Managing inflammation is an essential part of living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
RA is a chronic condition in which the immune system attacks tissues, causing inflammation and pain in the joints and sometimes throughout the body.
Medications are available to manage RA, but dietary choices may also play a role.
Whole foods, especially plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and seeds, are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, and beneficial plant compounds.
Many of these plant-based foods function as antioxidants in the body. These nutrients may help manage inflammation and support overall health.
Foods to eat
Plant-based foods to involve in your diet include:
- whole grains
Antioxidant is a broad term for a number of substances that help protect against cellular damage caused by unstable molecules called free radicals.
Antioxidants help inhibit cellular damage and can also help reduce inflammation, which is especially helpful in treating RA.
- reduce inflammation
- improve symptoms
- slow disease progression
The Mediterranean diet, which is high in antioxidant-rich foods like vegetables and olive oil, may be
In some cases, the pigments that give foods like vegetables, spices, and fruits their color also act as antioxidants.
Eating fruits and vegetables with a wide variety of colors will provide a range of antioxidants that may help benefit people with RA.
Foods to avoid
On the other hand, some foods can make inflammation worse. They include:
- deep-fried foods
- processed food
- processed meat products
- sugary drinks
- refined grains, such as those found in white bread
Choosing foods for RA
- Incorporate a variety of colors into your meal plan to stay healthy and reduce RA symptoms.
- Eating whole, unprocessed foods will contribute to your overall health, and may help manage inflammation.
- Seasonal fruits and vegetables are often cheaper and more nutritious than imported, out-of-season produce.
When shopping for fruits and vegetables, look for what’s in season and focus on local produce.
Eating food that’s in season often means:
- Fruits and vegetables will be more reasonably priced.
- Nutrient levels may be higher, due to a shorter storage time.
- Foods are more likely to be naturally ripened, as they don’t have to travel so far.
Visiting local produce markets and finding recipes to utilize seasonal produce can also make cooking more fun.
Where you live will affect:
- what’s available locally or as imports
- how long the season is
- what time of year items are available
The following are just some of the seasonal fruits and vegetables in many places, but not all.
- vitamins K and C
The vitamin C in broccoli is essential for immune function.
Try roasted broccoli or steamed broccoli for an easy side dish. Find some more tips and recipes here.
Collard greens are dark, leafy vegetables that are rich in vitamins, nutrients, and minerals.
- vitamins A, C, K1, and B vitamins
To maximize the nutritional benefits, eat your collard greens steamed, in salads, or smoothies and juices.
Onions contain compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Along with garlic, another Allium vegetable, onions may also:
Onions are versatile. You can use them to:
- flavor sauces and soups
- add a punch to salads and sandwiches
- roast or grill them as a side dish
Fresh strawberries are available from late spring to early summer in many places.
Strawberries contain folate, vitamin C, anthocyanins, and antioxidants, which can help reduce inflammation.
Strawberries are delicious on their own, in a fruit salad, or as a topping for yogurt with breakfast.
Berries grow in summer and fall in many areas. They’re rich in antioxidants and the perfect addition to salads, breakfast cereal, or delicious on their own. There are many to choose from.
Anthocyanins are pigments that act as antioxidants. They give fruits and vegetables their blue, purple, and red colors.
Blackberries and other red or purple fruits contain anthocyanins.
Try blackberries with a small helping of fresh whipped cream or Greek yogurt for a light dessert.
Blueberries also contain anthocyanins. Ripe blueberries are sweet and tender. One serving of blueberries is about a cup.
Incorporate them in your breakfast cereal or whole-grain pancakes to add nutritional value. Or just pop them in your mouth for a low-calorie, tasty snack.
Like berries, cherries have anthocyanins, vitamin C, and potassium.
If you’re lucky, there may be somewhere nearby where you can pick cherries from trees in the early summer months.
Eat cherries as a snack or add them to fruit salads. Remove the stones with a cherry pitter if you want to include cherries in a dessert recipe.
This large, juicy fruit contains carotenoid antioxidants including lycopene and beta-cryptoxanthin, which may reduce RA symptoms.
Watermelon also has vitamins A and C and is full of water, which will help you stay hydrated in those hot summer months.
