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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  • Sheila kirby's photo avatar
    Sheila kirby — 18.02.2018 11:30
    I have severe muscle and joint pains. Feel exhausted and tired every day. Would be happy to stay in bed. Headaches and a fizzy brain along with acid pains after eating. I have had five blood tests, body scan and an endoscope. Nothing has shown up. I'm at a loss as what to do next. Symptoms are similar to fibromyalgia, if it is, why hasn't it been identified. Now I'm looking at changing my diet. Any suggestions.?


    • Earle's photo avatar
      Earle — 20.02.2018 19:59
      Hello Sheila What you have might be fibromyalgia but you won't get a diagnosis of that immediately. Diagnosing fibromyalgia is very difficult as it share many of its symptoms with other conditions such as polymyalgia rheumatica, rheumatoid arthritis, Lymes disease, chronic fatigue and menopause. Doctors like to start by testing for these first and so it can take a long time to eliminate them all. An added complication is that sometimes people with fibromyalgia are going through the menopause (which can make you tired and achy) or have rheumatoid arthritis etc at the same time, so a positive test for one of these can sometimes lead the doctor to think 'case solved'. There is also no test or scan that identifies Fibromyalgia so some doctors doubt it even exists, so my best advice is first, see your doctor and ask for a referral to a rheumatologist (they're much better informed) and, if you're still not happy, just treat it yourself and don't bother waiting any longer for a diagnosis.


    • Eva's photo avatar
      Eva — 23.02.2018 16:18
      I suffered the same for years. What turned out is... tomatoes, paprica and cow milk products. When I stopped eating them all the pain vanished. I had also taken lots of tests before - all of them were negative, including allery tests. Try cutting off these for a few days and check how you feel. Wish you good luck!


    • Silvija's photo avatar
      Silvija — 09.03.2018 09:10
      Dear Sheila I completely understand you, as I am going through the same experience.. and I'm 24 years old. It can be frustrating to be in the unknown for so long..


    • Sheila's photo avatar
      Sheila — 09.03.2018 13:39
      Dear Silvija, I'm so sorry for you to be suffering this at your young age. I'm 74 but inwardly don't feel it and certainly don't behave like it. I push through the pain, sleep until mid day or longer when needed. I meet with a friend for coffee once a week, which is an enormous effort as we meet at 10.00 o'clock. When we meet I can hardly focus to put two words, but my dear friend knows this and does most of the talking. When I get home I'm exhausted, but also elated that I have made an effort to go out. This morning my husband took me to my first ever yoga class. I found a safe place in the corner of the room and tried very hard to copy the others. I have read so much about the benefits of yoga I thought I should try it. I'm feeling very tired now so will need to rest this afternoon. I'm taking little steps, and hopefully I will start to feel better. I send you love and warm wishes for improved health. X


    • Don's photo avatar
      Don — 11.03.2018 23:58
      Id suggest the ketogenic diet, worked for my migraines after years of unsuccessful doctors attempts.


  • Patrick Light's photo avatar
    Patrick Light — 18.01.2018 11:35
    Quite a lot of food suggestions I have already taken on board but thank you some other ideas to consider


    • Earle's photo avatar
      Earle — 19.01.2018 08:11
      Hello Patrick Only some, or none at all, may benefit you but it’s free so worth a try for a fortnight. Good luck.


  • Tara's photo avatar
    Tara — 17.01.2018 09:34
    A point here is, each person`s journey and how they arrive at where they are, health wise, is specific to them. Patrick has given some brilliant answers and suggestions on this forum to get people started in the re-think about health, area. But, the body speaks its mind, and often says no, causing us stress and pain, saying, look at this and go inward to listen to what it is saying, and it will tell you what you need to do, and often we have to change our route in life, often radically. (I know, we may not want to, but need to ). All this may be counter intuitive, we may balk at this and what the body tells us, but it works to enable us to reverse negative things for us, as the mind-body knows what is best for, specifically us, if we want to listen. Therefore, it may tell us to take another route in life. For me, I started meditating some 20yrs ago, I changed my diet to mainly plant based foods. Took Vit B12 (for mainly vegetarians, can usually only get it from meat), herbs from Alfred Vogel for specific conditions and to keep me free from, colds etc (echinacea force)(Valerian) for stress relief, (turmeric) for aches & pains)etc, etc. Been taking Vogel products for 40 Years+. Certain foods affect people in different ways, and I have discovered it is trial and error, and sensing what is OK. Herbs etc are not a quick fix, it is a gradual process, of re balancing the body & mind. Perhaps 6 months of a trial. I prefer this route, having been addicted to pain killers & prescription medication (their contra indications), at the age of 18 for migraine, (am now 70+). Natural herbs and flowers enables me on my life`s journey.


    • Earle's photo avatar
      Earle — 17.01.2018 13:48
      Hello Tara Lovely sentiments. We have to offer general advice on these pages as we can’t tailor for each individual, so all we can say is to keep your approach to illness simple and listen carefully to your body.


    • H's photo avatar
      H — 05.03.2018 18:33
      I had achy joints and flu like symptoms often till I finally assessed it was when I ate anything sugary! Even drink! So I stopped sugar in diet and am now without aches etc etc best thing I ever did changed my life for the better and I now don't miss sugar at all there is so much now in shops with no sugar even sweets! Try it you won't look back.. H


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Did you know?

Foods such as red meat and dairy products and drinks such as caffeine and alcohol can all trigger inflammation which can increase muscle and joint pain.

Worst foods for muscle & joint pain
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