Diet and rheumatoid arthritis: foods to avoid for joint health

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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory condition that primarily affects the joints, causing pain, stiffness, and swelling.

While there is no specific diet to cure RA, certain foods can worsen symptoms and trigger inflammation in the body.

In this study review, we’ll explore the impact of diet on rheumatoid arthritis and identify foods that may exacerbate this condition.

RA is an autoimmune disease where the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy joint tissues, leading to inflammation.

This inflammation can result in joint damage over time. While medications are commonly used to manage RA, dietary choices can also play a role in symptom management.

Foods to Avoid for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Processed Foods: Highly processed foods often contain trans fats, which can contribute to inflammation. These fats are commonly found in items like fried foods, packaged snacks, and some margarines. Studies have linked trans fats to an increased risk of inflammation and heart disease, which is a concern for people with RA.

Sugary Beverages: High-sugar drinks like soda and sweetened juices can contribute to inflammation. Excessive sugar intake may also lead to weight gain, which can put extra stress on joints affected by RA.

Red and Processed Meat: Red meat and processed meats like bacon and sausages can be problematic for some individuals with RA. These meats contain saturated fats that may promote inflammation.

Additionally, red meat consumption has been associated with higher levels of certain inflammatory markers in the blood.

Dairy Products: Some people with RA find that dairy products, particularly full-fat versions, can worsen their symptoms.

This might be due to the saturated fats in dairy, but it can also be related to a specific protein in milk known as casein. Substituting dairy with non-dairy alternatives may be helpful for those who experience dairy-related symptoms.

Alcohol: While moderate alcohol consumption may have some health benefits, excessive alcohol intake can contribute to inflammation and may interfere with medications used to manage RA.

It’s important to discuss alcohol consumption with your healthcare provider, especially if you are taking RA medications.

Gluten: Some individuals with RA may benefit from a gluten-free diet. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It can trigger an autoimmune response in some people, potentially worsening RA symptoms.

If you suspect gluten sensitivity, consider discussing it with a healthcare professional before making dietary changes.

Research Evidence

Research studies have provided insights into the relationship between diet and rheumatoid arthritis:

A study published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research found that higher consumption of sugary soft drinks was associated with an increased risk of developing RA among women. The study suggested that reducing sugary beverage intake might help lower the risk of RA.

Research published in The Journal of Nutrition showed that a diet high in saturated fats, primarily from red and processed meats, was linked to increased inflammatory markers in the blood. This suggests that reducing saturated fat intake may help mitigate inflammation in RA.

A review in the journal Nutrients discussed the potential benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet for people with RA. This diet emphasizes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Some studies have suggested that this dietary pattern may help reduce RA-related inflammation.


While there’s no one-size-fits-all diet for managing rheumatoid arthritis, it’s clear that certain foods can potentially worsen symptoms and contribute to inflammation.

Processed foods, sugary beverages, red and processed meats, dairy products, excessive alcohol, and gluten are among the dietary factors that may negatively impact individuals with RA.

If you have RA and suspect that certain foods are exacerbating your symptoms, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare provider or registered dietitian.

They can help you tailor your diet to better manage your condition and alleviate inflammation, ultimately improving your joint health and overall well-being.

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