If you have or know someone with RA or rheumatoid arthritis, then you’re familiar with the pain and swelling that comes with it. And sure, there are medications or treatments for the symptoms, but part of self-care and management also includes eating a healthy balanced diet – preferably, of course, those that include the best foods for RA.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disease in which the immune system attacks healthy cells in the body by mistake. This in turn causes inflammation in the affected parts of the body, usually the knees, ankles, feet, hands, wrist, elbows, or shoulders. During its early stages, redness and swelling may not be evident yet but other symptoms like joint pain, tenderness, or stiffness that lasts for weeks can already be observed.
It’s best to consult a doctor to get a proper diagnosis early on so that treatment or medications can be started as quickly as possible. RA, aside from its physical and social consequences, can also lead to other complications such as premature heart disease, obesity, and disability.
As we’ve mentioned above, part of self-care and management of RA is ensuring that you have a well-balanced rheumatoid arthritis diet. There are also other ways to manage RA, more on that at the end of this article. For now, rest assured that you can very well manage and live a healthy and active life even with rheumatoid arthritis.
If you’re interested, here is a list of the best foods for RA that you can work into your existing diet to make it even healthier and gentler for your condition. These foods contain not just anti-inflammatory properties but are also rich in fiber and antioxidants. It’s also best to stay away from inflammation-causing foods if you already have rheumatoid arthritis.
Best Foods for RA
Avocados are packed with monounsaturated fats which may very well protect joints from inflammation. It’s also rich in fiber and vitamin E and also contains potassium, folate, magnesium, and vitamins C and B6. Avocado is also particularly good for the heart and for lowering high blood pressure.
Berries, like blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries, are known to contain anthocyanins which is a class of flavonoids that has anti-inflammatory properties. Anthocyanins also boost the immune system. Berries are also high in fiber, vitamin C, and other antioxidants.
Carrots are of course known for their beta carotene content which has potent anti-inflammatory activity. So, aside from improving eye health, you can also count on carrots to help you manage RA symptoms. On top of that, it’s also a good source of fiber, potassium, vitamin K1, and a number of antioxidants.
Citruses, like oranges, lemon, grapefruit, and limes, are not just rich in vitamin C but with inflammation-fighting antioxidants as well. These citrus fruits also help in maintaining healthy joints. Citrus also contains fiber, potassium, folate, calcium, niacin, thiamin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, copper, magnesium, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and phytochemicals.
Dark green leafy vegetables
Dark green leafy vegetables, including spinach, broccoli, kale, chard, Brussels sprouts, and bok choy, are rich in antioxidants that protect cells from free radical damage. These antioxidants include vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K. These dark leafy vegetables are also rich in calcium which boost bone health.
Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, and herring, are high in omega 3 fatty acids which have the ability to inhibit inflammation. This omega 3s interferes with immune cells that are particularly responsible for the body’s inflammatory response. See here the list of fish high in omega 3s but are relatively low in mercury (a major concern when it comes to these types of fish).
Garlic contains diallyl disulfide which suppresses inflammation. Garlic may also help in preventing cartilage damage from arthritis. It’s also a good source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, thiamin, calcium, phosphorus, copper, and manganese. Garlic is in fact one of the many herbs and spices that you can use to healthily and naturally enhance the flavor of your dishes.
Grapes, whether it’s the white or darker-colored varieties, are packed with antioxidants and other polyphenols. They contain bioactive compounds that act on the same cellular targets as Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs. Grapes are also great sources of copper and vitamin K and contain good amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, and vitamin B6.
Green tea contains potent antioxidants that block the production of molecules that causes joint damage. It also contains natural compounds like polyphenols which help in reducing inflammation, preventing cell damage, and fighting cancer. As to choosing which green tea to drink, well, there are different types of green tea to choose from – gunpowder tea, genmaicha, gyokuro, matcha, and sencha.
Nightshade vegetables, which include eggplants, tomatoes, and potatoes to name a few, are previously thought to cause or aggravate pain and inflammation. However, these reports are mostly anecdotal and no evidence has been presented yet to prove this claim. Nightshade vegetables in fact contain vitamins and minerals that are beneficial to our body like vitamins A and C. Having said that, still practice vigilance and be quick to eliminate any nightshade vegetable that is causing flare-ups of RA symptoms.
Nuts, including almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts, and pistachios, are rich in fiber, omega 3 fats, vitamin E, magnesium, and zinc which all have anti-inflammatory properties. So not only are they heart-friendly but they can actually benefit those with rheumatoid arthritis as well. About an ounce of nuts, enough to fit the palm of your hand, every day is healthy to have in a well-balanced diet.
