Recent research in rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory disease, shows that what you eat may help make you feel better. Some people with RA find that what they eat has a big impact on their symptoms. Others find that eating a healthy diet provides added benefits, like having more energy.
Ultimately, everyone is different and has unique dietary needs and preferences. Some foods are particularly beneficial to people with RA, namely those that comprise a Mediterranean diet or another anti-inflammatory diet. Here, we explore some of the best foods to support your body while living with RA. Keep in mind that these foods cannot cure or treat rheumatoid arthritis — but they may help manage symptoms alongside your prescribed medications and treatments.
See what rheumatologist Dr. Ashira Blazer says about people with autoimmune conditions and diet.
There are several different kinds of fatty acids. Your body needs all of them, but in the proper ratios. Research shows that people who have a higher ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids are more likely to be diagnosed with inflammatory conditions like RA.
You can raise the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet by eating fish like tuna, mackerel, herring, salmon, or sardines. If you don’t like fish, omega-3 supplements (also called fish oil supplements) are available. Make sure to work with your doctor before taking a fish oil supplement, as these supplements can have other side effects and interact with some medications. Make sure to get the most out of your supplementation without harming your body.
Some myRAteam members report that getting more omega-3 fatty acids has helped improve their RA symptoms. As one member wrote, “My flares were bad, but I have been taking omega-3 and vitamin D, and they seem to be helping.”
Whole grains, like whole wheat, quinoa, oats, and brown rice have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. Whole grains may also help lower C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, reducing inflammation and potentially improving RA symptoms. The level of CRP in the blood increases when there is inflammation in the body. People diagnosed with RA often have high CRP levels, which some people report causes more joint pain and other worsened symptoms.
Green tea seems to help some people diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis feel better, research shows. Researchers propose that this effect is because the tea is full of antioxidants, which help improve the function of your immune system. Green tea may also have anti-inflammatory effects.
The legume family includes peas, beans, and peanuts. Like green tea, legumes contain antioxidants that can help improve your immune system and decrease inflammation. They also contain protein, which helps you maintain muscle mass.
Legumes also contain an abundance of nutrients, including potassium, magnesium, folic acid, zinc, and iron, that help your heart and immune system function. The Arthritis Foundation recommends choosing black beans, garbanzo beans, or black-eyed peas.
Fruits and vegetables are part of any healthy diet, but they can be especially helpful for people diagnosed with RA. Fruits and vegetables contain high amounts of fiber, which may help reduce inflammation, as well as antioxidants and compounds that can lower your CRP levels.
To maximize the benefit of fruits and veggies in your diet, eat a variety of colors each day to get the most nutrients.
Extra-virgin or virgin olive oil may be helpful for people with RA because these are categorized as monounsaturated fats (healthy fats that protect your heart and lower your risk of heart disease). Olive oil also contains oleocanthal, a substance that helps reduce inflammation and may even act as a pain reliever.
Turmeric and ginger may be two of the most powerful spices for relieving RA symptoms. Early research suggests they may help the immune system by reducing the number of cytokines in the body, which can cause inflammation. They may also help reduce something called oxidative stress, helping the body better fight off any foreign invaders.
Some myRAteam members find that turmeric and ginger help them feel better. As one member wrote, “I have used turmeric in different things, and I feel like it helps.” Another shared, “My inflammation seems to be high today. So, I shall drink my turmeric and ginger tea, and the inflammation will be down by this afternoon.”
The Mediterranean diet includes many of the foods mentioned above. It focuses mainly on fish, fruits and vegetables, legumes, and nuts. It also incorporates a lot of olive oil. Because these foods are recommended for people with RA, switching to the Mediterranean diet may be an easy way of eating right with the disease.
Some of our members have tried the Mediterranean diet and found that it helps their RA symptoms. As one wrote, “I have been experiencing more energy since I started on the Mediterranean diet.”
Certain foods will cause RA flare-ups in some people but not in others. If you think that a certain type of food might be making your rheumatoid arthritis worse, try an elimination diet with guidance from a doctor or nutritionist to determine what triggers your symptoms.
Once you’ve identified your trigger foods, you can avoid them. Working with a dietitian or nutritionist may also help you eat a healthy diet while avoiding foods that exacerbate your symptoms.
Navigating life with RA can be a challenge. The good news? You don’t have to go it alone. Join myRAteam, the social network for people diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and their loved ones. Here, more than 147,000 members from across the world come together to ask questions, offer support and advice, and share stories of life with RA.
What foods have you found the most helpful in managing your RA symptoms? Share your thoughts in the comments below or by posting on myRAteam.