Ask an Expert: Diet and arthritis flare-ups

Q: Are there certain foods that can prevent arthritis flare-ups? And is it true that eating vegetables like tomatoes and potatoes can actually aggravate arthritis?

Answer from Peter Bonafede, M.D., medical director of the Providence Arthritis Center at Providence Portland Medical Center:

Despite promises made in books and advertisements, there are, unfortunately, no foods or diets proven to help arthritis. Likewise, there is no evidence to support the widely held notion that "nightshade" vegetables (such as tomatoes, potatoes and peppers) can cause arthritis flare-ups. In rare cases milk products can cause problems for those with rheumatoid arthritis, but this affects only one percent of all people living with this condition.

If you have gout, it’s essential to limit or avoid alcohol intake. It’s also important to monitor the amount you eat of poultry, organ meat (such as liver and kidneys) and certain kinds of fish (such as anchovies and sardines). This helps prevent excess uric acid from building up in your body, where it can cause pain, swelling and inflammation.

Otherwise, a well-balanced diet that keeps you at a healthy weight is the best nutritional defense you can put up against arthritis. Excess weight is a significant risk factor for osteoarthritis of the knees and hips and can put a great deal of stress on your joints. Staying fit can help prevent the onset or reduce the severity of this common form of arthritis.

August 2003