Although there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, diet can play a role in controlling inflammation and offering relief from symptoms. Ideally, RA patients should eat a well-balanced healthy diet that offers a wide variety of nutrients and vitamins in order to support overall good health.
Generally, RA patients are considered to be at a higher risk for malnutrition. One reason for this is due to cytokine production. Cytokines increase resting metabolic rate which contributes to weight loss and speeds up protein break down.
Furthermore, medications used to manage rheumatoid arthritis can also suppress appetite or nutrient absorption further contributing to malnutrition.
With these factors in mind, it’s important that RA patients eat as healthy as possible to avoid complications resulting from RA.
Best Diets for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Fasting and Vegan Diet
In a study where patients fasted – only allowed minimal nutrients and vegetable juices – there was a reduction in inflammation markers and a slow down in RA disease progression.
A vegan diet is comprised of only fruits and vegetables and eliminates all animal foods and animal byproducts. Some studies on the vegan diet and RA have shown a reduction in immune-reactivity to certain food antigens.
Studies have also shown that fasting led into a vegan or vegetarian diet, which reduced RA symptoms and improved disease progression.
The Mediterranean diet has grown in popularity as it has been shown to help improve brain and heart health. The basis of the Mediterranean diet is poultry and fish, plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, nuts and seeds, as well as reduced intake of processed food and sugars.
Research has shown that patients who stuck with the Mediterranean diet experienced a reduction in symptoms.
Olive oil, a large part of the Mediterranean diet, has shown to have many positive effects on RA. First off, some studies have shown that among those who consume olive oil, there is a reduce risk of developing RA. Additional research found olive oil consumption was associated with a reduction of inflammatory markers.
To adhere to the Mediterranean diet, aim for at least four servings of vegetables and two or more servings of fruit, and use olive oil more often as it helps to reduce inflammation, which can worsen symptoms.
The elemental diet consists of glucose, vitamins, trace elements, and essential amino acids and provide the body with all essential nutrients to function. RA patients who received the elemental diet experienced over a 20 percent improvement in pain and morning stiffness. On the other hand, patients experienced a relapse if the diet was not followed and no laboratory improvements were seen in ESR, CRP, and hemoglobin.
Some foods may be a trigger for RA, and determining which foods are a trigger for you can help you eliminate them and reduce symptoms. This is where an elimination diet comes into play. By eliminating trigger foods and adding them back one at a time, it can help narrow down what trigger foods you may have.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Foods to Eat
Dietary fiber and whole grains: Fiber-rich foods have been shown to have positive effects on health. Whole grains – whole wheat, whole rice, oats, corn, barley, millets, sorghum, canary seed, and wild rice – are rich in fiber, antioxidants, and other nutrients and vitamins making them a healthy food to eat, especially if you have RA.
Fruits: Fruits are loaded with nutrients and antioxidants making them a good healthy food option to incorporate into your diet. Several studies have linked fruit consumption with a reduction in symptoms for a variety of illnesses and diseases. Phytonutrients in fruits make them a superfood and when consumed regularly can have a positive effect on disease management.
Spices: Spices like ginger and curcumin have been found to reduce RA symptoms due to the compounds found in them.
Essential fatty acids: The majority of essential fatty acids can be found in fish and fish has been found to be a natural immunosuppressant and anti-inflammatory. RA patients who consumed essential fatty acids from fish experienced a decrease in morning stiffness and other RA symptoms.
Synbiotics: Synbiotics are a combination of prebiotics and probiotics, which help support the growth of good bacteria in the gut. Because the majority of immune cells are found in the gut and RA is an autoimmune disease, supporting a healthy immune system can go a long way in improving RA symptoms. Consuming foods that contain prebiotics and probiotics, like fermented foods and yogurt, can help relieve RA symptoms.
Alcohol consumption: Some studies looking at alcohol and RA have suggested alcohol may lead to progression of RA where others found a decrease in RA in a dose-dependent manner. Speak to your doctor about your condition along with alcohol consumption.
Tea: Naturally occurring compounds found in tea have been found to have positive effects on neurodegenerative disease, inflammatory disease, cardiovascular disease, and several types of cancer.
