteoarthritis, studies show a link between the severe discomfort associated with the condition and chronic inflammation. While acute inflammation is a naturally occurring immune response that helps protect the body from infection, injury, and disease, chronic and ongoing inflammation causes more harm than good.

Medicines can help with pain and chronic inflammation, but many medical practitioners are increasingly recommending lifestyle changes like eating differently as an effective method to reduce joint pain without unhelpful side effects.

These are five foods proven to fight inflammation and reduce joint pain.

#1 – Papaya and Pineapple

Fresh papaya and pineapple contain high levels of proteolytic enzymes. A 2008 study on proteolytic enzymes showed they could be more effective in reducing inflammation than aspirin. Another study on bromelain – a specific proteolytic enzyme found in pineapple – proved that it reduced pain in people with osteoarthritis.

While pineapple and papaya are particularly abundant sources of proteolytic enzymes, other foods like kiwifruit, ginger, sauerkraut, and kimchi also contain high levels of this joint pain fighter.

#2 – Fish and nuts

Salmon, tuna, sardines, and nuts are high in Omega-3 fatty acids. Studies measuring the effects of Omega-3 have shown it to be effective in lowering inflammation and reducing joint pain, including stiffness, swelling, and tenderness. Salmon, tuna, and sardines aren’t the only fish high in Omega-3 – mackerel and herring are also good sources, but for those who don’t like fish or nuts, supplements are available instead.

#3 – Olive oil

Olive oil contains a compound called oleocanthanl, which is naturally occurring but has many of the same health benefits as anti-inflammatory drugs like Ibuprofen. A paper summarising the benefits of oleocanthal reported that it is effective in tackling degenerative joint diseases like arthritis. Some experts hypothesise that the anti-inflammatory properties of oleocanthal is one reason the Mediterranean Diet – which includes lots of olive oil – is so effective.  

#4 – Leafy Greens

Green vegetables such as broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and cabbage are packed full of an antioxidant called sulforaphane. In 2018, a study considering sulforaphane’s effect on rheumatoid arthritis found it was an effective alternative treatment and research in 2017 showed sulforaphane could improve mobility for people with osteoarthritis. To add more sulforaphane to your everyday diet, try eating more of the vegetables mentioned above as well as adding produce like kale and cauliflower to meals.

#5 – Berries

Like leafy greens, fruits including blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries are rich in antioxidants that can help fight knee pain, hip pain, and other joint pain. These berries also contain anthocyanins – another compound that has been shown to reduce inflammation – meaning they pack a double punch when it comes to providing nutritional support for arthritis.