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Guide To Rheumatoid Arthritis Diet: Foods To Eat & Avoid

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Living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can present unique challenges, but making informed choices about what you eat can have a significant impact on managing your symptoms and overall well-being.


What is rheumatoid arthritis (RA)?  

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder that causes the body's immune system to wrongly target healthy cells, including the joints. Normally, the immune system is meant to defend you from outside intruders like viruses and germs, but with RA it doesn’t. 

RA risk factors can include age, gender, genetics, and environmental exposure (tobacco use, exposure to air pollution, and occupational exposure).

Diet tips

Maintain a healthy weight

A “healthy” weight falls within the Body Mass Index (BMI) range of 18.5-24.9 kg/m2. For those with RA, weight can influence the effects of medication, disease activity, and remission — certain studies show that, regardless of RA therapy, overweight individuals (BMI ≥25.0 kg/m2) are less likely to achieve remission. Also, as a person living with RA, you’re more at risk of developing heart disease, which is closely linked to weight.

Focus on the healthy fats 

The amount and type of fat used when cooking is worth paying attention to. This is because fat may influence blood cholesterol levels, along with level of joint damage due to weight gain and inflammation. Prioritize unsaturated fats (fatty fish, olive oil, avocado, nuts etc) and limit  saturated fats (red meat, cheese, cream, etc) to help keep your cholesterol at a normal level: usually around  200 mg/dL for total cholesterol, 100 mg/dL for LDL-cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol), and 60 mg/dL and above for HDL-cholesterol (“good” cholesterol).

Keep an eye on salt intake 

A high salt intake may result in inflammation due to changes in the immune system. Also, it may increase the risk of high blood pressure in some patients. 

Give the Mediterranean diet a go

The Mediterranean diet is an anti-inflammatory diet that prioritizes vegetables, fresh fruits, olive oil, poultry, beans, peas, wholegrain cereals, fish, nuts/seeds, and limited amounts of lean red meat. It’s naturally low-carb, low in saturated fat, and high in unsaturated fats like omega-3s. 

According to a 2017 study, the Mediterranean diet helps reduce pain and boost physical function in people with rheumatoid arthritis…one of the many reasons it was dubbed the “ultimate arthritis diet” by the Arthritis Foundation.  

Incorporate more meatless meals

In a 2015 study, 600 arthritis patients  tried a vegan diet for three weeks, and a majority of them saw a 0.5 mg/dL decrease in their C-reactive protein level, which indicates inflammation.

Those who tried the gluten-free vegan diet saw a small improvement in their symptoms. Their levels of certain immune molecules (IgA and IgM anti-PC) went up after a few months. The increase in these specific antibodies could be seen as a sign of the body's attempt to deal with RA. They also had lower levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol.

Incorporate iron-rich foods

The level of tiredness an RA patient experiences may increase when coupled with anemia, which is why there’s often a need for RA patients to prioritize iron through foods (lean red meat, beans, legumes, tofu, apricot, raisins, oysters, turkey) and, if necessary, supplementation. 

Incorporate calcium-rich foods

Calcium supports bone health, which is particularly important for those with RA since it decreases the risk of osteoporosis. Some good sources of calcium include yogurt, soy drinks, low fat milk, almonds, sardines, leafy vegetables, and certain cheeses. 

Up the antioxidants

Antioxidants may help reduce disease activity. They help destroy damaging compounds, like the over-production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Antioxidants can also help reduce inflammation.

You’ll find antioxidants in foods rich in vitamins C, A, or E such as fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and green tea.

Foods that help with rheumatoid arthritis 

Fatty fish

Fatty fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which help lower inflammation and decrease the intensity of joint pain and morning stiffness. 

Examples include salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, tuna, and varieties of cold-water fish. In a 2019 study, patients who ate fish twice a week or more had a significantly lower disease score than those who ate less. Another reason to eat more seafood? It’s a good source of Vitamin D, which is often low for those with RA. Some other sources of omega-3 fatty acids are flaxseed oil and walnuts.

Ginger

Ginger can help inhibit some of the proteins that may trigger the immune system in diseases like RA. Plus, it may also have anti-inflammatory effects, which can help ease the symptoms of RA. 

Turmeric

Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin. It has anti-inflammatory properties which are beneficial in inflammatory diseases like RA.

Broccoli 

Broccoli contains vitamin C, K, and A which help protect individuals from free radical damage. A study found that the consumption of vegetables like broccoli is associated with low levels of inflammatory markers.  

Walnuts 

Walnuts are high in alpha-linolenic acid, which is a type of omega-3 fatty acid primarily found in plant-based foods. Research has also shown that walnuts may be associated with reduced markers of inflammation. 

Spinach

Leafy greens such as spinach are great for patients with RA. Several studies have associated high intake of fruits and vegetables with low levels of inflammation. Spinach in particular contains antioxidants such as kaempferol, along with plant compounds that can help fight disease. 