Sliced watermelon can be a refreshing snack at any time of day. You can also skewer it with other fruit to make it a dessert showpiece at a barbecue.
There’s more to fall than the gourds and root vegetables you may associate with the season.
Garlic may help reduce inflammation due to its sulfur compounds.
A study in Arthritis Research and Therapy concluded that thiacremonone, a sulfur compound found in garlic, may be useful in treating inflammation and arthritis.
Use chopped or crushed garlic to flavor your sauces, casseroles, roasted vegetables, and soups. Or roast a handful of whole cloves with tray of vegetables.
These red root vegetables contain antioxidants that can decrease inflammation and may reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease, according to a 2015
Beetroot can be delicious:
- grated, raw, in an autumn slaw
- in a salad with dark leafy greens and a creamy cheese
- boiled, peeled, sliced, and served with olive oil and vinegar
- roasted on their own
- blended into a fruit and vegetable smoothie
- as the main ingredient in borscht, or beetroot soup
To eat cold, boil whole for around 1 hour, allow to cool, then peel and chop or slice.
You can boil, mash, roast, or bake sweet potatoes, and they are a favorite side dish at Thanksgiving.
You can also use them instead of regular fries. To make sweet potato fries, Julianne the sweet potatoes, use a light coating of olive oil, and bake them until they are crispy.
Spinach is a dark green, leafy vegetable. It’s loaded with nutrients, including:
- provitamin A
- vitamin K1
Spinach is a versatile vegetable that you can use:
- in salads
- sautéed with olive oil
- tossed into smoothies
- as juice
- in soups, stews, lasagna, pies, and other savory dishes
You may not associate fresh produce with the winter months. There may be fewer options than at other times of the year, especially if you live in colder climates, but a range of fresh fruits and vegetables will still be available.
Kale is highly nutritious and may help with inflammation. Like spinach and collard greens, it contains vitamin K1 as well as many other important nutrients including vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
You may enjoy kale in salads or even as kale chips, which is baked kale that has been tossed in a light coating of olive oil and seasoned with salt.
You can brighten the cold winter months with a dose of citrus.
Citrus fruits have lots of vitamin C, which can help the joints and support the immune system.
Try the following:
- orange segments as a snack or desert
- half a grapefruit for breakfast
- lemon juice in homemade salad dressings or to freshen sauces, lean meat, fish, or vegetables
- warm lemon and honey drink to soothe a winter cold
Like sweet potatoes, winter squash contains anti-inflammatory plant compounds like carotenoids. They’re also high in fiber.
- butternut squash
- acorn squash
Winter squash are versatile and can be roasted, cooked in soups, and stuffed with whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
Try curried butternut squash soup to warm you up on a cold winter day.
Brussels sprouts are a cruciferous vegetable that offers key nutrients, including:
- vitamin K1
- vitamin C
The nutrients in Brussels sprouts may have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
To eat Brussels sprouts:
Roast them, halved or quartered with olive oil, a dash of salt, and pepper for an easy side dish.
Roast the leaves to make Brussels sprout chips.
If you grow your own fruits and vegetables or pick them locally, you can freeze, can, pickle, or otherwise preserve them to use throughout the year.
Some vegetables and fruits should be left at room temperature or even stored in a cool, dark place. Many keep longer if stored in the refrigerator.
If you purchase foods from a local farmer’s market, ask the seller how they recommend storing the produce.
Pesticides and contamination
Some people have concerns about contamination in fresh fruits and vegetables due to farming practices.
If you have such concerns, you can try:
- buying locally from people you know, and asking about their practices
- buying organic produce
- growing your own, if you have a garden
To check the levels of pesticides that may be present in different types of fruits and vegetables, click here.
Eating fruits and vegetables regularly have various health benefits. For people with RA, they may help combat inflammation in the body.
Try to eat several cups of fruits and vegetables a day. Choose produce that’s in season to maximize the nutritional value and keep your budget reasonable.
Eating fruits and vegetables may help with inflammation, but you’re likely to need additional interventions to manage your RA.
Talk to your doctor about an appropriate treatment plan and any dietary changes you’re thinking of making.