The Best and Worst Foods for Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

People with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) know all too well the inflammation and pain that come 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.

Is There an RA Diet?

No. But 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.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Some fats lower inflammation, especially ones called omega-3 fatty acids. They also cut down on “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. 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.

Many foods in the Mediterranean diet are rich in omega-3s. For starters, add these foods to your menu.

Foods to Eat With RA

Beans

They're packed with fiber, which can help lower your levels of C-reactive protein (CRP -- a sign of inflammation). Beans also give you protein to keep the muscles around your joints strong. Red, kidney, and pinto beans are good sources of things like folic acid, magnesium, iron, zinc, and potassium, all of which can give your heart and immune system a boost.

Broccoli

Along with other green leafy veggies like spinach, Brussels sprouts, kale, Swiss chard, and bok choy, its full of vitamins like A, C, and K, which protect you from free radical damage. They’re also a great source of calcium, which keeps your bones strong.

Cherries

Chemicals called anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants that help hold down inflammation. They also give cherries their bright color. You can find them in other purple and red fruits, like raspberries and blueberries.

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Citrus Fruits

Oranges, grapefruits, and limes are great sources of vitamin C, which leads to a strong immune system that can help hold off inflammatory diseases like RA.

Fish

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. Try to eat it twice a week.

Nuts

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.

Ginger

Gingerol compounds, which give this root its flavor, also seem to be an anti-inflammatory. Studies in animals look promising, but scientists need to do more work on people before we’re sure.

Green Tea

This tasty drink offers polyphenols, which are antioxidants that may lower inflammation and slow down cartilage destruction. It also has epigallocatechin-3 (EGCG), which stops production of molecules that lead to RA joint damage.

Olive Oil

A natural chemical in olive oil stops the production of the chemicals that cause inflammation. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like and 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.

Pomegranates

Research is under way on a pomegranate extract called POMx. It helped lower inflammation and lessen joint damage in mice, but it needs more testing in humans.

Soy

It’s a source of omega-3 fatty acids that doesn’t taste fishy. Soybeans -- think tofu or edamame -- are a good option. They’re also packed with fiber and protein.

Turmeric

This yellow spice is a star ingredient in many Indian dishes. Curcumin is the compound in it that holds promise as an anti-inflammatory. It may work better to prevent swelling and pain than to treat it once it happens. But more work needs to be done to figure out just how much it helps.

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

Foods to Avoid With RA

Red Meat and Dairy

They’re our main sources for saturated fats, which can cause inflammation in fat tissue. Other sources include full-fat dairy products, pasta dishes, and grain-based desserts.

Corn Oil

The culprit here is omega-6 fatty acids. You want to cut down on them while you’re going for more omega-3s. They can lead to weight gain and joint inflammation if you overdo it. Sunflower, safflower, soy, and vegetable oils are also sources.

Fried Food, Fast Food, and Processed Foods

They’re the major source of trans fats, which are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to extend shelf life. They can trigger inflammation throughout your body. Plus they raise bad cholesterol and lower the good type.

Salt

Not only is too much salt bad for your blood pressure, but if you have RA and take steroids, your body may hold on to it more easily. Aim for less than 1,500 milligrams a day.

Sugar

It tells your body to release chemicals called cytokines that kick-start the inflammation process. Check food labels for words that end in “ose,” like fructose or sucrose.

Alcohol

It doesn’t mix well with your RA meds. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen can cause stomach bleeding and ulcers on their own. Those odds go up when you add alcohol.

If you drink while you’re taking acetaminophen, leflunomide (Arava), or methotrexate, it could damage your liver.

Fried or Grilled Food

Meats cooked at a high temperature raise the level of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) in your blood. They show up in people with inflammation, though there isn’t a direct link with arthritis.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on April 03, 2018

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.

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