Herbs: Herbs have had a long-standing place in medicine and with side effects of many traditional manufactured medications many people are moving towards more natural alternatives such as herbs. Always speak to your doctor prior to taking herbs for medicinal purposes as some herbs may negatively interact with medications.
|Fruits||Dried plums, grapefruits, blueberries, pomegranates, mangos and other seasonal fruits, bananas, peaches, apples|
|Cereals||Whole oatmeal, wheat bread, flattened rice|
|Legumes||Black soybean, black gram|
|Whole Grains||Wheat, rice, oats, rye, barley, millets, sorghum, canary seed|
|Oils||Olive oil, borage seed oil|
|Miscellaneous||Yogurt (curd), tea|
If you’re unsure as to what types of foods you should be consuming with rheumatoid arthritis, here are some guidelines that can aid in treatment.
Change the type of fat in your diet: RA patients are at a higher risk for heart disease, so choosing the right fats can help keep your risk at bay. Olive oil, for instance, is a good example of a healthy fat. Read labels carefully to spot saturated or trans fats.
Eat more oily fish: Oily fish contain essential fatty acids that can work to reduce inflammation.
Eat iron-rich foods: Iron-rich foods can help combat fatigue resulting from anemia, which is quite common in RA. Iron-rich foods are eggs, green leafy vegetables, beans, and red meat. For higher iron absorption, consume iron foods with vitamin C.
Eat calcium-rich foods: Calcium helps keep bones strong which is important in rheumatoid arthritis in order to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Some studies have indicated that a protein found in milk may also trigger RA for those who are genetically at risk. You can still obtain calcium to protect your bones through vegetables and nuts in order to reduce your intake of milk.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Foods to Avoid
Just as some foods can help reduce rheumatoid arthritis inflammation, other foods can actually promote inflammation, which can worsen rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Here are 12 pro-inflammatory foods that you should avoid with rheumatoid arthritis.
Red meat: Studies have linked the consumption of red meat and processed meat with RA. Red meat and processed meat triggers inflammation, which can increase RA symptoms.
Processed foods: Processed foods are high in sugar and additives, which may help keep the food fresher longer but also cause inflammation in the body.
Fried foods: Fried food is linked with the formation of Advanced Glycation End products (AGEs) which are harmful and linked with oxidative stress and inflammation.
Refined carbohydrates: Refined carbs cause spikes in sugar which produces pro-inflammatory responses and cytokines which are harmful in RA.
Excess salt: Too much salt is being linked as a possible environmental factor for immune-mediated inflammatory diseases.
Food additives: Food additives like MSG – commonly found in Asian take-out – can trigger an inflammatory response. It’s best to avoid processed foods and take-out and eat the bulk of your meals from home.
Gluten: Like celiac disease, RA is an autoimmune disease, and as gluten triggers symptoms related to celiac disease some RA patients may find a reduction in symptoms by cutting out gluten from their diet.
Diet soda: Diet sodas contain aspartame which triggers inflammation.
Alcohol and tobacco: Alcohol is never advised when on pain medications as it can have toxic effects on the body. Furthermore, smoking is never a good idea but more so in RA as it can lead to greater joint pain as a result of inflammation.
Dairy: As mentioned, proteins found in milk can trigger inflammation. Furthermore, many RA patients are also lactose intolerant meaning they can’t break down the proteins found in dairy which can lead to adverse effects.
Saturated and trans fats: Stick with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats as those work to curb inflammation, unlike saturated and trans fats.
Coffee: Studies have shown that heavy coffee consumption is linked with the development of rheumatoid arthritis.
Gluten and Rheumatoid Arthritis
Avoiding gluten has also been recommended for rheumatoid arthritis patients as there may be a connection between celiac disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Celiac disease and rheumatoid arthritis are both autoimmune conditions. In the case of celiac disease, the immune system attacks gluten, and in rheumatoid arthritis, it attacks the joints. Along with gastrointestinal symptoms experienced in celiac disease, patients can also experience symptoms elsewhere in the body, including the joints.
If you have rheumatoid arthritis, it may be worth to get checked for celiac disease. Having one autoimmune disease increases the risk of another, so you may very well have also developed celiac disease and a sensitivity to gluten. If the tests come back positive, then eliminating gluten from your diet may not only aid in celiac disease but offer relief for joint pain as well.