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Can Diet Help Ease Your RA Symptoms?

Medically reviewed by Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A.
Written by Torrey Kim
Posted on May 21, 2021

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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) causes inflammation, and people living with this condition often deal with resulting symptoms such as pain, stiffness, and fatigue. In addition to the treatments your health care team recommends, you may also be interested in determining whether changing your diet might reduce your symptoms.

Researchers have not yet found a conclusive link between what you eat and what types of RA symptoms you may experience. However, many people who live with the condition say they find that certain foods can trigger symptoms, while avoiding specific ingredients can assist in keeping symptoms at bay.

One myRAteam member wrote, “Food is definitely medicine,” while another said, “I noticed a huge difference in my mobility by changing to more whole foods in my diet.”

Evidence supports the fact that some foods can trigger inflammation, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Finding what works best for you, however, may require some trial and error.

The Benefits of Keeping a Trigger Diary

One way to evaluate which foods or other triggers may cause symptoms is to keep a diary that includes a list of what you consume, as well as other changes you make to your lifestyle. Then you can go back and track what may have helped ease your symptoms and what might have exacerbated them.

“Have your trigger template written down,” advised Emily Johnson, who lives with seronegative arthritis and operates the website Arthritis Foodie. “I know it's time-consuming, but it's self-care. Write down what you’re eating every day, and notice your symptoms. That really helped me. I did that for a year while I was experimenting with food and seeing what helped and what didn't.”

Johnson recommended logging your food intake and other lifestyle changes at the end of each day and then checking back the next day to record any changes in symptoms. You can then go back and evaluate what seems to have helped, what hurt, and what you may want to adjust going forward.

Johnson stressed that she continues to take medication for her arthritis, but that making dishes that use anti-inflammatory ingredients rich in antioxidants has helped her reduce arthritis symptoms. “All the things you can do naturally alongside your medication to feel better in your body and your health are important,” she said. This includes consuming a healthy diet while you follow your doctor’s treatment plan.

Stick To Your Eating Plan

There are hundreds of different diets you might consider as you review the foods that trigger your symptoms. Keep in mind that the eating plan you’re most likely to stick with is the one that will work best for you. Don’t choose a diet so extreme you know you won’t adhere to it in the long run. If you change your eating habits, eliminate those ingredients that trigger flare-ups, and stick with the plan so you can remain flare-free.

Johnson offered the following tips to help you adhere to the meal plan that works best for you, whether you’re at home or away:

  • Keep a steady supply of pantry staples on hand that you know you’ll need to support your eating plan.
  • Make large batches of the meals you find most helpful, and store them well so you can dole out servings throughout the week.
  • Freeze prechopped ingredients or even prepared meals, so when you’re having a bad day you can still eat well.
  • When preparing food, sit down to chop, stir, or perform other tasks so your legs and lower back don’t get achy.
  • Make sure your cooking tools — such as peelers, knives, and spoons — are comfortable to hold and lightweight, so you don’t negatively impact your hand or wrist joints.
  • To save money on healthy ingredients, buy dry goods (such as brown rice and quinoa) in bulk. Then the only things you have to buy each week are your fresh ingredients, like leafy greens.
  • Surround yourself with supportive people who understand that you’re trying to avoid certain triggers.
  • Go easy on yourself if you have a tough day or when you fall off of your diet plan.

In addition, Johnson said, don’t forget to plan for snacks and breakfast — two areas that people may overlook when meal-planning. “Something that I do for breakfast is overnight oats,” she said. “I prep that the night before — it’s almond milk or oat milk, whatever milk you like, oats, a bit of honey, chia seeds, and maybe some cocoa powder if you want a chocolate version. I put those in jars, stick them in the fridge, and then in the morning I can just grab it and top it with dried fruits or banana, and then that's breakfast done.”

Remember to talk to your doctor before pursuing any special diets or changes to your eating routine.

Talk With Others Who Understand

On myRAteam, more than 151,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with rheumatoid arthritis.

Are you living with RA? Have you found that certain foods trigger your symptoms? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

References

  1. Role of Diet in Influencing Rheumatoid Arthritis Disease Activity — The Open Rheumatology Journal
  2. 8 Foods That Can Cause Inflammation — Arthritis Foundation
Posted on May 21, 2021
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Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A. is the clinical associate professor of medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here
Torrey Kim is a freelance writer with MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here

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