Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its healthy tissues instead of helping the body protect itself from various infections and diseases. Rheumatoid Arthritis isn’t fully curable, but individuals affected by it can take specific measures to prevent severe flare-ups and somewhat control its effects. Taking the prescribed medications and making lifestyle modifications to lead a stress-free life is essential. 

Many people living with rheumatoid arthritis believe that dietary changes play a crucial part in their symptoms and have tried to alter their diet. Diet won’t cure RA, but the right food choices can help reduce inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis. You must avoid foods that are fried and rich in sugar and carbohydrates. These foods are full of preservatives, flavour enhancers, and gluten. Well-rounded, healthy, and nutritious meals are highly encouraged, which helps patients keep their bodies clean from the inside and helps prevent complications arising from the disease. However, dietary changes should not replace your medical prescription. 

Best Foods for Rheumatoid Arthritis

The most important relationship between health and arthritis is food. Eating a nutritious and balanced diet can make medications effective, decrease disease activity and achieve remission. According to a study, eating foods rich in antioxidants, plant polyphenols, and fatty acids has beneficial effects in lowering disease activity. Unfortunately, the percentage of RA patients following a healthy diet remains low, despite data confirming the positive impact of healthy foods. 

Making healthy food choices deliver nutrients that your body needs and helps maintain a healthy weight. That’s important because reducing weight lowers the pressure on achy joints affected by rheumatoid arthritis. 

Here’s a look at some foods you should be eating.

Fruits and Vegetables

Veggies, fruits, and whole grains should make up almost three-fourths of one’s daily meals. In addition, they provide a wholesome, nutritious diet that helps the body build up its immunity and helps prevent rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups. The antioxidants in vegetables and fruits help stabilise molecules called free radicals that can trigger inflammation and damage cells. To get the most incredible health benefits, eat two cups of fruits and two and a half to three cups of vegetables per day. 

Citrus foods, such as oranges, grapefruit, lemon, and limes, are beneficial for those with rheumatoid arthritis. All berries, especially the profoundly coloured berries such as blueberries, contain potent antioxidants that help control inflammation and joint ache. In addition, green, leafy vegetables such as kale, Brussel sprouts, spinach, and broccoli are good options. 

Whole Grains

Whole grains reduce the risk of heart disease, which is high in people with rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, whole grains are higher in nutrients and fibre than refined grains, with no added sugars or saturated fats. For example, you can eat quinoa instead of white rice. It is a high-protein grain that suppresses pro-inflammatory proteins in the body called cytokines, which could help prevent inflammation.

Other healthy grain options are:

  • Amaranth
  • Barley
  • Brown rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur
  • Millet
  • Sorghum
  • Rye
  • Whole oats

Eat a Measured Amount of Sugar

Excessive sugars are the leading cause of obesity among both children and adults. Obesity or being overweight puts pressure on the weak joints of an individual affected by rheumatoid arthritis. Hence it is essential to consume sugar in measured amounts.

Dairy Products

Dairy products such as skimmed milk and low-fat yoghurt are rich in Vitamin D sources, essential for bone strengthening. In addition, include calcium-rich dairy in your diet. Rheumatoid patients must get enough calcium in their diet to ensure that their bones stay strong and healthy. But milk might not be a good option. Instead, try rice, cashew, or almond milk as anti-inflammatory alternatives.

Lean Proteins

Lean proteins include eggs, soybeans, and white meat poultry. These are safe for one’s heart and boost muscle repair in affected individuals. Peas and beans are a great source of protein and boost muscle health – and people with RA are prone to muscle loss. 

Fish Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

A study shows that omega-3 fatty acids decrease disease activity in rheumatoid arthritis. Fish such as salmon, cod, and mackerel are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, which help your body gain good fats and shed off harmful fats. Reducing unhealthy fats is essential as they can weaken one’s affected joints. Try to eat two portions of oily fish a week. 

Nuts and Healthy Fats

Nuts like walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios, hazelnuts and almonds are rich in healthful monounsaturated fats. But don’t go overboard eating nuts as they are also high in calories. 

Walnuts are perfect for people with RA because they’re high in omega-3 fatty acids. A lower ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s is associated with a decrease in RA. So it’s essential to reduce omega-6s and increase omega-3s.

Green Tea

Green tea or its bioactive epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) component can reduce RA by improving bone resorption. As a result, it prevents joint damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis. 

In addition, the antioxidant nature of green tea helps reduce the joint pain and inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis. 

Olive Oil

Extra virgin olive oil is healthier for those affected by rheumatoid arthritis than any other oil form as it boosts heart health and keeps joint damage and inflammation at bay. In addition to healthy monounsaturated fat, olive oil contains an oleocanthal compound. The compound reduces inflammation and acts like ibuprofen for lowering pain. 

Foods to Avoid When You Have Rheumatoid Arthritis

Any food which leads to obesity, cholesterol, and poor heart health is not ideal for a rheumatoid arthritis diet. Apart from these, it is essential for rheumatoid arthritis patients to identify the food items which trigger rheumatoid flare-ups. For example, a study shows that drinking sugary drinks rich in fructose, such as high-fructose corn syrup and sweetened soft drinks, can worsen RA. Triggering foods will be different for each affected individual. Hence it is necessary to keep a close watch on each meal and keep track of one’s intake.

