Foods that Cause Joint Discomfort

Certain foods that cause inflammation in joints, hands, and feet hide in plain sight. They’re some of the most widespread foods you might be snacking on regularly, without being aware of their pro-inflammatory properties. 

Inflammatory foods could be behind knee pain, stiff wrists, and weak ankles.

These foods are particularly dangerous if you’re already living with some form of arthritis (which literally means joint inflammation!), but even if you feel young, fit, and healthy, you could be setting yourself up for future body-aches with your diet.

When there's inflammation in the joints, simple day-to-day activities become a challenge: sitting, walking, getting up, or even holding something like your phone could be very painful. Fortunately, you can prevent further damage avoiding foods that cause inflammation in joints and getting more of the ones that help fight it!

Keeping healthy joints in good shape is essential to healthy aging.

Since September is the healthy aging month, we’re giving you the tools to spot the signs of joint inflammation, a list of pro-inflammatory foods and how to adjust your diet so you can enjoy the goodies of life way past your 70s.

What Causes Inflammation in the Joints

Joints form when two or more bones connect in the body, they’re found in the wrists, elbows, hips, knees, shoulders, fingers, ankles, and many other body parts. Their job is to facilitate movement.

In healthy bodies, joints are surrounded, stabilized, and protected by soft tissue called synovium. This tissue provides liquid that lubricates and nourishes the cartilage that covers the end of the bone inside a joint and allows the bone to move freely and perform its functions effectively. 

When fluid accumulates in these areas, due to oxidative stress, aging, wear, trauma, or foods that cause inflammation, you may experience stiffness, pain and, joint swelling.

Joint inflammation can have multiple causes, such as trauma, infection, and arthritis.

According to the Arthritis Foundation of America:

  • Arthritis is the leading cause of disability among adults in the U.S.
  • Almost 300,000 babies and children have arthritis or a rheumatic condition.
  • 49% of adults with heart disease have arthritis.
  • 47% of adults with diabetes have arthritis.
  • 31% of adults who are obese have arthritis.

While not all joint pain is related to arthritis, many other conditions could be connected to it. The acidic diets that contribute to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease are also high in foods that cause inflammation in joints. 

Symptoms of Joint Inflammation

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • A “spongy” feeling in the joints
  • Loss of range in motion
  • Redness
  • Warmth (consult a doctor as soon as possible!)
  • Limping
  • Locking of the joint
  • Weakness

These are some common causes of joint pain and inflammation:


Accidents, injuries, dislocation, bone fractures, torn or ligaments or tendons, direct blows, sprains, among others could cause joint inflammation. These usually require treatment to heal and may benefit from avoiding foods that cause inflammation in joints, as they may slow down the internal anti-inflammatory processes. 

Trauma may also be worsened by foods that cause inflammation in joints, as they promote or accelerate oxidative stress.

Oxidative Stress and Inflammation

Oxidative stress is an imbalance of unstable molecules called “free radicals” which occur naturally in the body; as free radicals (unpaired electrons) attach themselves to healthy particles they break down complete structures damaging them -sometimes permanently.

Extensive research during the last few decades has revealed a mechanism and connection, between continued oxidative stress and inflammation.

The antioxidants in the body respond by neutralizing free radicals, but diets low in micronutrients and antioxidants may lead to a deficiency that results in cell and tissue damage. The foods that cause inflammation in joints are either low on antioxidants or have none at all.

When tissue needs to be repaired from oxidative stress, the immune system responds with inflammation.

Inflammation is a vital part of recovery, and when functioning correctly, its job is to cushion, heal, and repair damaged tissue. When it goes on for too long, it turns into chronic inflammation. Both oxidative stress and inflammation are behind many chronic diseases, that range from osteoarthritis to cancer.

Just as there are foods that cause inflammation in joints, there are other foods that fight both oxidative stress and inflammation neutralizing the free radicals that alter the body’s internal signaling for healing.

Cartilage Wear

Cartilage reduces friction between bones, but it is relatively fragile and may become easily damaged under extended periods of stress. Some examples are excessive or improper exercise, poor posture, and incorrect walking or running habits. Obese people may also have more cartilage wear than others because their body is under more physical stress and they consume more of the foods that cause inflammation in joints. 

