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The #1 Worst Food for Arthritis, Says Dietitian

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Additional reporting by Leo Andreoli.

Picking out the #1 worst food to eat if you have arthritis isn’t easy, and that’s because an arthritis diagnosis comes with a lot of variables.

For one, what makes one person’s joint pain worse may be totally different from what exacerbates another’s, according to Heidi Turner, MS, RDN, CD, an integrative registered dietitian nutritionist with Food Logic, who specializes in autoimmune and inflammatory conditions.

Secondly, there are various types of arthritis, each of which may be made worse by something different in the diet. Four common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis, which is a wearing down of the cartilage in the joints due to aging; rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks healthy cells and causes inflammation typically in the hands, wrists, and knees; gout, which usually affects one joint at a time, often starting with the big toe, and ankylosing spondylitis; or ankylosing spondylitis (AS), which reduces the flexibility of the spine.

RELATED: Telltale Signs You Have Arthritis

“Everybody’s different; one person with osteoarthritis can eat a food (and feel fine) while another can have a really bad reaction to it,” says Turner.

With that in mind, to find the #1 worst food for arthritis, the solution is to try an “elimination diet,” that is, eliminating foods to identify those that make you feel better when you stop eating them. Read on to learn more about how to try an elimination diet to pinpoint the foods that worsen arthritis symptoms as well as the most likely culprits, and for more on how to eat healthy, don’t miss The #1 Best Juice to Drive Every Day, Says Science.

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While an elimination diet will help you find the worst foods for your arthritis, Turner says processed and high-sugar foods are generally the worst foods for sufferers of any type of arthritis for the same reasons they are harmful to your overall health. “Foods that contain a lot of chemicals and preservatives, high-starch foods, sugars, highly-processed grains, things like that will encourage inflammation and are what you want to get out of your diet first and replace with whole foods,” she says.

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New research from Mayo Clinic’s Center for Individualized Medicine suggests a connection between an unhealthy gut microbiome and rheumatoid arthritis. The trillions of bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract are impacted by what you eat, and an imbalance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria may make RA symptoms worse, according to the study.

What are those foods that cause an unhealthy gut? Inflammatory foods like saturated and trans fats, fried foods, corn oil, and baked goods. “If you’re working with a lot of gut issues, then you might try to take out those known inflammatory foods, including gluten and dairy,” says Turner.

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Some people with arthritis find that eating tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, and peppers trigger arthritic swelling and stiffness. “Eating nightshade plants can irritate the joints; I see that quite a lot in my practice,” says Turner.

The inflammatory reaction may be due to a buildup of a bitter-tasting chemical found in nightshade plants called solanine, according to the Cleveland Clinic. However, giving up nightshades come with a downside: you’d miss out on some highly nutritious foods, the Cleveland Clinic notes.

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The form of arthritis known as gout occurs when there is too much uric acid in the body and crystals of uric acid accumulate in the joints, causing swelling and pain. Uric acid is the result of the breakdown of chemical compounds in certain foods called purines. “Gout is its own little beast,” says Turner. The worst foods to eat if you have gout are “foods high in purines like organ meats, alcohol (especially beer), sardines, and sweet beverages like soda and juices with high fructose corn syrup,” she says. Even certain vegetables, like cauliflower and asparagus, are higher in purines than others and may cause inflammation in a joint.

Because foods can affect people so differently, eliminating certain inflammatory foods and monitoring how your body reacts may be the best way to identify those that worsen your arthritis symptoms, says Turner. Other tactics to try, she says, are adopting a paleo diet or Mediterranean-style diet. Both include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, lean meats, and fish and shun added sugars and processed grains. To learn more about the health benefits of this style of eating, read What Happens to Your Body on the Mediterranean Diet.

