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5 Worst Eating Habits for Joint Pain, Say Dietitians

Stay limber by ditching these bad patterns.
FACT CHECKED BY Kiersten Hickman

Joint pain comes in many forms. According to The Mayo Clinic, many causes of this pain stem back to some form of inflammation, like rheumatoid arthritis. But other insidious diseases can also cause issues when it comes to joint mobility. Lyme disease, gout, lupus, and even the occasional sprain can lead to this particular kind of pain that can keep you down for days at a time.

Finding ways to mitigate pain proves essential, especially if you live with a chronic illness that has the potential to inflame or impact this sensitive area. Cleveland Clinic recommends certain gentle exercises, losing weight to decrease the load placed on joints, and even taking dietary supplements that have the capacity to lower the amount of pain. Plus, your diet plays a huge role as well.

"Nearly one in four American adults report stiff and painful joints," says Jennifer Diggs, RD at Mymee. "While we often look to trauma like sprains, cartilage tears, or structural injuries as the source of the pain, our diet is another good place to start. This is especially true in cases of autoimmune-based disorders like rheumatoid arthritis where food-related triggers factor in heavily."

In order to figure out exactly what eating habits you need to break to relieve joint pain, we spoke with a handful of registered dietitians who explained what dietary habits you need to break, and why they cause so many problems. Here are some habits you should consider limiting, and for more tips, here are The Worst Foods for Joint Pain After 50.

Eating too much gluten

taking a bread slice

Gluten has gotten a bad rap over the years, but it looks like eating too much of it may actually have a link towards joint pain.

"Living with chronic illness touches every area of life; physical, mental, and emotional," says Trista Best, RD at Balance One Supplements. "Many chronic illnesses are impacted by the food and nutrients we eat, in both positive and negative ways. Pro-inflammatory foods often make these conditions worse or exacerbate their side effects."

"Those with autoimmune diseases can better control their joint pain and stiffness if they avoid inflammatory foods like gluten-containing products," Best continues. "In the same way, adding anti-inflammatory foods like those rich in omega-3 fatty acids can improve joint pain and help reduce flare-ups."

Not getting enough probiotics

eating yogurt jar

Probiotics have popped up everywhere and it looks like they are good for yet another health condition.

"Chronic low-grade inflammation, commonly caused by inflammatory foods, can also lead to poor mood," Best continues. "The neurons lining the gut play an important role in your mood. These neurons produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter linked to mood."

"Therefore, keeping the gut's lining healthy through… fermented foods, and possible probiotic supplementation, can be a helpful tool to prevent both flare-ups of chronic conditions and poor mood."

Trying to figure out exactly which probiotics to buy can make anyone's head spin. If you want to ditch joint pain, grab one of 11 Probiotic Foods for Gut Health That Aren't Yogurt.

Gorging on too much sugar

young woman eating chocolate chip muffin
YIUCHEUNG / Shutterstock

"In my work with clients struggling with joint pain, the first thing I'll look for is foods high in added sugar contributing to patterns in their diet that repeatedly lead to the same result or symptom," says Diggs. "As a known trigger for chronic inflammation in the body, the sugar found in foods like cookies and soft drinks are often the culprit. Surprisingly this also applies to injury-related joint pain, since almost all joint pain is influenced by inflammation."

"The good news is we can often reverse inflammation by reducing those added sugars from our diets," Diggs continues. "Tests show a reduction in the inflammatory blood marker C-reactive protein (CRP) when sugar consumption is curbed, meaning we can once again move our joints more freely and with less pain. And if that's not reason enough to put down the soda can, decreasing added sugar intake also lowers the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other serious illnesses."

Not getting enough omega-3 fatty acids

whole wheat avocado toast

"Some research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids…reduce the inflammatory response in a variety of ways," says Betsy Fears, RDN, CD at RET Physical Therapy Group. "Although it's not conclusive, research has hypothesized that omega 3 fatty acids reduce the amount of Arachidonic acid, an inflammatory fatty acid, that binds to cell membranes and reduces the production of inflammatory cytokines in the body thus reducing inflammation in the body."

Don't assume you need to get this essential nutrient exclusively from fish. You can get your daily serving of omega-3s from the 26 Best Omega-3 Foods to Fight Inflammation and Support Heart Health.

Not eating enough fiber

eating oatmeal

You have heard about the benefits of fiber before, but now, this nutrient can also potentially limit your joint pain.

"Fiber is also broken down into short-chain fatty acids, which has anti-inflammatory effects," says Fears.

While you can get your daily dose of fiber in a variety of forms, don't assume you need to completely switch from white bread to unprocessed whole wheat bread for every meal for the rest of time.

"It is possible to include processed foods in the diet when balancing it out with whole foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc)," Fears continues. "Having a dessert or a slice of pizza isn't completely out of the question. Adding fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains to most of your meals is a great way to provide balance and is extremely beneficial for overall health. People's diets tend to swing one way or the other and consuming processed foods more often than whole foods for a substantial amount of time can cause joint pain to worsen."

Erich Barganier
Erich Barganier is a health and food writer. Read more about Erich