4 Foods to Fight Rheumatoid Arthritis Inflammation

People with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) know all too well the inflammation and pain that comes with the disease. Although there's no "RA diet" that treats the condition, some foods can lower inflammation in your body. And because they're good for you, these foods -- including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, and fish -- may help you feel better overall.

Go Mediterranean

People with RA have immune systems that harm the lining of their joints. This damage causes chronic inflammation, stiffness, and pain.

Research shows the Mediterranean diet's tasty fare -- like olive oil, fish, greens, and other vegetables -- can lower inflammation, which is good for your whole body.

In one study of women with RA, those who took a cooking class on Mediterranean-style foods (and ate that way for 2 months) had less joint pain and morning stiffness and better overall health compared to those who didn’t take the class.

For starters, add these foods to your menu.

Favor Fish

Some fats -- especially omega-3 fatty acids -- lower inflammation.

They also cut down on “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides when you use them instead of saturated fats and trans fats. High levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (fats in the blood) put you at risk for heart disease. Since RA makes heart disease more likely, you want to take every opportunity to keep your heart healthy.

Salmon, herring, sardines, and anchovies are great sources of omega-3s. Salmon has the most, with up to 2 grams per 3-ounce serving. Don’t overcook it, because that can destroy more than half of the omega-3s. Bake or grill fish instead of frying it to preserve healthful fat.

The American Heart Association recommends eating fish twice a week.

Don't like fish? Walnuts, canola oil, and soybeans are rich in a different type of omega-3 fatty acid. Or ask your doctor about supplements.

Colorful Produce

It’s a simple way to make sure you get the nutrients you need: Eat fruits and vegetables of different colors. Think blueberries, watermelon, carrots, spinach, onions -- the whole rainbow! The natural chemicals that give fruits and vegetables their hue are strong antioxidants.

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Whole Grains

When you eat more whole grains instead of processed ones (think brown rice instead of white), you may lower your level of C-reactive protein (CRP), a sign of inflammation in the body.

In people with RA, CRP levels may go up during a flare. Doctors sometimes measure CRP to see how RA is going or to see how well treatment works.

Whole-wheat pasta and breads also have selenium, an antioxidant. Some people with rheumatoid arthritis have lower levels of selenium in their blood.

Another advantage of eating whole grains is that their fiber fills you up, which makes it easier to manage your appetite. That can help you stay at a healthy weight so you don’t have extra pressure on your joints.

Olive Oil

A natural chemical in olive oil stops the production of the chemicals that cause inflammation. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen lower inflammation by curbing the production of these same chemicals.

Choose extra-virgin olive oil. Extra-virgin olive oil comes from the first pressing of the olive and has the highest content of good-for-you nutrients.

Olive oil makes a tasty substitute for saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats are found in foods such as whole milk, butter, ice cream, and fatty red meat. Trans fats are found in many processed baked goods (check the label for “partially hydrogenated” ingredients).

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on November 18, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

Laura Feinblum, MS, RD, CDN, corporate dietitian, Con Edison; private practice, Westchester, NY.

Shawn Talbot, PhD, research director, SupplementWatch.com.

Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR, rheumatologist, The Arthritis Treatment Center, Frederick, MD.

The American Heart Association: "What is the Mediterranean Diet?" 

McKellar, G. Annals of Rhuematic Disorders, September 2007. 

The Mayo Clinic: "Rheumatoid arthritis."

The American Heart Association: "Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids" and "Fish 101."

Jacob, R. Journal of Nutrition, June 2003. 

Katcher, H. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 2008. 

NIH Office of Dietary Supplements: "Selenium."

Linos, A. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, December 1999.

Beauchamp, G. Nature, September 2005.

Camargo, A. BMC Genomics, April 2010.

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