Rheumatoid Arthritis: Foods to Avoid, and What to Eat Instead

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disorder that causes the body’s immune system to attack the joints. The hallmark symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are joint pain, swelling and stiffness. While there is no known cure for RA, there are treatments, including dietary changes that can help lessen inflammation. Knowing what can worsen rheumatoid arthritis – foods to avoid, strenuous activities, stress – can help you avoid painful flares and minimize joint damage.

Eating with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Foods to Avoid

rheumatoid arthritis foods to avoid

The main goal of a rheumatoid arthritis diet is to lessen inflammation throughout the body, bringing relief from joint pain and swelling. While there are common inflammatory foods (such as gluten and dairy) to avoid, you may also have sensitivities to specific foods that you are not aware of. Your doctor should check you for food sensitivities as part of your anti-inflammatory diet.

The top 5 foods to avoid are:

  1. Fried foods – Fried foods are high in trans fats, which can increase inflammation throughout the body. Margarine, vegetable oil, corn oil and lard are all high in trans fats and should be avoided. Trans fats can also increase the risk of insulin resistance and obesity, which are risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis. 
  2. Sugar and refined carbohydrates – Eating sugar or simple carbohydrates creates a spike in your blood sugar which prompts the body to produce inflammatory-causing chemicals called cytokines. In addition to triggering joint inflammation, too much sugar intake can cause weight gain which puts added stress on the joints. Refined sugars can hide in food products: check the label for words ending in “ose,” such as fructose or sucrose.
  3. MSG and artificial sweeteners – MSG is more commonly known as a migraine trigger, but it can also cause inflammation. MSG is a flavor enhancer commonly found in soy sauce, deli meats and salty snack foods, and can naturally occur in tomatoes, cheese, yeast extract and soy products. Many artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, are not naturally processed so the body has a hard time digesting it, which results in an inflammatory response.
  4. Gluten – Gluten is known to aggravate inflammation in patients with autoimmune disorders, including RA, celiac disease, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Eliminating gluten from your diet can greatly diminish joint pain and swelling. Gluten can be found in wheat, barley and rye, and can also be found in soy sauce, soups, couscous, supplements and certain medications.
  5. Dairy – Many people have a sensitivity to dairy, and it is one of the most common inflammatory foods. Dairy also contains sugar (in the form of lactose) which can also contribute to inflammation. Try milk alternatives (such as almond milk) and see if your RA symptoms improve.

What to Eat with Rheumatoid Arthritis

  • Beans and peas – These legumes are a great source of protein to support muscle health. People with RA are prone to muscle loss, which further weakens joints. They also contain nutrients that are good for the heart and immune system, such as magnesium, iron, folic acid, potassium and zinc.
  • Cherries – Anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants that help fight inflammation – they also give cherries their color. They can be found in other purple and red fruits, such as blueberries and raspberries.
  • Fatty fish and nuts – Salmon, tuna, herring and sardines are a great source of healthy omega-3s, which can help control inflammation. Walnuts, almonds and pistachios are also excellent sources of healthy fats.
  • Olive oil – Olive oil contains a natural chemical called oleocanthal that stops the production of inflammation-causing chemicals. Extra-virgin olive oil has the highest content of beneficial nutrients.
  • Whole grains – Whole grains may lower levels of CRP and reduce the risk of heart disease, which is higher in people with RA. Whole grains – such as oats, brown rice and quinoa – are also high in fiber and nutrients.

Learn More About Rheumatoid Arthritis Diets

For help with learning which foods to avoid with rheumatoid arthritis, call Anchor Wellness and schedule a consultation with Dr. Minni Malhotra, MD, FAARM, ABAARM. As a Board Certified physician in Family Medicine as well as Board Certified with the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine, Dr. Malhotra can help you find relief from painful RA inflammation. Call us today at (832) 246-8437.

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