Rheumatoid Arthritis: Do Diet Changes Help?

If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you may find that you’ve lost your appetite or only eat a few foods. Medications that stop inflammation can cause ulcers and digestive issues. 

But getting enough nourishment is more important than ever when you have an autoimmune condition such as RA. Without enough good food, your body doesn’t receive the nutrients it needs to build strong muscles and bones and keep your immune system as healthy as possible.

Our team of board-certified rheumatologists and experts at Rheumatology Center of New Jersey works with you to find the right diet for your needs, symptoms, and lifestyle. Here are a few tips on how to change your diet to stop or reduce RA symptoms.

Avoid the bad guys

Foods that cause inflammation in your gut can worsen your symptoms. The Arthritis Foundation recommends cutting out the following pro-inflammatory foods:

Sugar

All forms of sugar, including fructose, sucrose, and corn syrup, trigger inflammation and raise your blood sugar. Even the sugar in natural fruit juices raises blood sugar and spikes adrenaline. Replace fruit juices with whole fruits. If you must have sweets, use a 0-calorie, low-glycemic natural sweetener such as stevia. 

Vegetable oils and dressings

You might think that oil from corn, sunflowers, and peanuts would be healthy. But these oils are high in Omega 6 fatty acids. While your body needs some Omega 6, too much leads to inflammation. Avoid most mayonnaise and bottled salad dressings, as well as vegetable oils such as safflower, sunflower, soy, and grape seed.

Saturated fats and trans fats

Saturated fats are found in cheese, including cheese pizza. Saturated fats trigger inflammation in your fatty tissues. Trans fats abound in processed foods — including donuts, fried foods, and margarine — and  also trigger inflammation. Avoid any oils labeled hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated.

Gluten

Don’t be afraid of being “gluten shamed.” Even if you don’t have celiac disease, your body may still be sensitive to the protein gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, and rye.

If you’re sensitive, your body triggers an attack on the protein that leads to an inflammatory response in your gut that can spread to your joints, too. Avoid bread, baked goods, cereals, and pasta that have gluten-containing grains.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

This flavor additive is found in many Asian foods, as well as prepared soups, salad dressings, and fast foods. Not only does MSG affect liver function, it also fires up two separate inflammation pathways. Avoid restaurants and brands that use MSG.  

Casein

If you’ve noticed that you’re sensitive to dairy, it may not just be the lactose. Dairy contains a protein called casein that can exacerbate your RA symptoms. Even if you don’t get digestive symptoms from dairy, try cutting it out to find out if casein contributes to your RA symptoms.

Sugar-free drinks and foods

Even the beverages you consume can make your RA flare. Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that’s used in sodas, drinks, and some desserts, but may worsen RA symptoms. Replace diet drinks with fruit- or veggie-infused water and sparkling water.

Alcohol

Alcoholic beverages, including wine, make your liver work harder and may also cause inflammation. Cut down on your alcohol consumption to see if your symptoms improve.

Add more good guys

Now that the bad news is out of the way, here’s the good news. Cutting out pro-inflammatory foods doesn’t mean you have to feel hungry or deprived. In fact, you’ll probably find all kinds of new foods and flavors that tickle your tastebuds while nourishing your body and strengthening your immune system. 

A few foods that support immune function include:

You can also ask your doctors about how to switch to a paleo diet or Mediterranean diet. Sometimes following a dietary lifestyle plan makes it easier to avoid temptations like fast food and junk food. 

You can also work with our Rheumatology Center of New Jersey team on an elimination diet, which cuts out all pro-inflammatory foods, then adds them back in one at a time to determine which ones make you flare.

Add even more good guys (i.e., your doctors)

You shouldn’t have to deal with RA alone. Because it’s a chronic disease, your and your doctor’s responses to your symptoms change over time. You may find that as you improve your diet and become healthier, you don’t need as many medications, or may even be able to switch to therapies that have fewer side effects. 

To find out if your diet’s working for your health, to get help making changes, or to build an RA support team, contact us today. Reach out to the office nearest you by phone or use our online system to request an appointment.

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