When considering your grain options, avoid refined grains. Eating refined grains triggers inflammation, making your symptoms worse and your joints hurt more. Examples of foods made with refined grains are white bread, white rice, cookies and cakes. In addition, refined grains cause higher levels of inflammatory markers in the blood, which is not only bad for arthritis but may also increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Here are other types of foods to avoid on a rheumatoid arthritis diet.

  • Red meat is unhealthy for the heart and worsens rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, it is rich in saturated fats, leading to inflammation of fat tissues in the body.
  • Avoid full-fat products such as heavy cream, frequent ice creams and sugar consumption, and lactose-rich desserts. One must opt for fat-free dairy products instead.
  • Avoid Corn oil and safflower oil at any cost as they are rich in omega-6 fatty acids, which lead to joint inflammations and weight gain.
  • Fried food, grilled food, fast food, processed food, and food rich in artificial additives raise cholesterol, leading to joint inflammation and damage.
  • One should try to have less than 15 mg of salt per day. Excessive sodium leads to increased water retention in joints, leading to painful swollen joints in individuals affected by rheumatoid arthritis. 
  • Sugar alternatives such as fructose, sucrose, and aspartame are very harmful to rheumatoid arthritis patients as they raise the inflammation process in the body. In addition, despite it being a popular sugar substitute, the human body has difficulty digesting aspartame. That results in an inflammatory response.
  • While not strictly a food, alcohol consumption could contribute to your body’s inflammation. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, you might want to avoid drinking alcoholic beverages as much as possible. The liver processes vital RA medicines, and alcohol can burden this essential organ unnecessarily.

Busting Myths About Rheumatoid Arthritis Diet

Myth 1: Avoid nightshade shade vegetables 

There is a common myth that nightshade vegetables such as eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, and bell peppers can worsen one’s rheumatoid arthritis symptoms due to solanine. This chemical may aggravate arthritis pain or inflammation. However, there is no affirmative evidence. If anything, nightshades contain essential nutrients which help keep our bodies agile and robust. So, one must not avoid these vegetables unless prescribed by the doctors to do otherwise.

Myth 2: Apple cider vinegar cuts the rheumatoid arthritis pain

Although it is a popular home remedy for weak and achy joints, one must not fall for this. Despite the claims that apple cider vinegar contains nutrients that can fight rheumatoid arthritis, there is no evidence that it does so. It isn’t harmful to patients to take apple cider vinegar, but one must realise that it won’t cure the pain.

Myth 3: Dairy makes rheumatoid arthritis worse

Dairy products contain a good amount of Vitamin D, essential for strengthening bones. One must remember that certain rheumatoid arthritis medications risk developing patient osteoporosis. Especially in such cases, a good amount of Vitamin D in the diet is necessary, which dairy provides in abundance. If you wish to keep dairy in your diet, low-fat options are better than full-fat products.

Myth 4: Fasting is an effective means to treat rheumatoid arthritis

Fasting is a very high-risk and short-term treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, and there are no studies indicating effectiveness for more than ten days. Symptoms usually return within one week of returning to a regular diet, and that too with increased intensity.

Delicious Yet Simple Recipes for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Banana-Berry Green Smoothie

Servings: 2

Preparation Time: 15 mins

Calories: 492 kcal

Ingredients

  • Spinach: 2 cups
  • Kale: 2 cups
  • Parsley: ½ cup
  • Dairy-free milk: 1 cup
  • Avocado: ½ chunks
  • Banana: 1 whole
  • Blueberries: 1 cup
  • Ginger: 12 g
  • Turmeric: 12 g
  • Pumpkin seeds: ¼ cup
  • Ground flax seeds: 4 tbsp
  • Water: ½ cup

Method of Preparation

  • Add all the ginger, greens, parsley, and dairy-free milk to a high-speed blender.
  • Blend these ingredients until thoroughly combined.
  • Now add the remaining ingredients to the blender and blend until smooth.
  • Note that the smoothie will be a bit thick so that one can add extra water or milk according to their liking.

Nutritional Value

  • Fat: 33 g
  • Saturated Fat: 10 g
  • Sodium: 157 mg
  • Potassium: 1528 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 48 mg
  • Protein: 12 g
  • Fibre: 16 g
  • Sugar: 16 g
  • Vitamin A: 10996IU
  • Vitamin C: 132 mg
  • Calcium: 212 mg
  • Iron: 5 mg

Broccoli Rice with Chilli Tofu 

Servings: 4

Preparation Time: 15 mins

Cooking Time: 10 mins

Calories: 699 kCals/serve

Ingredients

  • Broccoli (chopped): 700 g
  • Gluten-free cornflour: 2 tbsp
  • Red chilli flakes: ½ tsp
  • Turmeric: ½ tsp
  • Firm tofu (drained and cut): 250 g
  • Olive/Macadamia oil: 1 tbsp
  • Garlic cloves (crushed): 2
  • Carrots (julienned): 2 whole
  • Spring onions (chopped): 4 whole
  • Capsicum (chopped): 1 whole
  • Tamarind powder: 1 tbsp
  • Coriander leaves: ⅓ cup
  • Sesame/ sunflower seeds: 1 tbsp

