Special Diets for Rheumatoid Arthritis

  • Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease that causes inflammation and painful swelling in the joints.
  • While there is no cure, there are effective treatment options and lifestyle changes that can help you manage the disease.
  • A few popular diets have shown promising benefits for the disease.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease that causes inflammation and painful swelling. It mostly affects the joints and often, many joints at once. While there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, there are effective treatment options and lifestyle changes that reduce the risk of joint damage and help you manage the disease.

One important lifestyle change is what you eat but keep in mind, your diet should not replace the treatment recommended by your doctor. Instead, healthy dietary changes may be suggested in combination with your treatment plan.

There isn’t a rheumatoid arthritis-specific diet per se but there are some already existing diets that show promising benefits for the disease. Here’s a quick look at special diets that may help rheumatoid arthritis. We’ll also take a look at additional nutrients you should consider and which foods you should avoid.

What to Look for When Choosing a Diet

According to the Arthritis Foundation, the best diet for arthritis is one that helps fight inflammation. So while there is no magic rheumatoid arthritis diet, there are things you can look for when choosing a diet.

A diet that’s rich in whole foods, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, and beans is a good place to start. The source also says it’s important to avoid processed foods, and saturated fat as much as possible as they’re not good for your overall health and may make the disease worse. Let’s take a look at a few diets you can consider to help manage your symptoms.

Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is a popular eating plan and for good reason. The Arthritis Foundation points out that studies found the Mediterranean diet offers tons of health benefits from lowering blood pressure to protecting against health conditions like cancer and stroke. Research also says it can help rheumatoid arthritis by reducing inflammation.

Additionally, the Mediterranean diet may also lead to weight loss which can reduce pressure on your joints and in turn, reduce joint pain caused by RA. The source also notes that in addition to benefiting your joints, it may also benefit your heart health.

Foods to Eat on The Mediterranean Diet

This diet plan was created to mimic how many people eat in countries along the Mediterranean Sea. The Cleveland Clinic says the diet consists mostly of plant-based foods like a range of fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and extra virgin olive oil. Lean sources of protein like poultry, fish, seafood, dairy, and eggs are also to be eaten in moderation. Here’s a list of some foods to eat while following the Mediterranean Diet:

  • Blueberries
  • Cherries
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Red kidney beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Oatmeal
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Sardines

The Paleo Diet

Another diet that may benefit individuals with rheumatoid arthritis is the paleo diet, also called the paleolithic diet, hunter-gatherer diet, caveman diet, or stone-age diet. The Mayo Clinic explains that this eating plan is based on similar foods to what we would have eaten during the paleolithic era (about 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago). Like the Mediterranean diet, it’s believed the paleo diet can help reduce inflammation.

The diet consists of lean meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Essentially any foods that could be accessed by hunting and gathering are included in this plan. Foods that are limited include dairy, legumes, grains, and of course processed foods and sugar.

A Gluten-Free Diet

A gluten-free diet diet may not be for everyone but Everyday Health says that individuals who have rheumatoid arthritis, as well as gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, may notice less joint pain when following it. A gluten-free diet simply excludes all foods that contain gluten.

This diet can feel limiting at times, but some great substitutes include quinoa, rice, and millet. The source also points out that if you don’t have gluten sensitivity or celiac disease then it might not be worth following this diet. Always talk to your doctor to find out if a diet is right for you.

The Vegan Diet

The vegan diet has gained popularity over recent years. While some people follow a vegan diet to eat more healthily others do it because they greatly care for animals. But it turns out, the vegan diet may benefit rheumatoid arthritis sufferers too.

The vegan diet excludes all animal products and animal by-products. This includes meat, fish, seafood, dairy, and eggs. By excluding these foods, and focusing on a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and grains, you may help reduce inflammation in your body and in turn, reduce the symptoms caused by RA.

However, it’s worth noting, if you’re not careful it’s possible to lack nutrients when following a vegan diet, such as protein, calcium, B12, iron, and zinc. So, if you wish to try the vegan diet, it’s best to work with a dietitian or nutritionist to ensure you’re getting enough nutrients.

