Does Eating Fried Foods Make Arthritis Symptoms Worse?

Published May 20, 2020 | Published by Daisy Cabral

While it's often considered a disease that occurs as you age, part of the general, slow breakdown of the human body over time, arthritis comes in several forms and can show up at any age. 

In general, arthritis is the inflammation, swelling, tenderness, and pain in joints. It comes in a few different varieties.

Osteoarthritis is a breaking down of the cartilage in your joints. This cartilage is slippery and hard and is used as a kind of lubrication between the bones to prevent them from rubbing against each other. When this cartilage breaks down or swells up, it puts pressure on the bones and can cause them to grind against each other, causing pain and wearing them down.

Rheumatoid arthritis is similar in that it attacks the joints, but instead of being a gradual breakdown of the cartilage, it's an autoimmune disease. The immune system misidentifies the lining of your joints as an invader and attacks it, leading to inflammation and pain. This, too, can lead to the bones that touch at the joint to wear away at each other.

There are also several other arthritis-like diseases with varying causes. For example, there are:

  • Septic arthritis. This variation of arthritis is usually an acute rather than a chronic condition and is caused by an infection in the joint, usually due to germs that traveled there via the bloodstream.
  • Reactive arthritis. This variation is a form of arthritis that occurs as a symptom of another disease, usually an infection in the intestines or urinary tract. Typically, fighting off the infection solves the arthritis symptoms.
  • Psoriatic arthritis. Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that causes the skin to cycle more actively than normal, leading to red, cracked, dry scales, and rashes. Some people with psoriasis find that it tends to center around joints, and can affect the joints as well.
  • Juvenile idiopathic arthritis. This form of arthritis occurs in children under the age of 16, and may disappear after a few months, or may last a lifetime. It's similar to rheumatoid arthritis, but the specific causes vary.
  • Gout. Yes, gout is a sudden and severe, coming-and-going form of arthritis, usually characterized by pain in the big toe. Oddly specific, but hey, that's the human body for you.

One thing you might notice is that there are two commonalities between all forms of arthritis. In fact, these characteristics are what lead to a disease being labeled as a form of arthritis.

The first is that it affects the joints. Some are specific, like gout, while others are general, like your usual osteoarthritis. Either way, it's a disease that attacks the joints.

The second is that it's usually characterized by inflammation. Inflammation is a general symptom of both damage and immune system attacks. That's why wounds that have an infection get inflamed, and it's why most autoimmune diseases lead to inflammation in some target areas.

How Diet Affects Arthritis

If you've been paying attention, one thing that immediately stands out is that inflammation is something that can be influenced by your diet. In fact, diet plays a huge part in inflammation throughout the body. There's even a lot of evidence to suggest that the prevalence of autoimmune diseases is because of poor diet, leading to the body not working quite right and attacking natural parts of itself in an effort to fight off perceived invaders.

Now, diet is neither the cause nor the cure to arthritis. It's merely a contributing factor. The actual risk factors for arthritis are things like genetics and family history, age, joint injuries, and physical sex. 

One risk factor that diet does affect, however, is obesity

There are essentially two ways in which diet can affect arthritis. The first is weight. If you're eating an unhealthy diet and have a lot of extra weight on your bones, you're putting a lot more pressure on your joints than they're "designed" to handle.  This extra pressure grinds away at the cartilage and leads to chronic inflammation and pain. 

The other way is through inflammatory and anti-inflammatory foods. Some foods are known to, if not cause inflammation throughout the body, at least exacerbate existing inflammation. Other foods have anti-inflammatory properties and can potentially reduce bodily inflammation, which in turn can help alleviate some symptoms of arthritis.

Again, dietary changes alone are not going to cure arthritis. At best, they will help you manage your symptoms and make flare-ups less painful to deal with. That said, maintaining a good and healthy diet can impact virtually every aspect of your health, so it's generally a good idea to shift away from bad foods and toward good foods across the board.

The Link to Fried Foods

So where to fried food specifically fall into this whole pattern? Well, fried foods are generally not very healthy for you. They can negatively impact the body in many ways.

First, fried foods are high in calories and relatively low in nutritional content. Eating fried broccoli is not nearly as healthy as eating raw, steamed, or roasted broccoli. The heat destroys some nutrients, and the batter can be unhealthy in a variety of ways.

Second, many friend foods are high in trans fats. Trans fats are a kind of fat that occurs when an unsaturated fat is hydrogenated. Hydrogenated fats are more shelf-stable, but they're much less healthy to consume. Unfortunately, hydrogenated oils are one of the main ways fried foods are, well, fried. Trans fats are responsible for a wide range of diseases.

In particular, trans fats increase inflammation throughout the body, and that inflammation hurts. If you are prone to arthritis or have full-on arthritis, consuming trans fats will make it worse. Trans fats alone won't cause arthritis, but they may be a contributing factor to getting it earlier than you otherwise might.

