A healthy, balanced diet is important for everyone, but it’s even more important for someone with rheumatoid arthritis. The science isn’t clear if one diet is better than another for RA, but eating a nutritious diet may be one way to start feeling better. A healthy diet is full of whole grains, lean protein foods, fruits, and vegetables. Our Registered Dietitians have created an easy-to-use guide to nourish your body, no matter if you’ve just been diagnosed, are experiencing a flare-up, or are in remission. Use this downloadable tool as a starting point, or as a refresher, on how to better control your symptoms through food and feel more like you again.
Download our "Nutrition Tool Kit" which includes helpful shopping lists, delicious recipes, and tools to help you manage and live a healthy lifestyle:Nutrition Tool Kit
Below are a few simple suggestions to create a smoother grocery shopping experience.
- Use the “RA Shopping List” and condition-specific recipes to plan meals and snacks for the week.
- Look for on-sale foods, coupons, or store discount offers to keep more money in your wallet.
- Shop online to save time and energy. Many grocery stores have in-store pick-up or at-home delivery options available.
At the Store
- Take the “Reading a Food Label” handout to the store to make reading food labels easier.
- Bring a trusted friend or relative with you to lend a hand with the shopping and help carry the groceries.
- Ask for assistance when reaching items on top shelves, or if items are too heavy to pick up.
- Look for pre-washed or pre-cut fruits and vegetables to minimize food preparation.
- Purchase frozen fruit, vegetables, or grains for added convenience.
- Invest in reusable grocery totes with wide, comfortable handles. This is both eco-friendly and more comfortable to carry.
- Ask for assistance when carrying groceries to the car and loading the car. Most stores offer services to assist customers.
- Bring a cooler or cooler bag to keep frozen and refrigerated items cold on the drive home.
- Use a cooler with wheels to lessen hand use and minimize back strain when transporting groceries from the car to the house.
There’s no clear diet that will cure rheumatoid arthritis. However, there are several reasons why choosing foods that can decrease inflammation and support good health may be helpful. A healthy diet may make you feel better, help to manage weight, increase energy levels and reduce RA symptoms. See below for healthy eating tips:
Choose a balanced diet rich in:
- Lean protein
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains
- Calcium-rich foods
To lower inflammation, reach for antioxidant-rich foods, like fruits, vegetable, nuts, and green tea. Select foods that may lower inflammation:
- Omega-3 rich fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, trout)
- Omega-3 rich nuts and seeds (walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds)
- Berries, soy, grapes, kale, broccoli, citrus fruits, and dark chocolate
Bulk up on fiber to lower inflammation. To get more fiber in your diet, choose foods like:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains
Cook with more spices.
- Certain spices like garlic, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper may help to lower inflammation in the body.
People with RA may have a higher risk for other health problems, such as osteoporosis and heart disease. Nutrition is important for these conditions as well.
- Osteoporosis: Choose foods high in calcium and vitamin D.
- Heart disease: Choose foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium. Increase fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains.
Skip out on:
- Saturated and trans fats: Full-fat dairy products, high-fat cuts of meat, snack foods, cakes, cookies, doughnuts, and crackers.
- Too much sugar: Sugar-sweetened beverages, desserts, candy, cookies, cakes, and condiments. Aim for less than 6g of added sugar per day for women and 9g of added sugar per day for men.
- Too much alcohol: Try to limit to 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women.
Some people with RA may find that certain foods make their symptoms worse. These foods are called “trigger foods.” Trigger foods vary from person to person. Talk to your doctor or a Registered Dietitian about the best way to find out which foods trigger your symptoms. Common trigger foods include:
- FODMAPS – sugars that are difficult for your body to digest
- Nightshades – a class of vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and potatoes
- Gluten-containing foods
Another promising area of research related to RA is the use of probiotics. Probiotics are living microorganisms that are used or taken for potential health benefits. Even though bacteria and other microorganisms are usually thought of as harmful “germs,” our bodies need certain microorganisms to function properly. For example, there are large amounts of bacteria in our digestive system that help us break down food, destroy disease-causing microorganisms, and make important vitamins.
Probiotics can be found in certain fermented foods like yogurt, or drinks, like kefir and kombucha. You can also take supplements that contain probiotics. For more specific information about which probiotic supplement to choose, check out the US Probiotics Guide.
When buying a probiotic there are many things to look for, including:
- Brand Quality: Do your research. Look for the NSF and/or the USP seal on products to determine safety and quality. For more information click here.
- High CFU (Colony Forming Units) Count: Choose a probiotic that has a higher number of CFUs, anywhere from 15 BILLION to 100 BILLION.
- Strain Diversity: Look for a probiotic supplement with at least 10 to 30 different strains of bacteria. Certain strains may be more helpful for some conditions than others. Using a tool like the US Probiotics Guide can help you find out which strain is best for you.