Other Nutrients to Consider That May Help RA

The bottom line is to try and follow an eating plan that encourages a reduction in inflammation in the body. While the diets we listed above may help manage and reduce your symptoms, you can also build your own eating plan that aims to reduce inflammation. The key is to focus on healthy foods and nutrients that can have that effect on your body. Let’s take a look at some nutrients (and examples of these nutrients) you should consider to help manage your symptoms.

Fiber

It’s no secret that fiber is good for you but despite knowing its importance, many Americans don’t get enough of it daily. Fiber may benefit rheumatoid arthritis in three ways. For starters, the Arthritis Foundation states that some studies have found a link between high-fiber diets and lower C-reactive protein (CRP) levels in their blood. This is important because “CRP is a marker of inflammation” that is linked to RA and other diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

Secondly, a high fiber diet may aid in weight loss which can also play a role in reducing inflammation. Finally, the source says fiber may benefit the bacteria in your gut which can also help play a role in inflammation reduction. A few examples of fiber-rich foods include:

  • Beans
  • Apples
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Raspberries
  • Quinoa
  • Flaxseeds

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

According to the Arthritis Society of Canada, omega-3 fatty acids may also benefit rheumatoid arthritis by reducing inflammation in the body. The source explains that several studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids from food or supplements may reduce inflammation, disease activity, and RA symptoms like swollen and painful joints.

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats you need but they’re not naturally produced by the body. This means they must be included in your diet. Luckily, there are many options!

Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel. It’s also found in plant oils, including flaxseed and canola oil and it’s found in nuts and seeds, such as flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts. If you can’t obtain enough omega-3 fatty acids through diet, supplementation is an option but you should always consult your doctor first.

Flavonoids

Flavonoids are plant compounds that have antioxidant properties. According to Healthline, flavonoids can reduce inflammation in the body, which in turn, may help reduce the symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis.

Luckily adding more flavonoids to your diet is easy as they’re naturally found in many fruits and vegetables. Some examples include berries, grapes, soy, broccoli, green tea, and even dark chocolate.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants help fight free radicals in your body, which can cause harm if their levels become too high. While the body has its own antioxidant defense system, antioxidants can also be found in many foods. But how can they benefit RA?

One study found that antioxidants may improve disease activity and they may help control oxidative stress in RA. Additionally, antioxidants may also play a role in reducing inflammation. Many fruits, vegetables, and nuts contain antioxidants. Healthline also suggests looking for foods that contain vitamins A, C, E, or selenium.

Spices That May Benefit RA

Spices are a great way to add loads of delicious flavor to your meals but it turns out some spices may benefit rheumatoid arthritis. According to Healthline, one spice that should be on your radar is turmeric. The source explains that it contains “a compound called curcumin that has anti-inflammatory properties.” Ginger may also have the same effect.

Keep in mind that curcumin isn’t effective without adding piperine, which is found in black pepper. So be sure to also add a pinch of black pepper when adding turmeric. Another spice that may benefit RA is chili peppers which contain a compound called capsaicin. This compound is also known to reduce inflammation.

Foods to Avoid With RA

The worst foods for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers are foods that cause inflammation in the body. Healthline says these foods are known as pro-inflammatory foods and they contain a variety of problem-causing ingredients. Inflammatory foods you should avoid with RA include processed carbs, such as white flour and white sugar, as well as saturated and trans fats. These are often found in fried and processed foods.

The source says other foods to avoid include red and processed meats, eggs, and dairy. While avoiding these types of foods indefinitely can be a challenge, try to at least reduce your consumption and swap them out for anti-inflammatory foods instead.

Clarissa Vanner

Clarissa Vanner

Clarissa is the Junior Managing Editor of ActiveBeat. She aspires to live a healthy lifestyle by staying active and eating foods that nourish her body, but she isn't afraid to indulge in a little chocolate here and there! Clarissa loves cooking, being outdoors, and spending time with her dog. In her free time, you'll find her relaxing in her hammock or curled up on the couch reading a book.

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