Food for thought: some foods actually make muscle and joint pain worse

Earle Logan

27 November 2014

Why is diet so important?

While there are certain foods that contain specific vitamins and minerals that can help soothe your aching joints and muscles naturally, such as those rich in magnesium, there are other foods that can actually increase pain and stiffness. This is usually because they trigger the inflammation response, so will worsen any inflammatory conditions.

There are a number of changes you can make to your diet to help keep your muscles and joints moving, such as avoiding foods which increase inflammation and instead choosing good substitutes that will actually help relieve your discomfort.

Foods to avoid, and what to replace them with

It can be overwhelming when someone reels of a list of delicious foods that you are no longer allowed, so to balance this out I've included the foods you should reduce or cut out, as well as some ideas of what to swap them for.

EAT FEWER saturated animal fats, keeping your intake of red meat, dairy products and eggs to a minimum to avoid too much arachidonic acid, which is inflammatory.

Instead eat more oily fish such as herring, mackerel, sardines and salmon, as these have a positive effect on inflammation. You can take a fish oil supplement if you don’t eat fish regularly. Choose low-fat or no-fat dairy products, lean cuts of beef and pork, and skinless chicken and turkey.

EAT FEWER processed foods, white flour baked goods, white rice, and white bread, which have no nutrients to offer you in exchange for the calories they pile on. Processed foods often use up valuable nutrients such as magnesium in the process of metabolising, but have nothing nutritionally useful to give you in return.

Instead eat more green leafy vegetables, oats, dried fruits such as figs, seeds such as pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds, beans such as kidney beans, and sardines, as they are all rich in magnesium, which encourages the proper absorption of calcium. Without sufficient magnesium, calcium may be dumped as painful crystals in and around the joints. Magnesium also helps muscles to relax. People with low magnesium levels tend to feel more pain generally.

EAT LESS sugar. I know it may be hard to resist, especially if you have a sweet tooth, but some researchers have found that sugar may increase inflammation, which in turn increases pain, especially for those suffering from inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, gout and fibromyalgia. Plus, eating high-calorie sugary foods causes weight gain, which puts added pressure on your joints.

Instead eat more fresh fruit. Satisfy your sweets cravings with natural sugars from fresh fruits, such as pineapple, papaya, mango, guava. These all contain digestive enzymes that help reduce acidity in the body.

DRINK LESS caffeine and alcohol, which use up the vital mineral magnesium and vitamins B and C, and are also triggers for inflammatory processes.

Instead drink more still, plain water. Dehydration is often a trigger for joint pain, so keeping well hydrated is simple and important. Taking a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with a teaspoon of honey in a glass of warm water first thing in the morning can help reduce acidity and is good for digestion.

A quick guide to the foods to eat and avoid for muscle and joint pain

Eat more

Eat less

Oily fish Dairy foods
Green leafy vegetables such as kale Meat
Vegetable oils Eggs
Wholegrain products Citrus fruits
Oats Processed foods
Figs White flour
Pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds White rice
Kidney beans Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, aubergines
Pineapple, papaya, mango and guava Sugar


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  • Deanna 's photo avatar
    Deanna — 17.06.2018 20:51
    I use ground turmeric, 1 tsp in all the food that I cook, together with freshly ground pepper every day. I also sprinkle this in my almond milk drink at night. Should I continue this regime or is it better to take a supplement?


    • Earle's photo avatar
      Earle — 18.06.2018 08:19
      Hi Deanna Turmeric has anti inflammatory effects roughly compatible to ibuprofen, so if you’re getting this level of benefit then you’ve got what you can out of turmeric and taking a supplement won’t make much difference. There is some debate about the absorption of turmeric’s active ingredients from supplements, so unless you’re sick of all your meals being turmeric flavour, cooking with it is thought to be best. It is a food after all.


  • Susan's photo avatar
    Susan — 13.06.2018 21:34
    Thankyou for this valuable information


  • Louise's photo avatar
    Louise — 13.06.2018 15:33
    Hi, why do you suggest avoiding Potatoes, peppers and tomatoes to help with joint pain? Your online link to Peppers for instance gives nothing but praise for its healthy properties?


    • Earle's photo avatar
      Earle — 15.06.2018 07:02
      Hi Louise That family of foods contain a substance called Solanine. Some people can’t digest it very well and consequently find that it exacerbates their joint pain. To find out if it affects you, you’ll need to cut out those foods for a fortnight and then reintroduce them. Alternatively, keep a diet diary for a fortnight and see if you experience flare-ups in the 24hrs following eating these foods. If you’re not sensitive to them then the colours in peppers etc are of course good for you.


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