What to Eat When You Have RA

by Carmen Roberts, M.S., R.D., L.D.N. Health Professional, Medical Reviewer

If you are living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you know that diet can make a big difference in how you feel. The Arthritis Foundation suggests that a Mediterranean-style diet can reduce pain and inflammation caused by RA. HealthCentral breaks down some traditional favorite foods and healthier, anti-inflammatory substitutes for people living with RA.

Sliced herring with onions.
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Instead of red meat, choose fish

Research shows that a diet rich in red and processed meats is linked to increased inflammation in the body. Fish — particularly fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and herring — are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been proven to reduce inflammation and pain associated with RA.

Nuts and seeds.
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Instead of chips and crackers, try nuts and seeds

Like fish, nuts and seeds are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fats, which have anti-inflammatory properties. Nuts and seeds are also good sources of protein and fiber. Steer clear from processed snacks, such as chips and crackers, which are lacking in nutrients and may actually increase inflammation in your body.

Bowl of black beans.
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Swap your side of potatoes with a serving of beans

Refined and starchy carbohydrates, such as white bread, pasta, and potatoes, may actually stimulate inflammation in the body. A better choice would be to add a serving of beans to your plate. Rich in fiber, protein, and phytonutrients, beans have been shown to lower blood levels of C-reactive protein, which can decrease inflammation.

Woman picking out fresh fruit from a market.
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Instead of canned fruits and vegetables, choose fresh

Canned fruits and vegetables often contain added sugar and salt that act as preservatives. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables, which are free of preservatives and rich in fiber and antioxidants. Research shows that antioxidants can reduce pain and inflammation for people living with RA.

Mug of green tea.
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Instead of lemonade and sweet tea, try green tea

Green tea is rich in polyphenols, the antioxidants that have anti-inflammatory properties. Green tea is also rich in epigallocatechin gallate (ECGC), a compound which may block the production of molecules that cause joint damage. Sugary beverages can increase inflammation, so it’s best to avoid them altogether.

Pouring olive oil into a pan.
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Instead of butter, cook with extra virgin olive oil

Saturated fats from animal products, such as butter, can lead to increased inflammation.Extra-virgin olive oil is a heart-healthy oil containing oleocanthal, which can act like a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. The Arthritis Foundation recommends consuming 2-3 tablespoons daily. Use olive oil in cooking or as a salad dressing or marinade.

Whole grain bread and pasta.
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Instead of white bread, choose whole grains

Research shows that fiber-rich foods, such as whole grain breads, cereals, and rice, can lower serum levels of C-reactive protein, decreasing inflammation. Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, lack the nutrients found in whole grains, and can even increase inflammation throughout your body.

Tumeric root and powder.
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Instead of MSG, add turmeric to your foods

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a chemical added to foods. It is found primarily in prepared Asian foods and soy sauce, but can also be added to fast food and packaged snacks. This chemical can trigger two pathways in the body that can lead to chronic inflammation. Turmeric is a better choice for adding flavor to foods. It is a popular spice used in many Indian dishes that has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.

Soy milk and tofu.
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Instead of dairy, try soy-based products

The research on the connection between dairy products and inflammation is not conclusive. However, some people with inflammatory conditions, such as RA, have reported an improvement in their symptoms by avoiding dairy. Unprocessed soy products such as soybeans, fortified soy milk, and tofu are suitable alternatives for dairy. They are good sources of protein and calcium, too.

Woman eating a bar of dark chocolate.
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Instead of cookies and cake, treat yourself to dark chocolate

Refined carbohydrates and sugar found in cookies, pies, and cakes can exacerbate inflammatory symptoms. If you’re craving sweets, try dark chocolate. Dark chocolate is lower in sugar and fat than traditional milk chocolate, and research shows that it may help to reduce inflammation.

Carmen Roberts, M.S., R.D., L.D.N.
Meet Our Writer
Carmen Roberts, M.S., R.D., L.D.N.

Carmen is a Registered Dietitian. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she has spent her career working at Johns Hopkins and is also an adjunct faculty instructor for Excelsior College. Carmen has over 20 years of experience in nutritional counseling, education, writing, and program management and is a certified specialist in adult weight management. She enjoys educating her students and clients about how nutrition affects the body and its role in overall health and wellness.