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8 Diet Tips for Rheumatoid Arthritis Relief

By Matthew Kadey
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by David Zelman, MD

Food might not be the first thing on your mind when you have the stiffness, swelling, and pain of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). But what if it could provide some relief?

It’s no substitute for your medicine, but it can help, says Anca D. Askanase, MD, clinical director of rheumatology at Columbia University.

No. 1. Switch to Olive Oil

Take a cue from the healthy Mediterranean population and make extra-virgin olive oil a staple in your dressings and sauces. Swap saturated fat like butter and red meat with healthier choices like olive oil. It can ease inflamed joints and lessen morning stiffness, says Lona Sandon, RD, an assistant professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

The inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis can raise your chances of heart disease, so adding healthy fats to your diet is good for more than your joints, Sandon says, who also has RA. What’s more, virgin olive oil contains a compound that has anti-inflammatory properties similar to nonsteroidal medications (your doctor may refer to them as NSAIDs) like ibuprofen. Extra-virgin olive oil comes from the first pressing of olives and can fight inflammation more than refined light versions.

No. 2. Bite Into Beans

Legumes like lentils and beans are chock full of protein, vitamins, and minerals. They’re also a great source of fiber. They can keep you feeling full on fewer calories, Sandon says, which can help you drop extra pounds.

Keeping a healthy weight is important for people with RA, she adds, because it reduces pressure on your weight-bearing joints. It also cuts the inflammation in your system that’s a byproduct of body fat.

Fiber-rich foods can lower your levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a substance that is a sign of inflammation in your body.

No. 3. Choose Colorful Veggies

Bright vegetables like bell peppers, carrots, and dark, leafy greens are full of powerful nutrients. They also have antioxidants, which may help reduce joint damage caused by inflammation, Sandon says. 

Veggies like kale and broccoli are good sources. They can lower signs of inflammation in your body, like pain and swelling. Plus, adding fiber-rich, low-calorie vegetables is another way to help you lose weight and ease stress on your joints.

If pain in your fingers and wrists makes chopping and food prep hard, use pre-cut veggies and fruits you can find at the grocery store, Sandon says.

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