Mediterranean Diet
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Rheumatoid arthritis diet: what to eat and what to avoid

6 min read |

Adopting a special rheumatoid arthritis diet may be beneficial to those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis(RA).

Together with your regular prescription, a fresh approach to diet could bring about some reduction in pain and symptoms.

This article explores some of the most current advice for diet and health relating to people with rheumatoid arthritis.

It also looks at some suitable food types to add or remove from your rheumatoid arthritis diet.

Here’s a summary of what we cover in the article:

  • There is no cure for RA, but a rheumatoid arthritis diet can bring about many positive changes. 
  • The Mediterranean diet can help fight the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. 
  • Key aspects of controlling rheumatoid arthritis revolve around managing weight
  • A whole food, balanced diet that eliminates processed foods is a good place to start.
Foods to eat Rheumatoid arthritis

What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis most commonly affects the joints, causing great pain and discomfort.

The hands and feet are most often affected, but larger joints like knees and hips can also be problem areas. 

Inflammation of the linings of the joints causes swelling and pain. Both hands, feet or other joints are usually affected at the same time. 

Though joints are most commonly affected, it can also affect the heart, eyes and lungs. There’s more here on how to prevent arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis diet and heart disease

People with RA unfortunately have a heightened risk of developing heart disease.

This could be connected with the types and amounts of fats consumed in the diet. These fats affect cholesterol levels, which can also increase inflammation in the body. 

A doctor will advise treatment with drugs or therapies to manage the symptoms of RA.

However, adopting a healthy diet can improve symptoms, supplementary to your prescription. 

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Mediterranean Diet

What can I eat on the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean diet consists of plenty of fruits and vegetables, plus pulses and beans, olive oil, nuts, wholegrains. 

It also recommends some oily fish and poultry, and lean red meat on occasion. 

Meat and fish are not the central components of the diet. Vegetables and wholegrains form the bulk of foods consumed.

Oils

Extra virgin olive oil retains many of its nutrients than more processed or blended oils.

This includes oleocanthal, which acts in a similar way to anti-inflammatory drugs.  This means it can slow down some inflammation in the body. 

Walnut oil contains a high proportion of omega-3, an important ingredient in fighting inflammation.

Avocado and safflower oils also have some cholesterol inhibiting properties, supporting general health. 

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts contain a good deal of mono-unsaturated fat, which is known to fight inflammation.

They also fill you up better than some other snack foods, thanks to a high proportion of fibre and protein.

This can help in maintaining a healthy weight. This does not apply to roasted and salted processed nuts.

fish oils for arthritis

Oily Fish

Oily fish are rich in essential omega-3 fatty acids.

Salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring and sardines are all helpful in managing inflammation and stiffness, as well as promoting heart health.

Two portions a week is recommended. 

Fish oils

For those who don’t enjoy fish, a fish oil supplement might be appropriate.

Look for one with a 500-100mg of Omega 3 fatty acids per serving.

And vegetarians/vegans may look for a seaweed or algae-based omega 3 supplement, instead of a fish-based one.

fruit and veg diet for arthritis

Vegetables and Fruits

Eat nine or more servings of vegetables and fruits per day, is the current guidance.

You should aim for more vegetables than fruits. Fruits and vegetables are packed with antioxidant properties, particularly when consumed in a range of bright colours.

Antioxidants are chemicals that aid the body in neutralising free radicals.

Free radicals are known to damage cells, and thus, promote inflammation. 

Vitamins and rheumatoid arthritis

Getting enough vitamin c from citrus fruits can particularly aid in managing RA, and promoting healthy joints.

Vitamin K can also manage inflammation. This is found in cruciferous green veg like kale, cabbage and broccoli.

Remember that fresh, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables are all suitable to eat.

Can diet help arthritis

Beans and pulses

Beans and pulses are packed with fibre, which is excellent for general health support.

They also contain phytonutrients, which lowers inflammation.

In addition, they contain a good deal of antioxidants and various anti-inflammatory compounds.

Beans have lots of protein along with fibre, making them filling and muscle-healthy.

Two cups or more a week is a good amount of unprocessed beans to consume.

Wholegrains

Wholegrains, like beans, are packed with fibre.

Fibre-rich foods can lower inflammation in the body, as well as contribute to general health.

Aim to eat largely unprocessed versions of grain food such as wholemeal bread, brown rice, oats, and bulgur wheat.

