While there is no specific “diet” that people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) should follow, researchers have identified certain foods that can help control inflammation. Many of them are found in the so-called Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fish, vegetables and olive oil, among other staples.
- Get fishy.
Certain types of fish are rich in inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6, two inflammatory proteins in your body.
- How much: At least 3 to 4 ounces, twice a week
- Best sources: Salmon, tuna, sardines, anchovies and other cold-water fish
- Eat your fruits and veggies.
Fruits and vegetables are packed with antioxidants, which support the immune system – the body’s natural defense system – and may help fight inflammation.
- How much: At least 1½ to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of veggies per meal
- Best sources: Colorful foods such as blueberries, blackberries, cherries, strawberries, spinach, kale and broccoli
- Try a handful of nuts or seeds.
Nuts are full of inflammation-fighting monounsaturated fat, protein and filling fiber too – a bonus if you’re trying to lose a few pounds.
- How much: Eat 1.5 ounces of nuts daily (about a handful)
- Best sources: Walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios and almonds
- Break out the beans.
Beans have several antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. They’re a low-cost source of fiber, protein, folic acid and minerals such as magnesium, iron, zinc and potassium.
- How much: At least one cup, twice a week
- Best sources: Try pinto, black, red kidney and garbanzo beans
- Pour on the olive oil.
Olive oil contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, antioxidants and oleocanthal, a compound that can lower inflammation and pain.
- How much: Two to three tablespoons per day for cooking or in salad dressings or other dishes
- Best sources: Extra virgin olive oil is less refined and processed. It retains more nutrients than standard varieties.
- Peel some onions.
Onions are packed with beneficial antioxidants. They may also reduce inflammation, heart disease risk and LDL, or “bad” cholesterol. Try them sautéed, grilled or raw in salads, stir-fries, whole-wheat pasta dishes or sandwiches.
- Nightshades or not?
Nightshade vegetables – eggplant, tomatoes, peppers and potatoes – are central to Mediterranean cuisine. Some people believe they trigger arthritis flares, but there’s limited scientific evidence to support this theory. Try cutting nightshades from your diet for two weeks to see if symptoms improve.
- Fill up on fiber.
Fiber lowers C-reactive protein (CRP), a substance in the blood that indicates inflammation. Getting fiber from foods lowers CRP levels more than taking fiber supplements. Foods that have carotenoids, the antioxidants that give carrots, peppers and some fruits their color, are quite good at lowering CRP.
- Avoid processed food.
Processed foods such as cookies, chips and other snacks can be high in unhealthy fats, which are linked with inflammation. Opt for fresh fruit instead. Canned goods – vegetables and soups – are often high in sodium, which boosts blood pressure. Look for low sodium options, or go with fresh or frozen vegetables.
- Cut the salt.
There are conflicting reports about just how bad excess salt is for us. We know it causes fluid retention – one of many factors that can lead to high blood pressure. Also, corticosteroids, often used to treat RA, can cause the body to retain more sodium. So, play it safe and hold the salt when possible.
- Drink in moderation
Resveratrol, a compound found in red wine, may have anti-inflammatory effects. However, people with RA should limit alcoholic drinks – especially when they are taking medications like Methotrexate. Your doctor can let you know what amount of alcohol, if any, is appropriate for you.
- Fill your plate.
The Food Pyramid many of us grew up with has been replaced with a colorful plate that emphasizes proper proportions. One important message: Fill half your plate with vegetables. Learn more at Choose My Plate.