Artificial flavors, colors and sweeteners all can cause the body to react like it would to a foreign substance, triggering increased inflammation.

Inflammation is an essential response of our immune system. Acute inflammation helps rid the body of threatening invaders, such as bacteria or viruses. But sometimes inflammation continues even when no threat is present, and this chronic inflammation can increase the risk for many diseases, including arthritis.

Arthritis is common, affecting more than 50 million adults. It is more common among women than men, and it’s also more common as people age. Arthritis is not a single disease but an umbrella name for joint pain or joint disease. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis. 

Common arthritis symptoms include joint swelling, pain and stiffness, and a decreased range of motion. Symptoms may come and go and may be mild to severe. Arthritis can cause permanent joint damage, and some types also affect the heart, eyes, lungs, kidneys or skin.

Although diet cannot prevent arthritis, certain foods have been shown to reduce or increase inflammation, so the right diet might help ease arthritis symptoms.

Foods that fight inflammation include:

Cold-water fatty fish, such as tuna, salmon, sardines and anchovies, which are loaded with inflammation-fighting omega 3 fatty acids. These acids help lower the inflammatory proteins in the body. Aim for a 3- to 4-ounce serving at least twice a week.

Fresh or frozen fruits, which contain antioxidants, vitamin C, beta-carotene and many other phytonutrients that help combat oxidative stress, which can trigger inflammation. Red or purple fruits, such as cherries and blueberries, are especially anti-inflammatory because they have a high concentration of anthocyanins. Aim to get at least four servings of fruit every day.

Nuts and seeds, which contain immune-boosting alpha linolenic acids, as well as a good source of vitamin E. All nuts and seeds are good for you, but go easy on the portion size because they can pack a lot of calories. Eat a small handful every day.

Deep green vegetables, such as broccoli and kale, which are rich in vitamin K, sulfur compounds and carotenoids, which help protect cells from damage. Eat at least one dark green vegetable a day, and use a variety of other vegetables to round out your recommended five daily vegetable servings.

Spices that have polyphenols and antioxidants, which help block the production of substances that promote inflammation. Turmeric, ginger and cinnamon are especially potent.

Green tea, which is another good source of polyphenols and antioxidants.

The following foods seem to promote inflammation, so cut back or avoid them.

Red meats are high in saturated fat, which triggers fat-tissue inflammation. Full-fat dairy products, like cheese, are also a major source of saturated fat.

Refined grains, like white bread, crackers and pasta, are high on the glycemic index and fuel the production of chemicals that stimulate inflammation. Choose whole grains instead.

Refined sugars found in sweets, cookies and cakes trigger the release of inflammatory messengers. 

Processed foods are often high in unhealthy fats, sugars, salt, refined grains and artificial ingredients. Keep these foods to a minimum. 

Artificial flavors, colors and sweeteners all can cause the body to react like it would to a foreign substance, triggering increased inflammation. Read labels to avoid as many artificial ingredients as possible. 

There is less evidence that the following foods cause inflammation. 

Nightshades, such as eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and potatoes, contain alkaloids. Some people may be sensitive to alkaloids, and that may trigger inflammation.

Dairy products may trigger inflammation due to casein proteins. These proteins may irritate the tissue around joints in some people. If dairy products contribute to gas and bloating, that can aggravate symptoms as well.

Wheat gluten is a protein that people with celiac disease cannot tolerate and react to with inflammation. If you do not have celiac disease, eliminating gluten isn’t likely to improve arthritis symptoms. 

What works for one person may not work for everyone. Start by eliminating inflammatory foods, and keep a log. It may take several days or even weeks to see changes, and improvements may be gradual. 

In addition to changing your diet, you may be able to improve your arthritis symptoms by maintaining an active lifestyle with regular exercise; getting quality sleep; not smoking; and limiting alcohol. If you are overweight, losing weight can reduce stress on joints and reduce inflammation.