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5 Eating Habits to Avoid to Live Like the World's Oldest People

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Did you know that your longevity is only about 25% attributable to genetics? As it turns out, your lifestyle choices, including your diet, can play a massive role in how long you live. Residents of the “Blue Zones”—which include Okinawa, Sardinia, Nicoya, Icaria, and Loma Linda—are well aware of this. Because of their healthy eating habits, they have a larger population of centenarians (people over 100) than anywhere else in the world.

“Following the Blue Zones’ eating habits is a centuries-old proven method to promote longevity, connection, and energy,” says Lexi Endicott, RD and culinary nutrition specialist at To Taste Culinary Nutrition. “You can start adopting these eating principles at 2 or 92; it’s never too early or too late to make food choices that promote your long-term health. Not only do the Blue Zones eating principles help you live a longer, healthier life, but they also naturally promote a longer, healthier life for our planet, too—a double win!”

Just as you can take a cue from Blue Zone residents on what to eat, you can also take a cue from them on what not to eat. Below, registered dietitians share a few eating habits you’ll want to skip if you want to live a longer life.

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It’s all too easy to go overboard on the snacks when you’re bored or distracted. For instance, if you’re watching Netflix or working at your desk and eating straight out of the bag or box, you may find that you frequently eat way more than one portion size.

“When you eat mindlessly, you are more likely to overeat, and you likely will not enjoy your food as much as you could have,” says Endicott. “In one of the Blue Zones—Okinawa, Japan—they have a practice called Hara Hachi Bu, which translates to ‘eat until you are 80% full.’ Saying this phrase before each meal reminds them to not eat too much, which allows Okinawans to tap into their body’s hunger and fullness signals. This strategy can help you, too: eating enough but not too much can keep you nourished while staving off excess pounds.”

If it helps, you may want to pre-portion out snacks to avoid mindless munching.

“Overeating can lead to obesity and further aggravate chronic conditions,” adds Blanca Garcia, RDN, a nutrition specialist for Health Canal.

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Processed foods are unhealthy in not one, but two ways: they tend to be loaded with excess sugar, salt, fat, calories, and other additives, and also lacking in essential vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, water, and phytonutrients.

“High ultra-processed food intake is consistently correlated with increased risk of overweight, obesity, metabolic disorder, cancer, type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, and all-cause mortality,” explains Endicott. “Blue Zones residents focus on whole, natural foods that promote satiety and are packed with disease-fighting vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients.”

Trista Best, RD at Balance One Supplements adds that some of the worst options you can have are processed meats (bacon, pepperoni, hot dogs, etc.), salty processed snacks, sugar-sweetened beverages, and packaged sweets.

“Packaged sweets should be avoided because they contain refined carbohydrates which are inflammatory, this can dull the immune system and is detrimental to gut health,” she explains. “Salty snacks contain preservatives and salt which increase the risk of other metabolic conditions like hypertension and cholesterol. And processed meats are off-limits due to their link to cancer and heart disease risks.”

According to Dana Ellis Hunnes, RD—a senior dietitian at UCLA medical center and author of Recipe For Survival—avoiding these foods can support longevity by lowering inflammation, a well-known predictor of chronic disease and early death.

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It’s not that Blue Zoners don’t drink—it’s that they do so in moderation, and they stick with polyphenol-rich wine. For example, Sardinians often enjoy a glass of Cannonau red wine with a meal. Dry reds are an excellent choice because they’re low in sugar and high in antioxidants.

In fact, a 2006 study in Nature found that reds from Sardinia and southwestern France are naturally higher in procyanidins, a type of antioxidant that’s been linked to promoting heart health. Chardonnay, Riesling, and sauvignon blanc are a few white wines with the highest antioxidant levels.

“If Blue Zone residents drink at all, it’s typically just one drink a day, and socially—not to be drunk,” explains Hunnes. “Alcohol is associated with increased risk of certain cancers, like breast and liver cancer, and early death.”

Remember: the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting alcohol intake to two drinks or less in a day for men and one drink or less in a day for women in order to prevent the health risks associated with alcohol.

