Inflammatory Foods to Avoid for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Know what to eat with Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder, in which your body’s immune system attacks the synovium, part of the area surrounding your joints causing inflammation that can damage the joints and other organs in the body. RA symptoms commonly include pain, fatigue, and joints that are warm, swollen, and reddish, especially in the small bones of the hand and wrist.

The following foods may increase the pain and inflammation of RA. However, sensitivities to foods vary between individuals, so work with your physician (and a registered dietitian) to determine the best diet for you and your RA symptoms.

Saturated fat: The saturated fat found in animal products such as meat, poultry, and full-fat dairy is more easily metabolized into pro-inflammatory compounds, which may increase the pain of RA. You can decrease your consumption of saturated fat by choosing leaner meats, skinless poultry, and reduced-fat dairy products—and by consuming more non-animal protein sources such as beans, lentils, peas, and nuts. In fact, some studies have shown that a vegan or vegetarian diet can decrease the inflammation and pain of RA.

Trans fat: Trans fats are created when vegetable oil is chemically modified to be solid at room temperature through a process called hydrogenation. These hydrogenated oils may be even worse for inflammation (and your heart) than saturated fat. Consuming trans fat such as those found in fried, packaged, and processed foods may worsen RA symptoms.

Refined carbohydrates and sugar: Table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and white flour are some of the easiest foods for the body to break down. But these quick-burn foods may also create chronic inflammation in the body. And a 2013 study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that drinking one or more sugar-sweetened beverage per day increased risk of developing a severe form of RA compared with those who drank fewer than one per month.

Gluten: Because RA is an autoimmune disease, there is a slightly higher risk of developing other autoimmune diseases, such as celiac disease. In celiac disease, the presence of gluten – a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye – causes the immune system to attack and inflame the lining of the small intestine, causing bloating, gas, and other symptoms. In people with RA, this inflammatory response can extend to other parts of the body, worsening arthritis symptoms. Even some people without celiac disease find that their RA symptoms improve when they remove gluten from the diet. But before you consider cutting gluten from your diet, speak to your doctor about getting tested for celiac disease.

Dairy: In some people with RA, the protein (casein) found in dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream from cows, sheep, and goats increases inflammation. If you choose to remove these foods, be sure to get enough calcium and vitamin D from other sources, including fortified non-dairy milk substitutes such as soymilk, almond milk, light coconut milk and rice milk, as well as fortified orange juice, salmon, and sardines with bones.

Caffeine: Although research is still inconclusive, caffeine, particularly that found in coffee, may aggravate RA. A 2007 study in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism found that people who drank coffee were more likely to develop a specific type of RA.

Salt: Several recent studies suggest that too much salt in the diet may contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases, including RA, by over-stimulating the immune system. While this area of research is still emerging, it may be wise to moderate salt intake and enhance flavor through the use of herbs and spices.

Alcohol: While some studies have shown moderate alcohol consumption to have health benefits, alcohol may be a concern in people with RA taking certain medications, specifically methotrexate and acetaminophen. Because both alcohol and these drugs are metabolized by and can cause damage to the liver, it’s important to discuss drinking and taking RA medications with your physician.

Now that you know the inflammatory foods to watch out for if you have RA, check out the anti-inflammatory foods to embrace.