Jennifer Freeman, MD
Jennifer Freeman, MD

Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) in 2008 from UT Health San Antonio, Surgeon at TRACC Dallas

Oct 27, 2018 4 min read

RA Diet: What Foods to Eat if You Have Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients require a stable, healthy diet for a number of reasons. Patients may become overwhelmed by their chronic pain and inflammation, remain undernourished, or develop medical complications.

diet

Maintaining a healthy diet is an important part of protecting your overall health, managing weight, improving energy levels, boosting your mental health and boosting your immune system. While diet alone can’t treat your symptoms, the right diet for RA can certainly go a long way in helping you feel better overall.

How Diet Affects RA

Although there is no demonstrable link between diet and RA, studies have shown that the type of inflammation experienced in RA could be modulated by certain foods. Increased inflammation has been  attributed to processed foods or foods cooked at higher temperatures.

It is recommended to increase consumption of foods that are considered to be anti-inflammatory, such as fruits, veggies, and cold water fish (rich in omega-3 fatty acids). As a result, inflammatory symptoms may improve and possibly lead to fewer flare-ups.

Best RA Diets

Before starting a new diet, you should consult your doctor to ensure you are making proper choices to support your over medical health. The best diets are well-balanced as we have always been taught. A healthy diet should consist of 2/3 plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Creating a proper diet for RA is no different. You should consume plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains while limiting lean meats and processed foods.

Below are some of the best diets to follow for helping to reduce RA inflammation and improve overall health:

Paleo Diet

Also known as the “caveman diet”, the paleo diet is the most natural. Foods consumed include meat, fruit, and vegetables. Processed foods and cultivated grains are not eaten. Because this diet includes a lot of fruits and vegetables, it may be recommended as a diet for RA. However, it does also include red meat, which can possibly cause inflammation. If you’re interested in the paleo diet, talk to your doctor first and make any necessary modifications.

Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet uses foods that people have historically eaten in the Mediterranean region. This diet is high in some of the foods considered to be anti-inflammatory. While it consists mainly of fruits and vegetables, the Mediterranean diet also includes lots of whole grains and extra-virgin olive oil. They also opt for more fatty fish rather than red meat for protein.

Gluten Free Diet

Celiac disease is another autoimmune disorder, which causes inflammation due to consuming gluten. Gluten is a protein found in certain grains like wheat, barley, and rye and is removed from someone’s diet if they have celiac disease.

Many people with celiac disease also experience symptoms similar to RA symptoms such as sore and painful joints, fatigue, depression, and anemia. By following a gluten-free diet, many RA patients have reported a decrease in inflammation.

Because having autoimmune disorder increases the likelihood of having another, some doctors suggest being tested for celiac disease if you’ve already been diagnosed with RA.

Malnutrition in RA Patients

Patients with RA are often at a higher risk of malnutrition for multiple reasons. First of all, weight loss is a common symptom in RA patients. It’s thought to be due to the autoimmune condition itself producing inflammatory responses which cause an increase in metabolic rate. This means that the body burns through more calories than normal, which can lead to weight loss. This is not considered healthy weight loss. This type of weight loss can potentially leave the patient undernourished or malnourished.

Secondly, many patients taking the common disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD) called methotrexate, have been known to have a deficiency in certain vitamins and minerals. Many RA medications produce side effects such as stomach ulcers and other digestive concerns which can make it difficult to eat. These conditions combined with weight loss further compound the problems of malnourishment in patients. Some of the most common nutrient deficiencies in RA include a lack of the following vitamins and minerals:

  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Calcium
  • Folic acid
  • Magnesium
  • Selenium

A proper diet for RA that is rich in these vitamins and minerals is important for keeping patients healthy.

Finally, many RA patients are at risk of developing osteoporosis, a weakening of the bones caused by a calcium or vitamin D deficiency. RA patients should be aware of this potential risk and ensure their diet accounts for this potential deficiency.

Supplements for RA

While it’s always best to receive nutrients through food, in some cases it may be necessary to take supplements. Certain supplements may be able to provide additional nutrition to patients who aren’t receiving enough vitamins and minerals through their diet alone.

Always speak to your doctor or rheumatologist before taking any nutritional supplements as some may interact with your current prescription medications and cause serious side effects. To reduce the risk of further symptoms or complications, your doctors will be able to advise which supplements are safe for your unique case.

Tips for RA Diet

Adhering to a specific diet like paleo, Mediterranean, or gluten-free can often be challenging and overwhelming for some patients. The most important thing in staying healthy and managing your diet for RA is to do your best at eating more of the good foods (fruits, vegetables, fish), and eliminating most of the bad foods (processed, red meats).

Here are some general tips to keep in mind for a healthy RA diet:

  • — Try to eat mostly fruits and vegetables
  • — Choose healthy, whole grains, beans, and lentils
  • — Balance your diet with regular and moderate exercise
  • — Avoid processed foods like meats or foods with chemical preservatives
  • — Reduce consumption of refined sugars
  • — Drink alcohol moderately
  • — Enjoy a healthy variety of foods

If you’re concerned about your diet or want to know more ways to improve your RA symptoms through healthy eating, consult your physician for support on making the best decisions for your condition.