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12 Foods to Avoid with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Jul 27, 2017

Wish there was an alternative method of dealing with the joint pain of rheumatoid arthritis besides popping pain medication? The aches and pains that come with arthritis can be a challenge to live with, and your diet may be partly to blame! This is why we highly recommend an anti-inflammatory diet for anyone suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.

An autoimmune disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis or RA causes the body’s immune system to mistakenly attack normal, healthy cells. This causes inflammation in the synovium (the tissue that lines the inside of joints) leading to thickening of the tissue to eventually destroy the cartilage and bone that make up the joints over time. So you see, inflammation is at the heart of RA, and a diet that helps fight inflammation may be your best bet to beat joint pain.

12 Inflammatory Foods To Avoid With Rheumatoid Arthritis

We are what we eat. And some foods may worsen the inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis, leading to increased joint pain. As a part of a healthy RA management strategy, we recommend you avoid eating these foods completely.

Red Meat

Foods to Avoid with Rheumatoid Arthritis - Red meat

A study done at Department of Food Science and Technology, University of California, found correlations between the consumption of red meat and/or processed meat and rheumatoid arthritis, along with type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer‘s disease and certain types of cancers. High in saturated fats, red meat triggers an inflammatory response in the body, which can increase swelling and pain in joints. In fact, many patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis find that their symptoms drastically improve when they give up red meat and shift to plant-based proteins like beans, legumes and soy.

Processed Foods

Foods to Avoid with Rheumatoid Arthritis - Processed foods

If food comes out of a packet, it has no business sitting on your plate! Ready-to-eat, packaged foods and snacks lack wholesome nutrition. Filled with additives, fillers, sugars and preservatives to increase their shelf-life, these foods aid inflammation and are far from healthy. If you’re going to make just one change in your diet with RA, give up all processed foods and instead choose whole, nutrient-dense REAL foods.

Fried Foods

Foods to Avoid with Rheumatoid Arthritis - Fried Foods

It’s time to give up on Crispy Fried Chicken and French fries! Not only do fried foods lead to obesity, frying to foods leads to formation of Advanced Glycation End products (AGEs) — harmful compounds that are linked to oxidative stress and inflammation. According to a study done at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, dietary AGEs may play an important role in the causation of chronic diseases associated with underlying inflammation.

Refined Carbs and Sugars

Foods to Avoid with Rheumatoid Arthritis - Refined Carbs

Not only are refined carbs and sugars extremely unhealthy, they cause a sugar-spike which produces pro-inflammatory chemicals known as cytokines. And you’re right — these will worsen your rheumatoid arthritis joint pain and cause further inflammation. Also, these calorie-dense foods will make you pack on more pounds, which will exert further stress on your joints. Give up all refined carbs and sugary treats.

Excess Salt

Foods to Avoid with Rheumatoid Arthritis - Excess salt

Do you love to add extra salt on your eggs and veggies? Time to change that habit! Not only will eating excess salt increase risk of high blood pressure, researchers now believe that high sodium intake is a potential environmental factor for immune-mediated inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.

Food Additives like MSG

Foods to Avoid with Rheumatoid Arthritis - food additives like MSG

Found very commonly in Chinese food, MSG or monosodium glutamate is a chemical-based food additive that may trigger an inflammatory response. When you have RA, your immune system is already skewed and may identify MSG and other artificially-made food additives as foreign bodies, going into ‘attack’ mode that will lead to further inflammation.


Foods to Avoid with Rheumatoid Arthritis - Gluten

Researchers now believe that rheumatoid arthritis shares genetic overlap with other autoimmune disease. As such, it may be linked to celiac disease, which is why if you suffer from RA, its best to cut back on gluten. Found in wheat, rye, and barley, gluten is a complex protein that is hard to digest and may contribute to inflammation.

Diet Soda

Foods to Avoid with Rheumatoid Arthritis - Diet Soda

Diet soda is high in aspartame which triggers inflammatory responses, especially in people who are already suffering from an inflammatory disease with rheumatoid arthritis.

Alcohol and Tobacco

Foods to Avoid with Rheumatoid Arthritis - Alcohol

Firstly, alcohol is not recommended for anyone who takes pain medication. And if you have rheumatoid arthritis, chances are that you are on these very medications! Besides the dangers of mixing alcohol with pain pills, alcohol also promotes low-grade inflammation. Studies have also found that IL-6 or interleukin-6 (a pro-inflammatory marker) levels were significantly associated with smoking especially among current smokers. It’s time to quit smoking. And if you do drink, do so only occasionally.


Foods to Avoid with Rheumatoid Arthritis - Dairy

For some, symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis may flare up in response to casein, a protein found in milk. Research has also shown that vitamin D (a key nutrient in dairy products) intake is adversely linked with rheumatoid arthritis. It’s not uncommon for patients suffering from RA to also be lactose intolerant. We recommend you cut out all dairy products from your diet to see if it brings about any improvements in your RA symptoms. Ayurveda also recommends avoiding yogurt if you have rheumatoid arthritis.

Unhealthy Fats

Foods to Avoid with Rheumatoid Arthritis - Unhealthy fats

Avoid all trans fats, saturated fats and hydrogenated oils. Instead, boost your body’s ability to fight inflammation by adding more omega-3 fats into your diet.


Foods to Avoid with Rheumatoid Arthritis - Coffee

If you have been thinking about switching your morning cup of black coffee to a calming cup of herbal tea, this may be just the boost you need to adopt the change! A study suggests heavy coffee drinking may raise your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

A Word On Fats

If you have rheumatoid arthritis, it’s all the more reason to ditch ordinary cooking oils. Not only do these lead to an imbalanced omega 6 to omega 3 ratio in the body, these trigger inflammatory responses that add to your RA pain. Research done at Royal Adelaide Hospital, South Australia found potential for complementarity between drug therapy and dietary choices that increase intake of omega 3 fats and decrease intake of omega 6 fats. In particular, there is the potential for drug-sparing effects.

Polyunsaturated vegetable oils such as grape seed, cottonseed, safflower, corn and sunflower oils are best avoided. Instead, use extra virgin olive oil, flaxseed oil, cod liver oil or macadamia oil – rich in omega 3’s and also oleic acid, a heart-healthy, monounsaturated fatty acid. Studies have found that dietary fish oil and olive oil supplementation in patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis produced beneficial immunologic effects.

It’s best to cut back on saturated fats when you have rheumatoid arthritis. As for trans fats, avoid them completely, as they promote inflammation.

What Diet Is Recommended For Rheumatoid Arthritis?

The Mediterranean Diet approach is often considered the best option for those with RA because it increases the levels of nutrients that reduce the inflammatory activity of the immune system.

A German research study found that a diet low in arachidonic acid, or a vegetarian diet, improves inflammation in patients with RA and augments the beneficial effect of fish oil supplementation. Another experimental study of a Mediterranean diet intervention for patients with rheumatoid arthritis found that patients with RA, by adjusting to a Mediterranean diet, did obtain a reduction in inflammatory activity, an increase in physical function, and improved vitality.

So go ahead, revamp your diet to avoid these inflammation-triggering foods and you may just lessen your dependence on pain medication! It’s worth mentioning that while you’re modifying your diet, you should also consider supplements to ease your arthritis pain naturally.

Maneera Saxena Behl

Maneera Saxena Behl

Health and Fitness Enthusiast
Maneera is a health and fitness enthusiast who is also a firm believer in the power of dietary supplements. A health buff, she likes to help others improve their overall well-being by achieving the right balance between nutrition, exercise and mindfulness.


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