Rheumatoid Arthritis Diet: Foods to Avoid
For some RA patients, eliminating some foods from their diet has helped, as certain foods may promote inflammation and worsen RA pain.
Here are some of the foods I limit or have completely removed from my diet which may exacerbate inflammation, pain, and other RA symptoms:
Fried and Processed Foods
My experience with fried and processed foods is they increase my RA symptoms and pain. Research from Mount Sinai School of Medicine confirms cutting back on fried and processed foods can help reduce inflammation and restore your body’s natural defenses regardless of your age or health.
My RA symptoms seem to worsen when I eat red meat more than once in a week. And research has shown red meat can worsen inflammation in some people.
Red meat worsens RA symptoms because it contains omega-6 fatty acids, which are contributors to inflammation especially when intake is too high. Lean red meat is a better option because it provides protein and the nutrients you need without the added inflammation.
While milk, cheese, and yogurt are healthy options, they contain proteins that irritate joint tissues. I have had to substitute these for nondairy options as these appear to be trigger foods.
Foods substitutes for dairy include spinach, tofu, beans, lentils, and quinoa. Alternatives to dairy milk include soy, rice, and almond milk.
Refined Sugars and Sweets
Spikes in blood sugar prompt the body to produce cytokines, which promote inflammation. Moreover, sweets and foods containing refined sugars can cause you to gain weight and put stress on your joints.
Foods containing refined sugars have been triggers for my RA symptoms. And while they taste good, I would rather eat natural sugars (fruits) and unsweetened foods that help me rather than cause me physical pain.
While I have eliminated most caffeine sources (e.g. soda and energy drinks) from my diet, coffee has been difficult to completely cut out and I am quite stubborn about switching to decaffeinated coffee. I do, however, limit myself to 1 or 2 cups of coffee per day.
At least one study – published in the medical journal, Arthritis Research & Therapy – finds a connection between excessive caffeine consumption and the development of RA. Further, the research shows RF-positive RA is linked to coffee consumption. (The rheumatoid factor, or RF, is a protein that causes the immune system to attack healthy tissues.)
While research on the link between RA and caffeine consumption is still developing, you may want to consider cutting or limiting caffeine from your diet to see if this minimizes RA symptoms.
Gluten is the protein found in wheat and grains. Some people with RA are also gluten sensitive, which means eating gluten causes them increased joint inflammation. Gluten sensitivity in RA is a controversial topic but some people do find relief after removing or minimizing gluten from their diets.
If you find consuming foods containing gluten increases your RA pain, you should try reducing or eliminating gluten from your diet to see if this helps with reducing inflammation and pain.
Foods like white bread, white rice and pasta are inflammation triggers for me. This is because they are made with white flour, which stimulates inflammatory responses.
Switching to healthier alternatives, such as corn flour and brown rice flour, can help to keep RA inflammation and pain at bay.
Foods that Increase Inflammation
Just as there are foods known to decrease inflammation in the body, there are also foods known to increase inflammation.
- Grilling foods may cause inflammation, as grilling can increase advanced glycation end products (AGEs). Research has not shown a direct link between high AGEs and RA, but according to the Arthritis Foundation, “high levels of AGEs have been detected in people with inflammation.”
- Consuming omega-6 fatty acids may also contribute to inflammation. These are easily confused with omega-3 fatty acids, but they are not the same thing.
- In addition to increased inflammation, omega-6 fatty acids may also contribute to joint inflammation and obesity. Foods that contain omega-6 fatty acids include oils, such as corn, sunflower, safflower and sunflower oils. Snack foods and fried foods may also contain omega-6 fatty acids.
While there is no specific diet for RA, the best diet is one that is balanced and ensures protection against severe disease outcomes and minimizes your risk for RA complications. This means living with RA can be made easier when you eat healthy and whole foods.
To make your diet RA friendly, make sure you include fruits, vegetables, healthy meats, low-fat dairy and whole grains. You should also avoid foods that make RA symptoms worse, such as processed and fried foods, refined sugars and red meat.