What are the best foods to eat or avoid for RA?
There is no one-size-fits-all rheumatoid arthritis diet, but there may be certain foods that can cool inflammation and help prevent or relieve joint pain and other symptoms that are associated with this autoimmune disease.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) occurs when the immune system engages in friendly fire against the body’s own joints and tissues, causing pain, inflammation, stiffness, fatigue and/or disability. RA is marked by periods of remission and active flares.
In a 2017 study in Arthritis Care & Research that looked at the relationship between diet and RA in more than 217 people with RA, 24 percent of people with RA reported that diet has an effect on their symptoms.
Best foods for RA
Foods that may help cool or prevent the inflammation of RA include:
Fatty fish—such as salmon, tuna and sardines—are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to lower levels of inflammation in the body. This is why the American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fish every week.
Other good sources of inflammation-fighting omega-3s include walnuts and ground flaxseed.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are loaded with healthful antioxidants that can sop up the damaging free radicals that trigger inflammation. Blueberries and spinach were the foods most often reported to improve RA symptoms in the Arthritis Care & Research study.
Legumes like beans and peas are high in protein. People with RA are prone to muscle loss, and protein can help build muscle.
Whole wheat, brown rice, quinoa and oats may lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of systemic inflammation that is often elevated in people with active RA.
Healthy fats in olive oil, avocado oil and grapeseed oil can also help reduce inflammation. Olive oil, in particular, has properties similar to those found in nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and may help reduce pain and inflammation in its own right.
Many of these RA-friendly foods are staples in the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet. There is some evidence that eating a Mediterranean diet may also reduce the risk for developing RA in the first place. Eating a healthful diet also helps keep weight in the normal range, which can take some strain off of damaged joints.
Worst foods for RA
Some foods may worsen RA symptoms, including sugary drinks and sweets. Diets that are high in saturated fats may also increase inflammation, and there is some evidence that suggests dairy foods like milk, cheese and yogurt may also raise inflammation levels.
Keeping a symptom diary that includes information on food can help identify potential triggers, as they may differ from person to person.
- Arthritis Foundation. Foods That Can Help RA Symptoms. Available at: https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/treatment/treatment-plan/tracking-your-health/foods-that-can-help-ra-symptoms. [Accessed June 16, 2021].
- American College of Rheumatology. Rheumatoid Arthritis. March 2019. Available at: https://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Diseases-Conditions/Rheumatoid-Arthritis. [Accessed June 16, 2021].
- Tedeschi SK, Frits M, Cui J, et al. Diet and Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms: Survey Results from a Rheumatoid Arthritis Registry. Arthritis Care Res. 2017;69:1920-1925. https://doi.org/10.1002/acr.23225
- American Heart Association. Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids. March 23, 2017. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/fish-and-omega-3-fatty-acids. [Accessed June 16, 2021].
- Nguyen Y, Salliot C, Gelot A, et al. Mediterranean Diet and Risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis: Findings From the French E3N-EPIC Cohort Study. Arthritis Rheumatol. 2021;73:69-77. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/art.41487. [Accessed June 16, 2021].
- Arthritis Foundation. Best Oils for Arthritis. Available at: https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-living/nutrition/healthy-eating/best-oils-for-arthritis. [Accessed June 16, 2021].
- Arthritis Foundation. Dairy and inflammation. Available at: https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-living/nutrition/healthy-eating/dairy-and-inflammation. [Accessed June 16, 2021].
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