Method of Preparation

  • Break down the broccoli florets into smaller pieces using a food processor in small batches till it resembles rice grains, and set them aside.
  • Combine the cornflour, chilli flakes, and turmeric in a zip lock bag.
  • Add the tofu into the same bag and toss it until the tofu is fully coated. Remember to shake off any excess cornflour.
  • Heat half the oil in a large wok over high heat. Stir fry tofu in 2 batches for a few minutes until golden brown and transfer it onto a plate.
  • Use the remaining oil to stir fry the garlic, carrots, and spring onions for a minute or two, and add the chopped capsicum and chopped broccoli. Stir fry for 2-3 minutes more till the vegetables are tender.
  • Stir through some tamarind powder and coriander. Serve the broccoli ‘rice’ topped with tofu and sprinkle some roasted sesame seeds on top along with finely cut spring onions.

Nutritional Values

  • Fat: 30.4 g
  • Protein: 47.2 g
  • Carbohydrate: 71.5 g
  • Sugars: 20.7 g
  • Sodium: 1 g
  • Fibre: 22.3 g
  • Vitamin A: 8700IU
  • Vitamin C: 567.1 mg
  • Iron: 12.1 mg

The Bottom Line

While diet isn’t the only parameter that keeps the existing rheumatoid arthritis symptoms under control, it plays a vital role in determining the effectiveness of preventing rheumatoid flare-ups and related complications. Therefore, patients must be vigilant and aware of their food intake. Ensure to cut out harmful stuff like red meat, preserved food, and sugar-rich food. Instead, consume wholesome, nourishing, vitamin and nutrient-rich meals. 

Since rheumatoid arthritis isn’t fully curable yet, it becomes even more essential for affected individuals to ensure that they supply their bodies with the correct foodstuff, which will help reduce the pain and discomfort caused by this disease. Therefore, maintaining a healthy weight and balanced eating combined with regular exercise is essential. In addition, it is always sensible to discuss any changes in your diet with your doctor. As a famous quote says, “A healthy body and healthy mind is all you need to keep you happy for your lifetime.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What is the life expectancy of a person with rheumatoid arthritis?

A. Rheumatoid arthritis isn’t fatal, and neither does it reduce a person’s lifespan. However, the health complications of the disease reduce the lifespan of individuals by 10 – 15 years compared to an individual without rheumatoid arthritis.

Q. How do you stop a rheumatoid arthritis flare-up?

A. Taking all the prescribed medicines on time and keeping stress and anxiety away is probably the most effective means to prevent flare-ups. In addition, check your diet, ensure you stick to foods that your body is comfortable with and try to get in some regular exercise to help your joints become more robust and more flexible.

Q. What should you not do if you have rheumatoid arthritis?

A. Not sticking to your treatment, leading a sedentary lifestyle, and consuming pro-inflammatory diets are the main things to avoid for people affected by rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, avoid smoking or excessive drinking at all costs, and it is essential to keep stress and anxiety out of your life as it leads to frequent flare-ups. Fasting is an unhealthy and short term way of controlling pain and inflammation in RA. So, it is not a good habit for people with rheumatoid arthritis. 

Q. Can rheumatoid arthritis go away?

A. Rheumatoid arthritis generally isn’t fully curable. While the disease may gradually become less severe and the symptoms might improve, it is cyclical, which means that it may trigger back after several weeks, months, or years depending on how painful it was in the first place.

Q. How do you permanently treat rheumatoid arthritis?

A. Although, to date, there are no ways to treat rheumatoid arthritis permanently, one can help limit the impacts of this condition by following the prescribed treatment judiciously and making the necessary lifestyle and dietary changes.

Q. What age does rheumatoid arthritis usually start?

A. Although rheumatoid arthritis may start at any age, it is most common in the middle age group, 30 – 50 years and the old age group (beyond 50). The latter refers to elderly-onset rheumatoid arthritis.

Q. Can Rheumatoid Arthritis Be Cured in Ayurveda?

A. Ayurvedic treatment is not a replacement for medical treatment, especially in the case of rheumatoid arthritis. While ayurvedic diet and lifestyle are encouraged, just Ayurveda cannot cure rheumatoid arthritis. Therefore, it is essential to get intensive medical treatment at the earliest possible stages of the disease.

Q. Is Pilates good for rheumatoid arthritis?

A. Pilates is quite helpful for people affected by rheumatoid arthritis to manage the pain and increase joint flexibility. Being a low-impact activity, it is safe for the affected joints and gives benefits similar to aerobic exercises for people coping with rheumatoid arthritis. 

Q. Why do people get rheumatoid arthritis?

A. Being an autoimmune condition, rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy body tissue. What causes this trigger is still unknown.

Q. What foods clear up inflammation?

A. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and food containing healthy fats are ideal choices for people affected by rheumatoid arthritis. Coldwater fishes rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, nuts, peas and beans, olive oils, and ample fruits and vegetables help maintain healthy body weight and reduce inflammation.

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