However, cartilage can also be fortified or maintained with proper diet, boosting collagen (one of its main building blocks) and careful exercise. A supplement like our Glow Lemonade could help you support natural collagen production and help prevent cartilage wear.

Chronic Conditions and Autoimmune Disease 

The Mayo Clinic has a full list of chronic illnesses associated with joint pain, swelling, and inflammation. These are some of the most common conditions linked to joint pain:

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Gout or pseudogout
  • Lupus
  • Lyme disease
  • Reactive arthritis
  • Psoriatic Arthritis
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Septic Arthritis
  • Tendinitis

Foods That Cause Inflammation in the Joints

The Arthritis Associaton of America recommends reducing these pro-inflammatory foods and eliminating them when possible from your diet.

#1 Fried Food and Saturated Fats

One of the most pervasive foods that cause inflammation in joints and that you may unwittingly consume more often than you think: french fries, chips, deep-fried chicken - you name it. If it was fried, it’s likely absorbed too much fat and it has become a type of pro-inflammatory food.

#2 Processed Foods

Everything from canned foods to breakfast cereal has been processed, the chemicals and additives added to preserve the food, add flavor, and improve texture may contribute to oxidative stress and inflammation. Fortunately, this study showed that reducing fried and processed foods restores the body’s antioxidant defenses.

#3 Excess Sugar 

Everyone loves a sweet treat but consuming over 6 to 9 teaspoons of added sugar a day in the form of cookies, donuts, lattes, and even ketchup may promote inflammation, according to vast research. It may be hard to quit, but it’s one of the most dangerous foods that cause inflammation in joints, so if you can’t go “cold turkey” start by cutting it in half and replacing it with healthier alternatives.

#4 Refined Carbohydrates

Sneaky foods that cause inflammation in joints? White bread, bagels, pound cake, and sometimes pasta. Replacing them with healthier whole food alternatives could help reduce their inflammatory effects - moderation is key.

#5 Dairy Products and Casein

Casein, the protein in milk may contribute to inflammatory processes. Research shows that people allergic to dairy seem to have a higher inflammatory response when exposed to milk, cheese, or yogurt.

#6 Trans Fats

Trans fats are well-known foods that cause inflammation in joints, extensive studies show that they have systemic effects oxidative stress and inflammation. Avoid foods that have “partially hydrogenated oils” and go for the benefits of olive oil in your cooking.

#7 Excess Omega 6 Fatty Acids

Found in corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, grapeseed oil, vegetable mayonnaise and many salad dressings like “Ranch” or “Italian” excess Omega 6 could trigger pro-inflammatory chemicals. 

#8 Mono-Sodium Glutamate

This food additive found in Asian food products, soy sauce, fast food, and microwave soups, promotes liver inflammation. It’s one of the sneaky foods that cause inflammation in joints in seemingly healthy packaging - often in miso soup and sushi.

#9 Gluten

People with gluten intolerance report having more painful or frequent flair-ups when they have arthritis-related conditions. It may not be one of the foods that cause joint inflammation for everybody, but reducing intake could be helpful.

#10 Aspartame

There is conflicting evidence in regards to this artificial sweetener, but it may be one of the foods that cause inflammation and has been linked to symptoms of fibromyalgia. Some people report knee pain subsided after quitting aspartame, and the Arthritis Association recommends avoiding it. 

#11  Alcohol

Animal studies show a direct correlation between alcohol consumption and osteoarthritis, a progressive deterioration of articular cartilage. In humans the research is insipient, but the connection between alcohol, oxidative stress and inflammation suggests it is better to reduce alcohol intake.

Bottom Line:

Reducing or avoiding these foods may help prevent or reduce joint inflammation, but depending on the severity of your pain you might need to consult a medical professional. There are ways to reduce inflammation naturally, by eating anti-inflammatory foods, stretching and exercising regularly, and trying supplements like collagen, glucosamine and other joint-supportive substances. 

It may seem hard to give up fries and lattes (let’s face it some of the foods that cause inflammation in joints are delicious), but with mindful practices like conscious eating, it’s not that challenging. Besides, who wouldn’t want to get rid of knee pain with veggies and skip the doctor altogether? Here’s to healthy aging.

Share this with someone who may be eating too many inflammatory foods; we’re in this together.

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