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You don’t necessarily have to go vegetarian to live a long life—in fact, many Blue Zone residents still occasionally enjoy meat, fish, eggs, and dairy in their diets. That said, according to Endicott, the vast majority of their nutrients come from plant-based foods. Blue Zone residents typically only eat about two ounces of meat five times per month, about three ounces three times per week, and about two to four eggs per week.

“They do not consume animal foods in the same way that most Americans do,” she explains. “They consume them in smaller quantities alongside lots of other plant foods. By limiting their animal protein intake, they naturally avoid excess calories, saturated fat, and other potentially carcinogenic compounds.”

Rather than getting all of your protein from animal-based products, Garcia advises leaning into protein-rich beans, lentils, whole grains, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

“By increasing plant-based protein you include healthy unsaturated fats, vitamins, minerals, and cholesterol-free protein,” she adds.

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Like meat, Blue Zone residents usually reserve sweets for special occasions and celebrations. They don’t eat many foods with added sweeteners and overall only consume around seven teaspoons of sugar per day. The average American consumes more than double that—about 17 teaspoons per day.

Regularly consuming excess sugar can shorten your lifespan by increasing your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. such as weight gain and obesity And added sugar isn’t just in the obvious foods like cookies and candy—it’s also hiding in many other unexpected foods like yogurts, cereals, smoothies, condiments, and even salad dressings. Make it a point to always check the nutrition label on processed foods to confirm the sugar content, and try not to exceed a max of 12 teaspoons per day. When you’re craving dessert, do like the Blue Zoners do and enjoy some fresh fiber-rich fruit, which will fill you up while satisfying that sweet tooth.

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The #1 Best Vegetable to Lower Cholesterol, Says Dietitian

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We get it, sometimes eating enough vegetables can be difficult. But if you skip out on veggies, you’re potentially missing out on tons of nutrients, vitamins, and health benefits.

For example, there are certain vegetables that contain heart-healthy and cholesterol-lowering nutrients. In fact, according to Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim and member of our medical expert board, carrots are some of the best veggies you can eat to help lower and manage your cholesterol levels.

“Carrots are a good source of soluble fiber, which can help reduce cholesterol levels. They are also rich in beta carotene, the vitamin A antioxidant that can protect you from chronic disease like heart disease,” says Young, “and the best part is, carrots are super versatile. You can munch on them with hummus, add them to a salad, or toast them with olive oil and garlic and enjoy them as a side dish.”

Continue reading to learn how carrots can help your heart, and for more healthy heart tips, check out Side Effects of High Cholesterol After 50.

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Carrots are almost always first associated with your eye health—and for good reason. They are rich in vitamin A, which has been known to help reduce your risk of certain eye diseases. They also contain lutein, which can help lower your risk of macular degeneration. But while carrots are great for your sight, their benefits don’t stop there.

According to Harvard Health, carrots make a great snack for helping your heart and reducing cholesterol because they’re easy to eat and are loaded with fiber.

The connection between dietary fiber and cholesterol is significant. A review published in Nutrients states that both insoluble and soluble fiber has been known to help lower blood cholesterol levels, which ultimately helps in reducing one’s risk of heart disease.

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Another study published in The Lancet found that eating at least 25 grams of fiber a day was known to help manage weight, blood sugar, blood pressure levels, and cholesterol.

Along with its fiber content, carrots can also provide heart-healthy benefits through its levels of beta-carotene. According to a study published in Circulation Research, beta-carotene was said to help reduce the risk of heart disease, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and some cancers.

Lastly, carrots contain vitamin A, which experts know has some connection to your heart health. However, much more research needs to be done before we can say for certain how vitamin A can help your heart.

So, next time you’re in the mood for a quick snack and want to try roasting some yummy vegetables in the oven, try grabbing some carrots and giving your body a dose of heart-healthy nutrients.

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