Joint pain is a common health problem that can affect your range of motion, strength, and overall well-being. Oftentimes, injury or arthritis are the leading causes of joint pain. However, your diet can also exacerbate the pain that you feel. That’s why one of the things you can do to provide pain relief is to change your diet. Not only can certain foods increase inflammation, but they can also predispose you to other conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Let’s look at the causes and 5 worst foods for joint pain.
Joint Pain 101
When you feel pain in your joints, it is usually due to tissue inflammation. Inflammation is a normal immune system response of the body to help itself heal. However, when inflammation affects the joints for a long period of time, it no longer stays helpful; instead, it becomes a chronic condition.
In some cases, long-term inflammation can even result in damage to the bone or cartilage. If this is true for you, making changes to your diet, improving your fitness routine and participating in physical therapy may not be enough. Instead, more invasive interventions may be required.
Common Types of Joint Pain
Some of the most common types of joint pain include:
- Knee pain: Your knee is a vulnerable joint. It supports the full weight of your body. People who are overweight are particularly susceptible to knee pain.
- Inflammation of the joint lining: Normally, this condition is not chronic and is usually caused by an injury.
- Arthritis pain: Types of arthritis include reactive arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and Osgood-Schlatter’s disease, among others.
- Gout: This type of arthritis often causes increased levels of uric acid in the blood.
- Fractures: Even after they heal, fractures can still cause joint pain — especially if they didn’t heal correctly or fully, or if the healing process didn’t incorporate physical therapy.
- Medications: Some medications actually cause joint pain as a side effect.
- Viral infections: Some viral infections, including hepatitis and rubella, can cause joint pain.
- Other less common causes: They include lupus, scleroderma, and Behcet’s syndrome.
Top 5 Worst Foods for Joint Pain
Everything we eat contains components that directly affect the cells in our bodies. In some cases, our food promotes health benefits and aids with proper functioning. But in other cases, they can cause cell damage or dysfunction.
When it comes to joint pain, the worse foods you can eat are those that trigger inflammation in areas we cannot detect with the naked eye. To help alleviate joint pain, talk to your physician about removing these foods from your diet.
Group #1: Sunflower, Safflower, Cottonseed and Corn Oils
Unsaturated fats are generally considered to be better for your health than saturated fats. Vegetable oils like sunflower, safflower, cottonseed and corn oils contain unsaturated fats. However, not all unsaturated fats are created equally.
These oils have high levels of Omega-6 fatty acids, which can actually trigger inflammation, making your pain worse. If you can, make the switch to olive oil. Unlike in other oils, it contains omega-3 fatty acids which can help to fight inflammation.
Group #2: High-Sugar Foods
These include sugary sodas, some breakfast cereals, candy, and baked goods. Research shows that the consumption of too much sugar, particularly from foods and beverages with added sugars, is associated with an increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis. High-sugar diets also trigger the release of inflammatory messengers called cytokines.
In addition, the negative effects of sugar go beyond joint pain: too much sugar can increase your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Group #3: Dairy Products
If you consume too many saturated fats in your diet, it can trigger inflammation that worsens joint pain. In the standard American diet, dairy products (including pizza and cheese) are some of the top sources of saturated fat. Avoid dairy products and other sources of saturated fat to reduce joint pain caused by inflammation.
If you crave the taste of cheese, you can take advantage of a number of quality vegan cheese brand options such as Follow Your Heart, Miyoko’s or Field Roast. You can even mix nutritional yeast flakes with plant-based milk and a few other ingredients to make a nice creamy sauce for pasta.
Group #4: Processed, Fried, and Fast Food
Foods that you eat out of convenience often contain trans fats. Trans fats trigger systematic inflammation that may have negative health effects that go way beyond your joints. Stay away from these foods:
- red meat
- fried foods
- frozen breakfast products
Group #5: White Bread
White bread is made from refined flour, which is a source of simple (a.k.a refined) carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates may be just as bad (or worse!) than fats when it comes to triggering chronic pain and inflammation.
In addition, high glycemic index foods, which may cause blood sugar to spike, also fuel the production of end products that stimulate inflammation. Stay away from these kinds of high GI foods:
- white rice
- white potatoes
So What Can You Do to Prevent Joint Pain?
One of the best things you can do to help reduce joint pain is to modify your diet to exclude foods that may be worsening your condition. Additionally, you can try out a plant-based or Mediterranean diet to help reduce your pain. Try integrating the following foods into your diet:
- Whole grains
- Leafy greens
- Sweet potatoes
- Green tea
- Nuts and seeds
- Soy (tofu, tempeh, soy milk, etc)
If you have joint pain as a result of an injury, it’s possible that the discomfort you feel is due to a healing issue. You can prevent and treat this sort of joint pain with physical therapy as prescribed by a medical practitioner. Furthermore, talk to your doctor to identify the cause of the pain and to decide whether modifying your diet is a good option for you.
If you detect joint pain and don’t do anything to change your habits or lifestyle, it is likely that the pain, stiffness, and inflammation will get worse over time.
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The team at Pain Resource updated this post as of September 2019 with new information and resources.