Aside from the fact that olive oil contains a lot of anti-inflammatory compounds, it particularly has one that has similar effects to ibuprofen – which is commonly taken to help control pain and inflammation. Olive oil also contains monounsaturated fats and vitamin E. It is also actually the main source of fat in the Mediterranean diet.
Onions, just like leeks, contain an anti-inflammatory compound called quercetin. Its sulfur compounds may also help in reducing cartilage damage. Onions are a great source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, and folate. It may help in reducing cholesterol levels, lowering high blood pressure, and protecting against blood clots.
Legumes – peas, beans, lentils, are great sources of fiber and plant-based protein. They’re also great sources of iron, folate, magnesium, and potassium. They can help you feel fuller for longer periods of time thereby supporting your weight management efforts which are even more important if you have RA.
Pomegranate is packed with antioxidants and flavonoids that can help in reducing pain, swelling, inflammation, or joint tenderness. They’re also known, even in ancient cultures, as remedies for skin or digestive disorders, and intestinal parasites. Pomegranate is also particularly rich in vitamin C, potassium, and fiber.
Soy is an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids which have anti-inflammatory properties. So, soy milk, tofu, or edamame are a great addition to your rheumatoid arthritis diet. Soy is also rich in fiber and protein. It’s also a good source of vitamin K1, folate, manganese, copper, phosphorus, and thiamine. It also contains plant compounds that may help in preventing certain types of cancers, relieving menopause symptoms, and reducing the risk of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.
Spices like turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and thyme contain phenolic compounds which are vital in many defense responses like anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiproliferative, and antiaging. These are just some of the best spices for health that you can use to naturally and healthily flavor up food without using salt.
Squash in addition to its carotenoid content, lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta carotene, also has omega 3 fatty acids which contribute to its anti-inflammatory properties. It’s also high in fiber, vitamins A, B6, and C, folate, magnesium, riboflavin, phosphorus, and potassium. Squash also aids in improving cardiovascular health, maintaining a healthy weight, increasing strength and fitness, and reducing oxidative stress.
Sweet potatoes’ high concentration of anthocyanins and choline accounts for their ability to reduce the inflammatory responses in the body. It’s also rich in vitamin B5, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, and carotenoids. Sweet potatoes are also particularly known for supporting eye health, boosting the immune system, and aiding digestion.
Whole grains, like brown rice, oatmeal, barley, bulgur, amaranth, or millet, helps in reducing inflammation by lowering the level of CRP protein in the blood which is associated with RA. Aside from fiber and protein, whole grains are also rich in B vitamins, antioxidants, and trace minerals like iron, copper, magnesium, and zinc. Whole grains are of course beneficial in keeping heart disease at bay and in reducing the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
How To Manage Rheumatoid Arthritis
Although there is no set rheumatoid arthritis diet, knowing which are the best foods for RA is a good first step to creating a well-balanced diet that will be gentler to your condition. It is of course important to note how your body will react to any type of food. It’s best to keep a food journal where you can record and keep track of foods that may be triggering flare-ups. This way, with time and patience, you will be able to create a rheumatoid arthritis diet that will work for you.
And of course, aside from eating healthily, there are also other ways for you to manage arthritis:
Acquire self-management skills.
If you’re better equipped with knowledge and skills, you’ll have a better chance of successfully living a full life even with RA. Rheumatoid arthritis can really be a debilitating disease and affect not just one’s physical strength but emotional and mental stability as well. There are self-management education workshops or programs that you can join to learn about strategies and other needed skills to cope with RA.
Commit to regular physical activity.
You need to have some form of routine exercise. Try to get in at least 150 minutes of exercise weekly. We do know why exercise is generally important for us but more so if you have RA. This will help delay the onset of various arthritis-related disabilities and manage other chronic conditions like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
Watch out your weight.
Again, we know that we should manage our weight to stay generally healthy, but it’s even more important if you have RA. You wouldn’t want to add more stress to your joint by putting on extra weight. You’d also likely lessen physical activity or movement if you’re feeling pain or discomfort just by carrying your body – which is a no-no because again, number 2, you need regular physical activity.
Protect your joints.
While physical activity is encouraged, keep in mind to always protect your joints. Opt for moderately hard exercises or aerobics. Adjust your activity level depending on your arthritis symptoms – for instance, if you’re feeling inflammation or tightness of the knee then perhaps take it easy on activities that will further stress your knees. The aim is to stay as active as your body permits.
Talking with your doctor.
Early and accurate diagnosis permits early treatment before your condition worsens. It minimizes not just the pain and symptoms but potential joint damage as well. You have to be open with your doctor when it comes to the treatment plan. Its success will depend on how diligent are you in following your doctor’s order. This is especially important if you already have other chronic conditions like diabetes for instance.