Are Anti-Inflammatory Diets Worth It For Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Anti-inflammatory diets comprise colorful, varied foods rich in nutrients and antioxidants. These foods don’t just promote overall health (including heart health); they may positively affect the chronic inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis (RA). 

The short answer: if you are living with RA, you’ve got nothing to lose by adopting an anti-inflammatory diet. 

About RA

Rheumatoid arthritis is a form of inflammatory arthritis. RA is a chronic autoimmune disorder, which means it’s caused by the body attacking itself. While RA predominantly causes inflammation of the joints, it can affect the whole body. Symptoms can include RA fatigue, eye issues, and GI problems. If not well controlled, RA can severely impact the quality of life and cause disability. 

RA is different from osteoarthritis, commonly called arthritis. Osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear as the body ages. It is not a form of inflammatory arthritis. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet may not directly affect the joint pain associated with osteoarthritis, though the foods in an anti-inflammatory diet can benefit many people.  

What Is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?

An anti-inflammatory diet, sometimes called the Mediterranean diet, consists of lots of fruits and vegetables, fish, nuts, and beans. It is low on processed foods and saturated fat. Anti-inflammatory diets have been shown to reduce inflammation, which may positively affect RA. Anti-inflammatory diets are also known to benefit overall health by lowering blood pressure and protecting against other illnesses like heart disease or stroke.  

Fatty fish and olive oil have gotten a lot of buzz for being anti-inflammatory. Studies have shown that fish oil positively affects joint tenderness and stiffness commonly experienced in the morning. A recently published study found that people with RA who ate fish two or more times every week had significantly fewer symptoms than those who included no fish in their diet. Studies have also shown that including Omega-3 fatty acids in one’s diet – a healthy fat found in fish and olive oil – decreases one’s risk of developing RA.

Anti Inflammatory Foods 

The following types of foods have proven anti-inflammatory properties and are recommended as a part of a nutrient-rich, anti-inflammatory diet:

  • Whole grains like whole-grain bread, oatmeal, and brown rice 
  • Fruits like blueberries, pomegranates, mangos, peaches, and apples
  • Nuts like peanuts, macadamia nuts, and almonds
  • Oils like olive oil and walnut oil 
  • Spices like ginger and turmeric
  • Vegetables like eggplant, potatoes, red bell peppers, and tomatoes
  • Fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines 

Inflammatory Foods 

Just like some foods combat inflammation, there are foods that may exacerbate inflammation. Greatly limit or totally avoid these inflammatory foods if you have RA:

  • Fried foods
  • Processed meat like hot dogs, sausage, and some lunch meats
  • Red meat 
  • Refined carbohydrates like white bread and pastries
  • Saturated fats like margarine, shortening, and lard
  • Sugary foods

Other Benefits of Anti-Inflammatory Diet 

There are many benefits of trying an anti-inflammatory diet. They include:

  1. Accessibility. Many of the foods that are recommended in an anti-inflammatory diet are available at local supermarkets. Many of these items can also be found affordably. While foods like fresh salmon can be pricey, canned fish can be a less expensive option.
  2. Diversity. The myriad options of foods encouraged by an anti-inflammatory diet almost guarantee that you’ll find combinations that aren’t just good for your health, but that your palate enjoys too.
  3. Within Your Control. When you live with a chronic illness like RA, lots of things are outside of your control. Taking steps to incorporate anti-inflammatory foods into your diet is one way you can help to manage your condition. 

Diet Doesn’t Work Alone

Eating more anti-inflammatory foods, or cutting inflammatory foods out of your diet cannot be the sole tacting for treating your RA. An anti-inflammatory diet is recommended as just one part of your holistic RA treatment plan. Always consult your healthcare provider before adopting any special diet. 

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