Managing inflammation is a key component to living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This chronic condition results in your immune system attacking your joints, causing inflammation and pain. You may take medications to manage RA, but there are also many foods you can eat to help reduce inflammation in your body.

Eating a wide variety of whole foods is key to reducing inflammation. Aim for making up two-thirds of your diet with plants, such as:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • beans
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • whole grains

These plant-based foods can be rich in vitamins and nutrients that target inflammation.

Some foods are extremely beneficial to reduce inflammation. Often, fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, which combat inflammation. Antioxidants are found in very colorful foods, such as berries, and dark and leafy greens, and these help support the immune system.

You should avoid eating inflammatory foods if you have RA. Some of these foods include:

  • deep-fried foods
  • processed food
  • red meat
  • 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 reduce the discomforts associated with inflammation.
  • Fruits and vegetables are generally low in calories, so you can eat large portions of them.

Learn more: Anti-inflammatory diet for rheumatoid arthritis »

When incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet, look for what’s in season. This will help you purchase fruits and vegetables at good prices, plus produce purchased in season often contains more potent vitamins and nutrients. Visiting local produce markets and finding recipes to utilize seasonal produce can also make cooking more fun.

spring

Depending on where you live, some fruits and vegetables may be available for a shorter or longer amount of time each season. For example, areas with a lot of snow may have a shorter window of time during which spring produce is available.

Broccoli

This green veggie packs a nutritional punch that helps with inflammation. It contains vitamins K and C, sulforaphane, and calcium. Broccoli can also boost your immune system. Try roasted broccoli or steamed broccoli for an easy side dish.

Collard Greens

Collard greens are dark, leafy vegetables that have a lot of vitamins, nutrients, and minerals. Specifically, they contain fiber, folate, and vitamins A, C, K, and B. Additionally, you will get minerals like calcium and iron. To keep your consumption of collard greens healthy, try them steamed, in salads, or smoothies and juices.

Onions

Onions are antioxidant rich. Not only can onions reduce inflammation and feed your gut bacteria, they can help with other conditions too, such as heart disease and high cholesterol. Onions are versatile. You can use them to flavor sauces and soups, add a punch to salads and sandwiches, or even roast or grill them as a side dish.

Strawberries

You may have the chance to eat fresh strawberries in late spring if you’re lucky. Strawberries contain lots of vitamin C and anthocyanin, which can help with inflammation. You will also get folic acid when you bite into these red beauties. Strawberries are delicious on their own, in a fruit salad, or as a topping for yogurt with breakfast.

The summertime is all about berries. Branch out and try a less-familiar berry or one you don’t always eat. Berries are the perfect addition to salads, or delicious on their own, and are packed with fiber, antioxidants, and complex carbohydrates.

Don’t limit yourself to only eating berries, though. The summertime is full of fresh produce to choose from.

Blackberries

Flavonoids are a type of antioxidant. This antioxidant gives fruits and vegetables vibrant blue, purple, and red colors, such as those found in berries. Anthocyanin is one flavonoid that has been shown to help with inflammation in arthritic rats. Blackberries and other red or purple fruits contain anthocyanin.

Try blackberries with a small helping of fresh whipped cream or Greek yogurt for a light dessert.

Blueberries

Blueberries are another anthocyanin-containing fruit. 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.

Cherries

Like berries, cherries have anthocyanin that helps with inflammation, which is comparable to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Pick cherries from trees in the early summer months. Cherries also contain vitamin C and potassium. Try these right off the tree or, as a treat in a fruit dessert.

Watermelon

This large, juicy fruit contains carotenoid beta-cryptoxanthin, which may reduce RA symptoms. It also has vitamins A and C. As an added benefit, it is full of water, which will keep you properly hydrated in those hot summer months.

Sliced watermelon can be a wonderful snack at any time of day, or you could 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

Garlic is a great source for reducing inflammation due to its sulfur compounds. A study in Arthritis Research and Therapy concluded that thiacremonone, a sulfur found in garlic, can be useful in treating inflammation and arthritis. Try using garlic to flavor your sauces, casseroles, roasted vegetables, and soups.

Beets

These red root vegetables can decrease inflammation by getting in the way of pro-inflammatory signaling cascades, according to a recent study. The study also states that this antioxidant-rich food can help reduce the risks of cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Beets can be delicious in an autumn slaw, in a salad with dark leafy greens and a creamy cheese, roasted on their own, or blended into a fruit and vegetable smoothie.

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes can be a great addition to your diet because they contain carotenoids, which can help RA symptoms, as well as antioxidants. Sweet potatoes are a favorite as a side dish at American Thanksgiving meals. They can also accompany a sandwich in place of traditional white potato French 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

Spinach is a dark, leafy green vegetable. It’s rich in vitamin K, which can help with inflammation caused by RA. Spinach is a versatile vegetable that you can use in salads, sauté with olive oil, or toss into smoothies to make them even more nutrient rich.

You may not associate fresh produce with the winter months. While you’ll likely have less options than you would during other times of the year, especially if you live in colder climates, there are still plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to choose from.

Kale

Kale is a winter vegetable that’s highly nutritious and may help with inflammation. Like spinach and collard greens, it contains vitamin K.

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.

Citrus

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. Oranges make great snacks on their own. A grapefruit sliced in half can liven up your breakfast. Lemons are great additions to homemade salad dressings, water, or to freshen sauce, proteins, or vegetables.

Winter squash

Like sweet potatoes, winter squash contains carotenoids and antioxidants. They are also high in fiber. Varieties include butternut squash, acorn squash, and pumpkin. Winter squash are versatile and can be roasted, cooked in soups, and stuffed with delicious items like whole grains, nuts, and seeds. This curried butternut squash soup will warm you up on a cold winter day.

Brussels sprouts

Brussels sprouts are a cruciferous vegetable and they’re packed full of nutrients, including:

  • vitamin K
  • vitamin C
  • fiber
  • folate

In addition to being an anti-inflammatory vegetable, they may also have anti-cancer properties. Also, studies show that higher intake of cruciferous vegetables is associated with lower mortality.

Slice Brussels sprouts in half or in quarters and roast them with olive oil, a dash of salt, and pepper for an easy side dish. Or, for a healthy alternative to potato chips, try roasting the leaves to make Brussels sprout chips.

Fruits and vegetables can be stored in a variety of ways. Methods vary, but you may want to consider buying large amounts of seasonal produce and freezing or canning leftovers to enjoy year-round.

Some vegetables and fruits should be left at room temperature or even stored in a cool, dark place. Often, vegetables and fruit 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. If you are shopping at a grocery store, ask one of the store clerks in the produce section for storage suggestions.

Regular consumption of most fruits and vegetables can help combat inflammation in the body. Try to eat several cups of fruits and vegetables a day. Choosing produce that’s in season will increase the nutritional value and keep your budget reasonable.

Make sure you consult your doctor about changes to your diet to ensure that your diet matches the needs of any medications you may be taking.

Eating fruits and vegetables may help with inflammation, but you are likely to need additional interventions to manage your RA. Talk to your doctor about an appropriate treatment plan.

Learn more: Rheumatoid arthritis medication list »