Berries

In a 2017 survey, blueberries were the top-reported food in helping with symptoms of RA. All berries (blueberries, strawberries, blackberries) are rich in polyphenols, which help reduce markers of inflammation. 

Olive oil 

Olive oil is great for patients with RA because it contains oleocanthal, which has properties that can be found in nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). It helps with inflammation and promotes autophagy (which is the clearing out of damaged cells from the body).

Also, diets rich in olive oil (e.g., the Mediterranean diet) help reduce pain and boost physical function of people living with RA.

Grapes 

Grapes are nutrient-filled and high in antioxidants. They may also help lower the levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) — P is a marker used to measure inflammation. Also, grapes have several compounds that can be beneficial in treating arthritis, including resveratrol (an antioxidant found in the skin of grapes).

Peas and beans

Protein is important for muscle health, which is important since those living with RA are prone to muscle loss. Peas and beans serve as a great source of protein; they are also fat-free and contain antioxidants. Plus, they are rich in iron, zinc, magnesium, folic acid, and potassium, which boast health benefits for the immune system and the heart. 

Specific foods to (mostly) avoid with rheumatoid arthritis 

Red meat and dairy products

Red meat and dairy are sources of saturated fat, which may cause inflammation. Consumers of red meat have high levels of CRP, interleukin-6 (IL-6), and homocysteine (which are all markers of inflammation). Also, studies have found that red meat worsens symptoms of autoimmune diseases like RA.

Added sugar

While everyone can benefit from reducing their sugar intake, it’s especially important if you have arthritis. Sugar-sweetened sodas and desserts worsen symptoms of RA.

Salt

High or excessive salt or sodium intake may worsen RA symptoms. It can also increase blood pressure and result in chronic conditions like heart failure and stroke.

Advanced glycation end products (AGEs)

AGEs are molecules known for their inflammatory properties, which tend to amass within tissues as an individual advances in age. People with RA often have increased AGE levels. 

Fat, sugar, and certain processed foods increase AGE levels Some of the foods that are high in AGEs include:

  • Mayonnaise 
  • Margarine
  • Fries
  • American cheese
  • Fried, roasted, grilled. or seared meats such as bacon, steak, chicken, broiled hot dogs

Food like vegetables, fruits, fish and legumes may help reduce your AGE levels

Some vegetable oils 

It’s important that patients with RA have a balanced level of fat consumption to prevent inflammation. Diets which are low in omega-3 and high in omega-6 fats may worsen symptoms of RA. Omega-6 fats are found in margarines and vegetable oils like corn. Omega-3 is in olive oil and avocado oil.  

Highly processed foods

Fast food, breakfast cereals, and heavily processed baked goods often contain refined grains, added sugar, preservatives, and other inflammatory ingredients that can worsen arthritis symptoms. 

A 2020 study found that patients living with RA who consumed highly processed foods experienced increased heart disease risk factors such as higher levels of glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c), a long-term marker of blood sugar control. Also, highly processed foods lead to an increased risk of RA.

Can supplements help with rheumatoid arthritis? 

While the FDA doesn't currently approve dietary supplements, some have reported temporary relief from their RA symptoms with supplementation. In 2013, a study showed  that people who took fish oil supplements had a higher chance of improvements in  RA symptoms compared to those who didn't take fish oil. Another study showed that quercetin can help regulate inflammation reactions and even suggested it as a potential drug for RA. Further studies on quercetin found that it reduces the molecules involved with inflammation. 

Although supplements can be beneficial, it's important to talk to your doctor and/or dietitian first to ensure proper dosage and prevent drug interactions with other medications. 

The bottom line: dietary changes can complement infusion therapy for RA

Diet and lifestyle play a crucial role in complementing infusion therapy. Healthy eating and lifestyle can enhance the effectiveness of infusion therapy and support the body's healing process. For example, some people may experience side effects from infusion therapy, such as fatigue, nausea, or a weakened immune system. A healthy diet rich in nutrients and antioxidants can help support the immune system and promote overall health, which may reduce the risk of side effects.

Also, a healthy body weight coupled with a healthy diet can help ease the symptoms of RA.

Interested in RA treatment at Local Infusion?

Local Infusion offers modern, state-of-the-art centers with private suites, designed with your comfort in mind.

From questions on what to expect in your first treatment, to providing financial guidance and support, a dedicated Infusion Guide works with you and your physician to provide clear answers and assistance every step of the way. Plus, we handle everything having to do with prior authorization.

We’ll reach out within hours of a physician referral and get you digitally on board in less than two minutes, allowing our staff more time to focus on you.

Should you have questions regarding pricing and insurance, our team will work with you to provide financial assistance support and minimize costs, providing a simple and stress-free experience.

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