8 Foods to Avoid When You Have Rheumatoid Arthritis

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease that has no known cause. It’s a progressive disease, so managing the condition means treating the symptoms, but also slowing down its progress. One way to manage RA may be through diet. Although not proven through clinical trials, many people feel better, with fewer rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, if they avoid eating certain foods that could trigger inflammation. Here are eight types of foods to avoid on a rheumatoid arthritis diet.

  • 1
    Fried Foods and Omega-6 Fatty Acids
    spoonful of coconut oil on jar

    Fried foods, regardless of the type of oil used, are higher in trans fats than foods that are grilled or broiled. Artificial trans fats increase inflammation in the body. Some types of oil are worse than others, however. The ‘avoid as much as possible category’ includes margarine, shortening, butter, lard, and coconut oil. These are saturated fats. Aside from the oil itself, the cooking method—frying—can contribute to inflammation. The high heat needed to fry meat, for example, releases high levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which can cause inflammation as well. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in the oils used for frying, like vegetable oil and corn oil.

  • 2
    Refined Carbohydrates and Sugar

    If you have a sweet tooth, this may be a hard food group to give up, but refined sugars found in products like soft drinks, and prepared treats like donuts, store-bought cookies, and pastries all contain refined sugars. You can tell by reading the ingredient list and looking for anything that ends in ‘ose,’ including fructose and glucose. Sugars can be sneaky though. You can find them in some products that may surprise you, like white bread and other similar baked goods.

  • 3
    Restaurant container of various sugars and artificial sweeteners

    When aspartame came on the market, it was considered a gift to people who cannot consume or who wish to cut down on sugar. However, aspartame comes at a price. Many people are sensitive to aspartame and find they don’t feel well after they eat or drink products that contain it. Aspartame is popular because you need very little to get the sweet taste but it isn’t naturally processed and the human body has a hard time digesting it, resulting in an inflammatory response.

  • 4
    Dairy Products
    Close-Up Of Milk Glasses

    We are encouraged to eat dairy to ensure we get enough calcium and vitamin D, but dairy may also increase inflammation in the body. Researchers haven’t determined if this is true for everyone though. One large study saw an increase in inflammation, but other studies have shown improvement in health with dairy consumption. Milk products can contain saturated fats, which contribute to inflammation. If you wish to keep dairy in your diet, low-fat options are better than the full-fat products.

  • 5
    wheat intolerance

    People with celiac disease must remove gluten from their diet to stay healthy. Some celiac disease sufferers report joint pain and inflammation. That’s different from rheumatoid arthritis but if you have a chronic inflammatory disorder you may want to avoid gluten, too. Gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye. Gluten can hide in many products you consume, including pasta, soups, couscous, and soy sauce. It can also be found in some types of vitamins, supplements and medications.

  • 6

    Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a common migraine trigger, but it also can trigger inflammation in the body. MSG is a flavor enhancer found in many prepared foods and is most commonly included in prepared Asian foods. MSG is also an ingredient in soy sauce, deli meats, and salty snack foods, like chips and crackers. You can find if MSG is in a food or drink by reading the label. Some foods contain naturally occurring MSG. These include tomatoes, cheese, yeast extract, and soy products.

  • 7
    glasses of red and white wine on table

    While not strictly a food, alcohol consumption is very common and the alcohol could be contributing to your body’s inflammation. It can be tough to tell if alcohol is safe or not in terms of your health, given that studies tend to contradict each other. However, the current thinking says that moderate drinking isn’t harmful, although if you have an inflammatory disease like rheumatoid arthritis, you may want to avoid drinking alcoholic beverages as much as possible. Another reason to limit alcohol on an RA diet is the strong medicine many people take to control symptoms. The liver processes and eliminates all drugs, and alcohol can put unnecessary burden on this vital organ.

  • 8
    salt and pepper on table

    Go to any restaurant and you’ll likely see a salt shaker on the table. Adding salt to our food is almost an instinct for many people. And while some salt isn’t usually harmful, excessive salt and other preservatives can contribute to inflammation. Processed and prepared foods are often high in salt, so either avoid them or look for low-salt options. Instead of adding salt for flavor when you cook, experiment with herbs and spices for other flavors. And don’t keep a salt shaker on the table, to remove temptation.

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  1. Foods You Should Avoid with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Hackensack Meridian Health. https://www.hackensackmeridianhealth.org/HealthU/2018/09/26/foods-you-should-avoid-with-rheumatoid-arthritis/
  2. Foods to Avoid If You Have Arthritis. Arthritis Foundation. https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/arthritis-diet/foods-to-avoid-limit/
  3. Duckworth H. RA Inflammatory Foods: What Foods Cause Flare-Ups? October 4, 2018. Rheumatoid Arthritis. https://www.rheumatoidarthritis.org/living-with-ra/diet/inflammatory-foods/
  4. Heart-Healthy Oils: What You Need to Know. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/16031-heart-healthy-oils-what-you-need-to-know
  5. Sources of Gluten. Celiac Disease Foundation. https://celiac.org/gluten-free-living/what-is-gluten/sources-of-gluten/
  6. Questions and Answers on Monosodium glutamate (MSG). U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/questions-and-answers-monosodium-glutamate-msg

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Nov 15
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