Fried foods can also increase your risk of other kinds of systemic diseases, like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Any time your body is going crazy with a disease, other systems are going to be affected. This is why diabetes can lead to poor circulation and gangrene, it's why heart disease can lead to other artery and blood vessel problems, and so on. Any of these diseases can cause the immune system to go wild and attack the joints, and will generally increase inflammation across the board regardless.

Now, it's possible to have relatively healthy fried foods. Using a healthy oil like coconut or avocado oil to fry in rather than hydrogenated vegetable oil, for example, will reduce the trans fats you consume. You can also use low-oil methods of frying like air frying.

Foods to Avoid with Arthritis

If you have or think you may be getting arthritis, obviously the first thing you should do is talk to your doctor. Follow what your doctor tells you to do. Meanwhile, however, you can also make dietary changes to help with bodily inflammation and other risk factors.

First up, let's talk about foods you should avoid in order to lessen the risk of (or lessen the effects of) arthritis.

Trans fats are at the top of the list, but we've already talked about them, so we'll skip on past.

Gluten is an option to avoid. For most people, gluten isn't going to cause a problem. However, if you do have a gluten intolerance or celiac disease, there's some possible link between celiac and arthritis. The link is not well understood, but some studies have shown that there is a correlation between food antigens and arthritis. Thus, reducing the range of negative foods your body doesn't like – even if they don't otherwise have an adverse effect on you – might improve the symptoms of arthritis.

Refined carbs are another kind of food to cut back on or avoid entirely. A low carb diet has long been known as a kind of diet that will improve health and help you lose weight, so long as you stick with it. Refined carbs can cause inflammation and are generally unhealthy for you. 

Now, you don't necessarily have to go full Keto here. Simply cutting back on the refined carbs you eat, and eating more healthy carbohydrates, should be fine. However, the more overweight you are, the more strict you should be with your diet.

In general, you will also want to avoid pretty much anything that comes in a sealed plastic container. All of those frozen TV dinners and such are packed with sodium and preservatives, which do widespread damage to your body. 

Other foods that are generally unhealthy for you include things like:

  • Soda, which is high in sugar and low in nutrients. That's a ton of bad carbs for you and nothing of value to your body beyond a short-lived burst of energy.
  • Salty snacks. Snacks like pretzels and potato chips have a lot of carbs and sodium, and many are fried in bad oils. None of them are things your body benefits from nutritionally.
  • Pre-packaged baked goods. Have you ever noticed how all of the baked goods you buy from a grocery store or get out of a box have that clingy, almost plastic-like taste to them that is never replicated out of homemade goods? That's the hydrogenated oils doing their preservative work. If you want baked goods, bake them yourself with wholesome ingredients.
  • White flour. Even ignoring the link with gluten, processed and bleached white flour is pretty well stripped of its nutritional value. Frankly, it makes some of the most offensively bland baked goods to begin with. Get some whole flour instead.

You may also consider avoiding a lot of forms of dairy. Milk, cheeses, creams, and other dairy tend to have high levels of trans fats, though they aren't quite the same as the unnatural trans fats in hydrogenated oils. Still, better to be safe than sorry.

Foods to Eat for Arthritis

Again, as mentioned above, eating particular foods will not cure arthritis. What they can do is two-fold. First, they can help reduce inflammation throughout your body, which helps reduce the symptoms of arthritis. Second, they can help you lose weight when eaten in moderation, and less weight means less pressure on your joints, and less potential for arthritis. So what foods should you pursue?

Nuts are a big one. For the most part, the best diet for arthritis is a Mediterranean, vegetarian, or vegan diet. Nuts, then, form a huge source of protein in your diet. Your body needs protein to live, and you need it from somewhere, so nuts are a great option. They're also packed with beneficial minerals.

Alliums are another great food to eat. The allium genus includes a variety of delicious vegetables, including onions, garlic, shallots, leeks, scallions, and chives. Working more of these pungent and flavorful vegetables into your diet is always a good thing.

Citrus is also great for you. Citrus fruits are full of vitamins, and while fruit (in general) is packed with sugar, it's a healthier kind of sugar than the refined white stuff you buy in a bag. They can also take the place of more artificial sweets in your diet, which can help you lose weight.

Omega-3 fatty acids are also a great addition to your diet. The best way to work these healthy oils into your diet is generally from fatty fish, in particular, fish such as salmon. Most seafood will do, though, which is why a Mediterranean diet is fine without having to go full-on vegan.

Of course, there's also all the usual dietary staples. Eat more leafy greens, broccoli, and other vitamin-packed foods. Pretty much anything with plenty of vitamins, fiber, and healthy fats is a good option.

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