Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can strike anyone at any age. RA is different from osteoarthritis, which is the natural wearing down of joints over time. RA occurs when your own immune system attacks your joints. The underlying cause is unknown. But the result is painful swelling, stiffness, and inflammation.
Foods that fight inflammation throughout your body may reduce this pain and swelling. In a 2017 survey of 217 people with longstanding RA, 24 percent reported that foods had an impact on their RA symptoms, either positively or negatively.
A change in diet is one-way people with RA are choosing to support their health. Eating certain foods may help you manage your RA symptoms along with medical treatments like over-the-counter painkillers, anti-inflammatory medications, and immune-suppressing therapies.
Here’s a quick guide of foods to eat, foods to avoid, and particular diets that may contribute to a healthy life with RA.
Foods To Eat On An RA Diet
Foods that may help with RA symptoms have anti-inflammatory properties. They reduce inflammation in the body. Specific components, nutrients, or elements give foods this effect.
Here’s a list of those elements and the foods you can eat to get more of them.
Antioxidants may improve RA disease activity. These are compounds that can destroy damaging elements like the over-production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in your body. They can also reduce inflammation.
You can get more by looking for foods with vitamins A, C, or E, or selenium. Eat fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts, or drink green tea.
Fiber can aid in weight loss and may help with gut bacteria that reduce inflammation. Get more fiber in your diet with more of the following:
- fresh fruits and vegetables
- whole grains
Flavonoids are compounds made by plants. They make their way into our diets when we eat fruits and vegetables. Flavonoids can reduce inflammation in your body and help reduce your RA pain and swelling. Foods that are high in flavonoids include:
- green tea
- dark chocolate
But curcumin doesn’t work as well without adding piperine, which is a substance found in black pepper. Add a pinch of black pepper when adding turmeric to reduce inflammation. Capsaicin, a compound found in chili peppers, also helps reduce inflammation in the body.
Foods To Avoid With RA
While eating foods that reduce inflammation, you should also try to avoid foods that cause inflammation. These are called pro-inflammatory foods, and include a number of common ingredients.
Here are some examples of foods that might trigger an inflammatory response:
- processed carbohydrates like white flour and white sugar
- saturated and trans fats, like those found in fried foods
- red and processed meats
If you can’t avoid these foods completely, try eating less of them. Even a small change may help improve your RA symptoms. That’s especially true if you swap out some pro-inflammatory foods for anti-inflammatory foods, like choosing fish instead of red meat.
Types Of Diets That Might Be Good For RA
The Mediterranean Diet
Certain diets are naturally high in anti-inflammatory foods. The Mediterranean diet is an excellent example. According to the Arthritis Foundation, this regional diet can help reduce inflammation.
Specific foods include:
- fresh fruits and vegetables
- nuts and seeds
- whole grains
- olive oil
The Paleo Diet
The Paleo diet advocates eating the same foods our ancestors did in the “old stone age.” It promotes the consumption of certain foods that reduce inflammation, like fruits and vegetables. But it also includes a lot of red meat, which may have the opposite effect. Talk with your doctor before trying this diet.
The diet advocates eating plenty of:
Like some other diets, this one is high in protein and low in carbohydrates. The Paleo diet also avoids:
- cultivated grains
- processed foods
But while the paleo diet has shown some health benefits, it does depend on the specific foods that you’re eating and choosing to avoid, and whether you’re meeting your specific nutritional requirements. Talk with your doctor about whether the paleo diet is right for you.
At the end of the day, eating a more balanced, natural diet that’s less restrictive of entire food groups of macronutrients, might be a better strategy for helping to reduce inflammation in your body.
RA is an autoimmune condition. A significant number of people with longstanding RA have reported that certain foods relieve or worsen RA symptoms. This means that there may be a role for diet in managing RA.
Choosing anti-inflammatory foods and following the Mediterranean diet may improve RA symptoms. At the same time, trigger foods can make inflammation worse. People with RA can use healthy eating choices to manage their RA and improve their overall well-being.
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- Patel, S. (2017). Ethnic and paleolithic diet: Where do they stand in inflammation alleviation? A discussion.
- Paturel, A. (n.d.). The ultimate arthritis diet.
- Tedeschi S, et al. (2017). Diet and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms: Survey results from a rheumatoid arthritis registry.
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