If you are suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, some days you can feel like you’re climbing a mountain just to complete simple tasks. To help you manage your RA, here are some tips on foods to avoid and choose that may help alleviate some of your symptoms.
Let’s start with the bad food news first. Foods that can make an RA flare-up more difficult are often those that come in packages and are full of artificial ingredients or difficult to pronounce ingredients. Here’s what to avoid:
1. The Wrong Fats.
- Trans fats – also known as hydrogenated fats or partially hydrogenated fats, they are used by food manufacturers to increase the shelf life of commercially baked goods. Even in small amounts they may trigger inflammation. As trans fatty acids increase in the diet, so do several commonly recognized blood markers for inflammation. If it’s less than 0.5 g it won’t be listed on the food label, but it will be listed in the ingredients. That amount doesn’t seem like a lot, but every little bit adds up, so if you see partially hydrogenated oil on the ingredients list, choose something else. Foods that often have trans fats include commercially baked goods, French fries or other fried foods, some crackers, pretzels, chips or nut butters. The good news is the Food and Drug Administration announced they are working on banning these fats by taking them off of the “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) list.
- Saturated fats – these fats are found in animal products like meats, poultry as well as dairy fats like butter. Excess saturated fats can contribute to inflammation and foods containing them should be portioned appropriately. Look for lean cuts of meat and add more beans, tofu, edamame or high protein grains like quinoa or amaranth. An exception is coconut oil. Although it’s high in saturated fat, it’s mostly medium chain fatty acids and doesn’t increase inflammation and may actually decreases inflammation when it replaces omega-6 fatty acids in the diet. (1)
2. Overly Refined Food:
- Refined grains – these are your white flours that make up many packaged snack foods and processed foods, like white bread and regular pasta, pretzels, some crackers and sweets in the grocery store. Refined grains can also promote inflammation in the body by activating certain proteins. (2) Try to eat the whole grain versions of common refined foods. Choose whole wheat bread, oats, corn, quinoa, amaranth, brown rice and whole wheat pasta. See 9 whole grains. See 9 Whole Grains, You’ve Got to Try!
- An overabundance of poor snack choices– sometimes you swear you can hear the pantry junk food calling you. If they’re not in the house you won’t be tempted to eat them. Don’t succumb to buying foods that don’t support your goal of helping your RA with diet intervention. If you can’t resist, then either buy 100-calorie snack size bags or pre-portion your goodies using sandwich baggies or reusable mini-containers like bento boxes. This will make it easier for you to control portions.
3. Excess Sugar
- Too much sugarcan add up to weight gain. Excess weight puts pressure on your back and joints. The average person takes in about 22 teaspoons of sugar a day. However, for adults try to limit to 6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men. Easy ways to cut down include limiting sugar in cereal to less than 6 grams per serving, buying the right crackers, bread and sauces with out added sugar and buying plain yogurt and adding fruit to sweeten it.
Best Food Groups:
1. The Right Fats
- Omega-3 fatty acids –are good for you and have anti-inflammatory properties. Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines are all great sources of omega-3s. Also, if you’re not into fish, alpha linolenic acid, which converts to omega-3s can also be found in flax seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds and walnuts.
2. Plenty of Produce
- Fruits and vegetables – these whole foods provide a multitude of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber and phytochemicals (plant compounds) that can all help fight inflammation. Try to get the recommended 5-6 servings per day and aim for color diversity in your daily diet.
3. Plant Based Proteins
- Beans and legumes are protein powerhouses and a great option to add to your diet. Beans and legumes also lower the pro-inflammatory markers in your body. (3,4)
- Try adding extra kidney beans instead of beef to your next pot of chili or simmer some lentils to top off a warm mushroom salad.
Taking charge of your diet can help minimize the painful symptoms of RA. Look at the ingredients on packaged foods for trans fats, cut down on red meat consumption and refined grains. Try to add some salmon into your weekly dinner rotation pump up the fruit and veggie intake and incorporate beans and legumes into your salads and sides. Your joints will thank you!