Figuring out what to eat when you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can feel like solving a riddle. Since there’s no one-size-fits-all diet for RA, what works well for one person can cause inflammation in another. Many people with RA carefully read ingredient lists and cautiously experiment with different foods. But what about when you just want a quick bite to eat?
People with RA have an increased risk of heart disease, which makes finding healthy snacks important. Learning your trigger foods and finding heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory snacks can help take the guesswork out of RA flare-ups while promoting better overall health and wellness. Here are some suggestions to help you build a list of enjoyable snack foods to add to your meal plan.
Nutritious snacks can help combat the fatigue that often accompanies RA. Not every snack needs to be nutrient-packed, but finding creative ways to meet your body’s nutritional needs is essential.
“I noticed a huge difference in my mobility by changing to more whole foods in my diet,” said a myRAteam member. “My air fryer and my NutriBullet are my best friends.”
If you have an air fryer, experiment with making your own sweet potato chips with a dash of olive oil. Try crisping up soybeans or beets for a high-potassium snack that’s rich in fiber and polyphenols.
Colorful fruits offer a variety of antioxidants, like vitamin C. Try making your own ice pops, or choose frozen fruit for a naturally sweet snack. You could also drizzle some dark chocolate over fruit and top it with chopped nuts for a treat that’s less likely to trigger a flare-up than processed candy or desserts.
Getting enough protein is an important goal for people with RA, who may be at risk for rheumatoid cachexia, which reduces muscle strength. Bite-size portions of protein spread throughout small meals and snacks can make it easier to meet this goal.
Many protein shakes and bars are tailored to meet different dietary needs. You can find gluten-free, lactose-free, low-sugar, vegan, and other variations of protein shakes or bars to work around your preferences or known food intolerances.
However, some people with RA prefer to avoid processed protein products. If that’s true for you, you could try lean protein items such as:
Getting more omega-3s into your meals and snacks has been shown to reduce C-reactive protein and interleukin-6, two inflammatory cytokines that can make arthritis symptoms worse. For the added anti-inflammatory benefit of omega-3 fatty acids, choose proteins such as:
You can also eat typical “meal items” for snacks. Chopped, baked chicken breast or firm tofu in a tortilla with hummus is another quick and filling way to get a protein boost between meals. Don’t forget to season with turmeric or other herbs and spices for an anti-inflammatory boost of antioxidants.
Certain foods may contribute to inflammation, so avoiding them while snacking is key.
Sugary foods are a common cause of inflammation for people with RA. Sugar is not always easy to cut out, but there are ways to avoid sugar while satisfying your sweet tooth. Members of myRAteam have shared their tips for avoiding sugar:
If you have a sweet tooth, finding treats without added sugar can bring you joy without the possible painful side effects. One myRAteam member’s favorite sweets are “fruits, especially blueberries, cherries, and bananas.”
Other members have found benefits in avoiding dairy:
While these members have learned to manage RA symptoms by avoiding certain foods, many people with RA do not have specific food triggers for their inflammatory arthritis. Also, food triggers can vary from person to person. Work with your doctor to find any food triggers you may have.
Keeping a food diary and logging your symptoms can help you identify which ingredients you’d rather avoid. As you learn more about your body, trying new snack ideas will expand your options. Some members of myRAteam report having trouble remembering to stick with a food diary, but others who have followed through on it found it highly beneficial.
One member said, “Food journaling was a game-changer for me. I totally know what will cause me to flare. I can tell, almost instantly, when a brand or restaurant has changed the ingredients in prepared foods simply by the way my body responds. On top of this, I know what preservatives and ingredients can cause me to flare.”
They went on to say, “This is an amazing tool! It not only helps with RA, but it also assists with maintaining a healthy body and weight … . Doing this regularly makes you want to investigate foods further.”
Extra calories from mindless snacking can contribute to unhealthy weight gain, which is tough on the joints and can increase total body inflammation. Beyond helping you identify trigger foods, a food diary can promote healthy weight loss by making you more aware of how much — and how often — you’re eating.
On myRAteam, the social network for people with rheumatoid arthritis and their loved ones, more than 166,000 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? What are your favorite go-to snacks? Share your suggestions in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on myRAteam.