The Best Rheumatoid Arthritis Diet

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes joint inflammation and pain. While there is no cure, certain diets may help relieve RA symptoms. The best diet focuses on anti-inflammatory foods, while limiting inflammatory triggers.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue in the joints. This causes inflammation, swelling, and pain. It often affects the hands, wrists, and knees.

RA flare-ups alternate with periods of remission where symptoms improve. During flares, joints can become warm, red, stiff, and tender. The inflammation can also cause fatigue, fever, and appetite changes.

While the exact cause of RA is unknown, diet may play a role in symptom severity. Certain foods seem to worsen inflammation, while others help reduce it.

Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Since RA is an inflammatory disorder, eating more anti-inflammatory foods may relieve symptoms. Anti-inflammatory foods are rich in antioxidants and healthy fats. They help control inflammation.

Fruits and vegetables: Fruits and veggies contain antioxidants that help fight inflammation. Eat a rainbow of produce like berries, leafy greens, tomatoes, oranges, pineapple, and bell peppers.

Fish: Cold-water fish like salmon and mackerel have anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Aim for at least two servings per week.

Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds provide fiber and vitamin E. Try almonds, walnuts, flaxseed, and chia seeds.

Beans: Beans are packed with fiber, protein, and antioxidants. Kidney, pinto, navy, and black beans are great choices.

Spices: Anti-inflammatory spices to flavor food include turmeric, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, and rosemary.

Green tea: The polyphenols in green tea reduce inflammation. Sipping several cups a day may ease joint pain.

Olive oil: Olive oil contains oleocanthal, which blocks inflammatory pathways. Use for cooking, salads, and marinades.

Foods to Limit or Avoid

Certain foods may worsen RA inflammation and should be limited or avoided. These include:

Saturated fats: Found in red meat and dairy, saturated fats promote inflammatory chemicals. Limit intake.

Refined carbs: Foods made with white flour like bread, pasta, and baked goods fuel inflammation. Choose whole grains instead.

Fried foods: Fried foods contain trans and saturated fats that drive inflammation. Focus on lean meats, healthy fats, and avoidance of frying.

Sugar: Added sugars and sugary drinks provide no nutrition and spike blood sugar and inflammation.

Alcohol: Heavy alcohol consumption is linked to joint damage and increased symptoms. Moderation is key.

Salt: Excess sodium can worsen inflammation and swelling. Limit added salt and salty processed foods.

Meal Timing with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Along with eating the right anti-inflammatory foods, proper meal timing may also help ease RA symptoms. Here are some tips:

  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals every 3-4 hours to keep energy stable.
  • Avoid going long periods without eating, as hunger can increase inflammation.
  • Eat a nourishing breakfast with protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats to start the day right.
  • Have the biggest meal midday when digestion is strongest.
  • Finish eating at least 2-3 hours before bed for better digestion and sleep.
  • Stay hydrated between meals with water, herbal tea, and broth.

Sample Rheumatoid Arthritis Diet Meal Plan

Here is a sample anti-inflammatory meal plan for one day with RA:

Breakfast: Oatmeal with walnuts and berries, green tea

Snack: Carrots and hummus, pear

Lunch: Salmon salad with olive oil dressing, lentil soup

Snack: Apple with almond butter

Dinner: Chicken stuffed with spinach and feta, quinoa, roasted broccoli

Snack: Chamomile tea, dark chocolate

This provides a balance of anti-inflammatory foods across meals and snacks to help control inflammation throughout the day.

Lifestyle Changes Beyond Diet

While diet is important, other lifestyle factors play a role in managing RA as well:

  • Exercise: Low-impact activities like walking, swimming, and yoga help improve joint flexibility and strength without worsening symptoms.
  • Sleep: Aim for 7-9 hours nightly. Poor sleep increases inflammation and pain sensitivity.
  • Stress management: Chronic stress exacerbates inflammation. Try meditation, social connection, and counseling if needed.
  • Smoking cessation: Smoking worsens RA inflammation. Work to successfully quit.


While there is no perfect rheumatoid arthritis diet, eating more anti-inflammatory foods while limiting inflammatory triggers can help ease joint pain and swelling. Focus on fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, beans, healthy spices, and olive oil. Avoid saturated fats, fried foods, refined carbs, added sugar, alcohol, and excess salt. Meal timing also matters – eat smaller frequent meals and stay hydrated. Along with dietary changes, lifestyle factors like exercise, good sleep, stress control, and smoking cessation also play a key role in reducing RA symptoms and flares. Work closely with your healthcare provider to find the right dietary and lifestyle changes to improve your rheumatoid arthritis management.

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