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The Worst Foods to Eat If You Have Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects about 1.3 million women and men in the United States. Unlike the more common osteoarthritis, RA doesn’t occur due to advanced age, injury, or overuse of your joints. Instead, it’s an autoimmune disease in which your body attacks the tissues of your joints, causing pain and inflammation.

There’s no cure for RA, but you can manage the disease and the severity of your flares with medications and lifestyle changes. One of the more important lifestyle changes is adapting a noninflammatory diet that helps keep your tissues protected and strong.

Even a healthier diet can’t cure RA, but our board-certified rheumatologists at the Rheumatology Center of New Jersey, can help you manage it. Following are the foods you should avoid to manage your disease.

Factory-farmed red meat

Cows that are fed grain in a factory setting undergo extreme stress that then affects the quality of their meat and fat. Conversely, when they roam free and forage in pastures, eating a diet that’s natural to them, such as grass and hay, their meat is better for you.

Meat that comes from factory farms tends to be high in omega-6 fatty acids, which are pro-inflammatory. Grass-fed beef is low in omega-6. It also has five times the amount of healthy, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids than conventional meat has. 

In addition, grass fed and pastured meats are rich in conjugated linoleic acid, which is anti-inflammatory. If possible, limit your intake of red meat and eat grass-fed, pastured meats whenever possible.

Sugars and simple carbohydrates

High-fructose corn syrup now sweetens everything from sodas to ketchup. Manufacturers like it because it’s cheaper than sugar. But in addition to spiking your blood glucose levels, corn syrup is also highly inflammatory.

Sugar doesn’t get a break, either: All forms of sugar, from organic sugar to brown sugar, increase your risk for an RA flare. When your blood sugar spikes after eating sugar or any type of simple carbohydrate, such as refined flour or white potatoes, your body releases chemicals called cytokines.

Cytokines produce inflammation that affects your joints. Sugar and simple carbs also lead to weight gain, which can further stress your joints. Satisfy your sweet tooth with vitamin- and fiber-rich sweet potatoes as well as low glycemic fruits, such as berries. 

Fried foods 

Fried foods and processed foods are high in a type of toxin called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). Simply by cutting fried foods out from your diet entirely, you can improve your health — whether or not you have RA. 

Removing AGEs from your diet can even help you lose weight without restricting your calories. Without AGEs, your body is better able to reestablish its own healthy defenses.

Processed foods

Although foods in a box that can be microwaved or popped in the oven are convenient, they’re not very healthful, particularly if you have RA. Most processed foods are high in sugar and salt. They're also made with pro-inflammatory seed oils.

Instead of shopping for convenience foods or stopping off at a fast-food restaurant for lunch or dinner, shop the perimeter of your supermarket. That’s where the refrigerated (i.e., fresh) foods are stored — from meat and fish to vegetables and fruits. 

Shopping the perimeter also keeps you away from the center aisles, where tempting processed foods are stocked.


Gluten is a type of protein that’s found in abundance in wheat and other grains, such as rye, oats, and barley. Your body can’t fully digest gluten. The undigested portion of the protein unleashes our body’s immune response. But by attacking the gluten, your body actually attacks its own gut lining and causes inflammation.

On the extreme end, people with no tolerance for gluten have celiac disease. But many others — especially those with an autoimmune disease such as RA — are sensitive to gluten’s effects without actually having celiac disease.

Exposure to gluten can cause a leaky gut and may even cause or contribute to neurological issues, including dementia. To save your joints and your overall health, switch to gluten-free breads, pastas, and other products.

Manage your RA pain by avoiding these trigger foods, staying active, and getting the help you need to manage pain and stiffness. For expert help, contact us by phone or online form at the office nearest you today. We’re located in Monroe, Flemington, and Somerville, New Jersey.

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