Rheumatoid Arthritis Diet
An Anti-inflammatory Diet to Relieve RA Symptoms
You really are what you eat, especially when it comes to rheumatoid arthritis. The foods you eat can have a direct impact on rheumatoid arthritis (RA) symptoms. Although there’s really no such thing as a rheumatoid arthritis diet, there is something called an anti-inflammatory diet.
Eating certain foods—while limiting others—may actually help reduce RA symptoms. Some foods have an anti-inflammatory effect, which means that they can help decrease inflammation levels in your body. You may notice that some foods help decrease your RA symptoms, while others trigger rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups.
However, it’s important to note that there’s no single diet for coping with rheumatoid arthritis, so talk to your doctor and/or registered dietitian who can customize a meal plan for you—one that incorporates several of the anti-inflammatory foods below—so you can thrive with RA.
In-depth Articles on Other Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatments
- Alternative treatments to help ease rheumatoid arthritis
- Lifestyle changes that can make living with RA easier
- Physical therapy
Foods to Eat with Rheumatoid Arthritis
Adding the foods below to your diet can help you manage RA symptoms.
Beans, such as black beans and kidney beans may help fight inflammation in the body.
Fruits and vegetables should make up the foundation of an anti-inflammatory diet. They contain vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals—natural chemicals that are found in some plant foods—to help you fight joint pain and inflammation. Cherries, grapes, and peppers are some fruits and veggies that may have anti-inflammatory effects.
Herbs and spices add a lot of flavor and have anti-inflammatory benefits without adding calories. Try seasoning your food with flare—use spices such as curry, ginger, and turmeric.
Lean protein is essential at every meal because it gives you energy to fuel your day. Examples of lean protein are boneless, skinless grilled chicken, fish, and nuts. Since fatigue is a common rheumatoid arthritis symptom, adding more protein to your diet is essential.
Omega-3 fatty acids—essential fatty acids that can help reduce inflammation and RA-related pain—are naturally found in salmon, flaxseed, walnuts, and olive oil. If you don’t like these foods, you may want to consider taking a supplement that contains omega-3s. Most people eat too many foods that contain omega-6 fatty acids, which promotes inflammation and are found in highly processed foods, full-fat dairy foods, and red meat.
To support the idea that omega-3s decrease RA symptoms and omega-6s aggravate them, a 2003 study looked at the anti-inflammatory effects of a low arachidonic acid diet (a diet low in omega-6 fatty acids), as well as fish oil in patients with RA. Researchers found that a diet low in arachidonic acid reduces inflammation in patients with RA. Patients who ate an anti-inflammatory diet, which included taking fish oil, had a major decrease in tender, swollen joints.1
Vitamin D may help reduce RA-related pain. Get more vitamin D in your diet by eating salmon, eggs, and mushrooms. Many brands of milk, yogurt, orange juice, and breakfast cereals are also fortified with vitamin D. Talk to your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement if you’re not getting enough D in your diet.
Whole grains, such as brown rice, whole grain pasta, and whole grain bread, give you the energy you need to get through your day. Try replacing white rice, pasta, and bread with the whole grains versions.
Foods to Limit with Rheumatoid Arthritis
The foods below may exacerbate pain and other rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Pay attention to how your body reacts to these foods: You may need to limit them in your diet to help you cope with RA.
Foods that contain aspartame: Chemicals found in this man-made sweetener can trigger the neurons in your brain and your increase pain perception. Aspartame is found in some diet soft drinks, ice cream, and even gum and mints.
Highly processed foods, such as fast foods and foods that contain monosodium glutamate (MSG) or nitrates (both are chemicals used as flavor enhancers) can aggravate RA symptoms. Some frozen dinners and Asian foods contain MSG, while lunch meats and hot dogs can contain nitrates.
“Nightshade” vegetables include eggplant, potatoes, and tomatoes. These vegetables are very nutritious, but they can trigger rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups.
Eating Well with Rheumatoid Arthritis
Sticking with an anti-inflammatory diet for rheumatoid arthritis is important to decrease inflammation and other RA symptoms, but you might not notice the effects right away. You may find that keeping a food diary helps. Jot down what you eat throughout the day to see what foods might be triggering your rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups.
Instead of adhering to a strict anti-inflammatory diet for rheumatoid arthritis, stick to a well-balanced diet that supports a healthy lifestyle. Also, maintain a healthy weight when you have rheumatoid arthritis because being overweight can also increase inflammation levels in the body.