When joints stiffen and swell, the pain can make everything—from picking up a pen to taking a walk to cooking dinner—completely and utterly miserable. If you don’t know the feeling, chances are you know someone who does—about 1 in 5 adults in the United States have doctor-diagnosed arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While there’s no way to make sure your painful joints disappear forever, research shows that certain foods—those dubbed “anti-inflammatory” like olive oil, nuts, and fatty fish—can help. And others can hurt. If you’re eating these culprits day in and day out, you could be increasing the odds of a flare-up.
Although tomatoes are typically thought to be anti-inflammatory, those who suffer from a specific type of arthritis called gout have long thought the red fruit actually triggers joint pain—and new research proves them right. Researchers surveyed 2,051 people who have gout, 20% of whom reported tomatoes as a trigger. They then analyzed data from 12,720 people who did not have gout and found that eating tomatoes increased the levels of uric acid found in their blood. High uric acid is the major underlying cause of gout. Not ready to give up your tomatoes? Researchers say you don’t have to—just cut back and make sure to regularly take a uric acid–reducing drug.
Corn, Sunflower, Safflower, Soybean, and Cottonseed Oils
You’ve probably heard of the mighty omega-3 fatty acids—the molecules that make salmon and walnuts so good for you. But have you heard of omega-6 fatty acids? You’re probably eating way too much of them. Since omega-6 fatty acids are found in soybean oil, and soybean oil is used in just about every packaged food you pluck from grocery store shelves, the typical American diet can contain up to 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. That out-of-whack ratio could be messing with your joints—research shows any ratio bigger than 10 to 1 can cause problems like asthma, cardiovascular disease, and inflammation. Researchers suggest anyone with rheumatoid arthritis get their ratio down to 2 or 3 to 1. This actually suppressed inflammation in study participants with the condition. Omega-6 fatty acids are also found in fried foods, margarine, egg yolks, and meats.
Even diet soda has its downsides. But the super sweet stuff is no boon for your health, either. In addition to putting you at risk for diabetes and heart disease, sugar consumption can trigger the release of inflammatory “messengers” called cytokines, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. When researchers analyzed data from two large studies spanning 30 years, they found a link between soda consumption and arthritis risk. Women who drank one soda or more daily had a 63% greater risk of arthritis than those who didn’t drink it at all.