If you live with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you know how challenging this painful condition can make everyday life. As an autoimmune disease, it causes your body’s immune system to mistakenly attack your joints. Researchers have noted several ways to fight it – including what you eat. Let’s look at foods that fight rheumatoid arthritis and how to incorporate more of them into your daily meals.
What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Typically, your body attacks foreign bacteria and viruses. But when you have rheumatoid arthritis, your body causes inflammation in your joints, resulting in both swelling and pain. It most commonly affects joints in your wrists, hands and knees. It can lead to a lifelong battle with chronic pain.
- joint pain and aches
- same joint pain on both sides of the body
- joint stiffness, tenderness and/or swelling
- fatigue and weakness
- weight loss
- Age: While you can develop RA at any age, your likelihood does increase as you get older.
- Genetics: If you are born with human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class II genotypes, your risk of developing RA increases when you smoke or when you are obese. These genes also increase the chance that your RA gets worse.
- Smoking: Research shows that smoking “plays a major role in the development and severity” of many diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis.
- Sex: More women develop this disease than men.
- Obesity: Researchers have shown that if you are obese, you are at a higher risk for developing RA.
Foods that fight rheumatoid arthritis
The power of food is immeasurable. From providing us with good sources of nutrition to helping us grow muscle to helping us fight disease, the foods we choose each day play a role in our overall health.
There are a wide variety of foods that work to decrease inflammation. They may also help relieve some of your joint pain, tenderness and swelling.
Fruits and vegetables
For people with RA (and for all of us), eating the rainbow is one of the most important choices to be made. Fruits and vegetables are nutrient-dense, help us fight disease, lower inflammation in our bodies and provide us with much-needed antioxidants.
Let’s look at the benefits of a specific few:
- Dark green leafy veggies: Foods such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach and bok choy can help you protect your body against free-radical damage. That is essential to warding off RA and to protecting yourself against more severe joint pain.
- Strawberries: The phytochemicals in strawberries provide anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. These berries are also low in sugar, high in folic acid and can help fight high blood pressure.
- Sweet potatoes, red peppers and carrots: The brighter the veggies, the more health benefits! These options provide beta-cryptoxanthin, which has shown to reduce inflammation and your RA risk.
Look for other foods high in phytochemicals such as berries, celery, turnips, lentils, cantaloupe, garlic, green tea, apples and soybeans.
Protein and omega-3
Proteins are the building blocks of all of our cells and tissues – especially muscle. But certain proteins may be better than others for people with rheumatoid arthritis.
Good sources of protein include lentils and beans. They have very little fat and are great sources of fiber. Navy beans, kidney beans and soybeans also serve as good sources of omega-3. Omega-3 fatty acids significantly reduce inflammation all over the body, including in your joints.
Black beans and kidney beans are also powerful at reducing inflammation throughout the body.
Packed with protein, lentils and beans are a great way to get natural arthritis-fighting benefits as well as a nutrient-packed meal. For an anti-inflammatory snack, munch on raw or lightly roasted almonds for a great source of protein and anti-inflammatory properties.
Look for other foods that are nutrient-dense, fight disease and pack the protein such as tofu, tempeh, edamame, chickpeas, seeds, spirulina and grains.
Herbs and spices
Everyone loves flavorful food. So spice up your meal with some great herbs and seasonings that will also work to fight inflammation for your personalized rheumatoid arthritis diet. These include:
- ginger root
For savory meals, add a bit of cayenne pepper, turmeric or ginger. Sage or rosemary can offer your meals a bit of extra zest.
For sweet desserts or breakfasts, add some cinnamon or ground cloves. Together these herbs and spices will enliven your palate and help fight rheumatoid arthritis pain.
There are many other foods you can add to your diet that help you manage and relieve RA pain. Add these to your grocery list:
- extra virgin olive oil (research shows that oleocanthal in the oil “prevents the production of pro-inflammatory COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes – the same way ibuprofen works”)
- cherries (these tart berries contain anthocyanins, which have “powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties“)
- grapes and oranges
- pineapple stem (this is high in bromelain, which can reduce inflammation)
Eating your way to relief
It’s clear that with lifestyle and dietary changes RA can be delayed or even prevented. Whether you start off slowly with a Mediterranean diet or choose to kickstart your relief journey with a quick transition to more plant-based options, research shows that filling your plate with whole foods, beans and grains matters for each meal.
Before making any changes, talk to your doctor about any medications you are taking. Ask her to refer you to a nutritionist who can help you personalize an anti-inflammatory diet. Then, get ready to enjoy the delicious path to less pain from rheumatoid arthritis.
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This post was updated in May 2019 with new information and resources.