Quinoa is also a helpful grain to add to the diet as it is high in protein. This makes it both filling and good for muscle tissue. 

get more iron in your diet

Iron intake on a rheumatoid arthritis diet

Anaemia can occur in people with RA, who may already find themselves tired frequently.

It can occur during a flare up of RA, as the absorption of iron can be affected by inflammation. 

To combat this, add iron-rich foods such as eggs, peas, leafy green veg, beans and pulses to your diet.

You may also want to add some lean red meat and cereals fortified with iron. Vitamin C helps the body to absorb iron.

And try to eat fruits or vegetables alongside your chosen source of iron. 

arthritis and anti inflamatory diet

Rheumatoid arthritis diet - what not to eat

Nightshade Vegetables

Some people find that nightshade vegetables can exacerbate a flare up of RA.

There is no evidence to suggest that they will cause a flare up.

Vegetables in the nightshade family like tomatoes, potatoes, red peppers and aubergines do contain a good deal of nutrition.

This family of vegetables should be taken on a trial and error basis.

Consider eliminating them for a period of time, then adding them back in slowly to test out their effect. 

Supplementation

A healthy and well planned diet such as the Mediterranean Diet should contain all the nutrients you need.

These nutrients might also prove helpful in managing flare ups of RA, and potentially lessening their severity and frequency. 

Those unable to adopt a rheumatoid arthritis diet may seek advice from a doctor about the benefits of taking supplements.

Sunlight and vitamin D

One supplement that may prove useful in a rheumatoid arthritis diet is vitamin D.

In Northern Europe, we are unable to get enough vitamin D during the winter months.

Many people who do not spend much time outside may also struggle for the rest of the year.

A vitamin D supplement may be worth considering in the winter, or possibly year-round. Vitamin D can help in the fight against RA. 

processed food arthritis

Processed Foods

Processed foods are generally not advised for those living with RA.

A rheumatoid arthritis diet is based around fresh, whole foods as they contain many inflammation-fighting nutrients.

Processed food has often had many of these nutrients removed or degraded. They are also often low in fibre, and high in salt and sugar. 

And fibre is an essential ingredient in a rheumatoid arthritis diet, and for general health support.

Excess salt and sugar

Salt and sugar consumption should also be managed for general health and well being.

There are many swaps for processed foods that you might like to try. For instance, wholemeal bread instead of white.

Brown rice, pasta and noodles instead of their processed white counterparts. Fresh fruit and vegetables instead of snacks like crisps or chocolates.

Breaded fish could be swapped for a pan-fried salmon fillet.

You might like to try making your own homemade baked beans, pasta sauces and pizzas using whole food ingredients.

What can you eat for Rheumatoid arthritis

Why a healthy height matters

It is crucial to maintain a healthy weight for your height to help manage the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

Excess weight can also increase how badly the disease presents and can change how effective your medication is.

It can place extra pressure on joints such as knees and hips, which are already prone to flare ups of RA. 

Knees feel the impact of 5-6 times your bodyweight when you walk.

It’s worth minimising this impact, through weight loss if you are overweight. 

But be careful, being underweight also presents challenges. You may not have enough healthy muscle tissue to support your joints.

what food is good for arthritis

Exercise and a rheumatoid arthritis diet

Exercise is important in maintaining a healthy weight, particularly as we get older.

It is also easier to prevent weight gain than to lose weight.

Exercise need not be high impact or prolonged, instead exercise within your limits. 

Swimming or gentle walks are good ways to add movement to every day.

Seated exercises or aqua aerobics are also options to consider. 

A healthy diet can not only help to manage inflammation and therefore the flare ups of RA, but is also likely to support your health as a whole.

Your diet should be rich in whole foods, and low in processed foods and saturated fats. 

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Diet and wellbeing

A Mediterranean style diet may improve the symptoms of RA, alongside any medication prescribed by your doctor. 

Reducing or cutting out processed foods is very much advised, as well as increasing intake of vegetables. 

Saturated fat should also be reduced, and replaced with omega 3, from oily fish, and monounsaturated fats, from olive oil. 

Use caution with nightshade vegetables, and consider an elimination and slow reintroduction diet if you feel it necessary. 

Using diet to manage flare ups

A rheumatoid arthritis care diet should not include ingredients that aggravate flare ups.

And you can help to manage symptoms with regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight.

This will be particularly effective alongside a rheumatoid arthritis diet such as the Mediterranean diet.

And don’t forget there is exercise for arthritis.

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