What you eat can make a difference in how you feel with rheumatoid arthritis. Opting for healthy foods with the right balance of nutrients can help you feel better and stay at a healthy weight. And the foods you eat may do even more than that. Some may help cut down inflammation, which makes your joints swollen and stiff.
Experts have been studying the effects of diet on RA for decades. But they still haven’t found what everyone wants: a diet that is proven to improve RA or its symptoms.
Until they do, planning your diet is simple. "People with RA should eat a healthy diet, just like anyone else," says Ruchi Jain, MD, attending rheumatologist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
What does healthy mean?
- Lots of whole grains, vegetables, and fruits -- they should make up two-thirds of your plate.
- Low-fat dairy and lean proteins, which should make up the other one-third
- Small amounts of saturated and trans-fats
- A little sugar
- Limited alcohol
"People with RA can get fixated on fasting, skipping meals, or finding the perfect foods," says M. Elaine Husni, MD, MPH, director of the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Center at the Cleveland Clinic. Instead, she says, just be sensible about eating.
Don't make huge changes to your diet. Don't skip meals. Aim for three healthy meals and a couple of snacks a day, Husni says.
Foods That Might Help With RA
There's no magic RA diet, but research shows that some foods may be better for you than others. It depends partly on your health and the medication you take.
- Fatty fish. The healthy omega-3 fatty acids in fish like herring, mackerel, salmon, and tuna -- as well as in fish oil supplements -- may help with RA. The effects aren't clear, but some studies have found that omega-3s can ease pain and morning stiffness. Omega-3s contain a chemical compound that's similar to some painkillers.
- Olive oil. Try using olive oil instead of other cooking oils. It's better for your heart and may block inflammation.
- Fiber. There's some evidence that fiber -- from fruits and vegetables -- can lower levels of C-reactive protein, which is linked to inflammation.
- Calcium and vitamin D. RA and some drugs used to treat it can weaken your bones and lead to osteoporosis. This raises your risk of fractures. Get enough calcium (from low-fat dairy) and vitamin D (in fortified foods) to help prevent this.
- Other vitamins and minerals. RA makes you more likely to have low levels of vitamins B6, B12, C, D, and E, and magnesium, selenium, and zinc. Ask your doctor if you might need more of these -- from foods or supplements.
- Folic acid. If you're taking methotrexate, your doctor may tell you to take folic acid supplements. They can help prevent side effects. Folic acid is also in foods like spinach and citrus fruits.