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RA and Your Diet

How to eat to curb joint inflammation, increase bone and heart health, and feel better all over.

Do Some Foods Cause Joint Inflammation? continued...

Although no diet can cure RA, research has shown some evidence of a link between certain foods and inflammation. For example, eating a lot of saturated fats (such as bacon, steak, and butter) can increase the chemicals in the body that are responsible for inflammation, pain, and swelling in the joints. Even so, many people with RA don't have any food problems.

Even McNeil and Lubbers say that they aren't sure if their "trigger" foods are really guilty of causing inflammation or whether it just seems that way.

"It's difficult to draw a conclusion about virtually anything that you do because the disease waxes and wanes so much," says McNeil.

Getting Rid of Problem Foods

If you think certain foods are making your RA worse, try eliminating them from your diet. The only real way to tell if the foods are at fault is to add them back in, slowly and one at a time, to see if your RA flares when you start eating a particular food again. For example, McNeil says she found that she feels better when she doesn't eat commercially produced red meat.

Eliminating foods from your diet is generally safe as long as you don't cut out whole food groups, say medical experts. But it can be hard to stick with an elimination diet. If you want to try it, your doctor or a registered dietitian can help you.

Robinson says she doesn't give blanket diet recommendations to her patients with RA. "But if a person finds that eliminating certain foods seems helpful, I encourage them to try it as long as they still maintain good nutrition, calcium intake, and vitamins," she says.

The Mediterranean Diet

One diet that is showing some promise for people with RA is also one of the tastiest. The Mediterranean diet is loaded with fruits and vegetables and includes healthy non-saturated fats (like olive oil and canola oil), nuts, whole grains, herbs and spices (instead of salt and butter), and heart-healthy fish (instead of red meat).

Eating fish such as salmon, sardines, and tuna may double your benefit. They help protect against heart disease, which is a risk when you have RA. And the omega-3 fatty acids they contain, in addition to being heart healthy, also may help fight inflammation. If that isn't enough, the Mediterranean diet can also help you maintain a proper weight, which takes pressure off your joints.

"The best data we have is that a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants is good for RA," says Nathan Wei, MD, clinical director of the Arthritis and Osteoporosis Center of Maryland. "The Mediterranean diet is high in both, and it's also good for people who want to be careful about weight gain. Of course, it's also important to couple the diet with exercise."

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