Research shows that what you eat can affect rheumatoid arthritis (RA) symptoms. Recommendations center around choosing more anti-inflammatory foods.
A good example of this way of eating is a Mediterranean diet which is rich in vegetables, fish, and healthy fats like walnuts and olives. Here are some suggestions on how to plan a nutritious plate to keep RA under control.
Cold-water fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids and make an excellent source of protein. Unlike red meat, choosing fish for your protein source helps reduce your intake of saturated fats. Fish are a heart-healthy choice, which is crucial for individuals with RA who are known to be at higher risk for cardiovascular disease.
Examples of beneficial fish for a rheumatoid arthritis diet include:
Choose grilled or baked fish, rather than fried fish, to get the most nutrition from your dish while avoiding inflammatory ingredients (like deep-frying oil and white flour).
Vegetarian Alternatives to Fish
If you don’t eat seafood, chia seeds and ground flaxseeds are another way to get omega-3 fatty acids. Tofu is a complete protein that’s heart-healthy and free of saturated fat.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are a nutritious part of any dietary plan, and eating well for rheumatoid arthritis is no exception. Choosing a colorful variety of produce will provide your body with antioxidants and fiber.
Bulk up savory dishes with exciting vegetable choices. The natural sweetness in fruit is a healthy substitute for more concentrated high-sugar desserts.
Here are practical ways to add more fruits and veggies to your day:
- Add a side salad to fill half your plate with fresh vegetables
- Choose a piece of fruit for a snack
- Flavor casseroles with peppers, onions, tomatoes, and spinach
- Instead of a pepperoni pizza, choose a veggie lovers version
- Make chocolate-covered strawberries or orange slices for dessert
- Roast up some kale “chips,” bell pepper slices, or broccoli with a dash of olive oil, salt, and pepper
- Sautee chopped vegetables to add to a morning omelet
- Top oatmeal or cereal with fresh berries
- Try a green smoothie using frozen greens and your favorite fruits
Frozen vegetables and fruits are just as nutritious as fresh. If you have trouble with fresh fruits and veggies going bad in the fridge, stock up on the frozen versions instead.
Beneficial plant compounds in fruits and vegetables, called polyphenols, can help reduce your levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) which is a known marker of inflammation.
Whole grains are a good way to get more fiber in your diet and give your body lasting energy for physical activity. Aim to fill a quarter of your plate with whole grains like:
- Whole wheat pasta
Cereals, sliced bread, and crackers are often labeled as whole-grain products. While these may be healthier than their refined counterparts, choosing less processed grains that you cook up yourself will provide maximum nutrition and help you avoid hidden sugars and preservatives.
Popcorn is a healthy whole-grain snack, especially if you avoid adding too much butter or salt. Try making it yourself on the stovetop and season it with your favorite spices like garlic powder, parmesan cheese, and black pepper.
If you’re sensitive to gluten, be mindful of your grain choices. Brown rice is a healthy and inexpensive gluten-free grain that you can serve as a side dish or use as an ingredient for soups and stews.
Beans, peas, and lentils provide a natural combination of fiber, protein, and starch. RA can increase your rate of muscle loss, so having a variety of animal-based and vegetarian protein foods will help you stay strong.
Legumes are a versatile food group that’s easy to incorporate into a variety of dishes. A warm bowl of lentil or pea soup is the perfect comfort food on a chilly afternoon. For a Mexican-style dish, add black beans to a salad or burrito. Roast up some chickpeas as a crunchy snack, or enjoy them pureed in hummus dip. There are endless ways to put more legumes on your plate.
Canned beans are a convenient pantry staple, but they can be high in sodium. Rinse canned beans under cool running water to wash away excess sodium. Frozen peas and beans are typically sodium-free, but double-check the ingredients list on the food label to be sure.
Seasoning With Turmeric
Seasoning your bean dishes with turmeric provides a natural anti-inflammatory compound called curcumin. Several studies support the use of turmeric extract to reduce arthritis symptoms.
Nuts are beneficial for individuals with rheumatoid arthritis for several reasons. Nuts are high in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, along with other polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Different types of nuts provide an array of minerals and vitamins, including magnesium and vitamin E, which support heart health.
For people with RA and prediabetes or diabetes, nuts help keep blood sugars stable reducing the inflammatory effects of elevated glucose levels. Try to enjoy nuts in their natural state for maximum nutrition, and watch out for added salt and sugar. Although nuts are a healthy snack, their calories can add up quickly. Keep in mind that one portion of nuts is just a quarter-cup.
Olive oil is an essential part of the Mediterranean diet and can be helpful for individuals with RA. For cooking, regular olive oil is fine. If you want to make a heart-healthy salad dressing, cold-pressed olive oil is high in antioxidants and aromatic flavor.
Although olive oil has gained a glowing reputation as a superfood ingredient, keep in mind that it’s still a concentrated source of fat and calories. Using olive oil to replace solid fats in your diet (like butter or lard) is a wise choice, but drowning otherwise low-fat dishes in olive oil is not.
Another way to reap the benefits of olive oil is by eating whole olives. Add olives to pizza, salads, and appetizers. It doesn’t take a lot of olives to bring a distinctive taste to your favorite dishes.
Balancing Your Fatty Acid Intake
Opting for a more Mediterranean-style diet can help you achieve a better ratio of fatty acids. The standard American diet has up to 25 times more omega-6s than omega-3s, which may promote inflammation.
Including more fish, nuts, olives, and olive oil (instead of meat, corn oil, and processed foods) will help you get a healthier balance of more omega 3s and fewer omega 6s.
A Word From Verywell
Healthy eating can support your management of rheumatoid arthritis, but it isn’t the only factor at play. Your medications, stress level, physical activity, and general health will also impact how you feel. With your doctor’s guidance, design a lifestyle that supports your health and well-being when living with RA.