Diet and Rheumatoid Arthritis: The Astonishing Power of Food

diet and rheumatoid arthritis

Diet and rheumatoid arthritis are intricately linked, with recent research highlighting how specific dietary choices can significantly influence the management and progression of this chronic inflammatory condition. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can be a relentless adversary, often leaving those affected in a constant battle with pain and discomfort. However, emerging research on diet and rheumatoid arthritis has illuminated a promising ally in this struggle—our food. The right foods can offer significant relief and contribute to a better quality of life for those grappling with RA. This isn’t about strict deprivation; rather, it’s about embracing nutritious choices that support health and well-being.

Diet and Rheumatoid Arthritis: Is Food a Friend or Foe?

Diet and rheumatoid arthritis

When considering the relationship between diet and rheumatoid arthritis, certain foods might exacerbate rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, acting as triggers for inflammation. For instance, proteins and lectins found in some foods can be problematic. Conversely, omega-3 fatty acids from fish and even moderate alcohol consumption have shown potential protective effects, particularly for those at high risk. Obesity, often linked to increased rheumatoid arthritis risk and symptom severity, further underscores the need for mindful eating. Leptin, a protein produced by fat cells, plays a role here, as does the consumption of sugary drinks and high-fat diets. The message is clear: adopting healthier eating habits is paramount.

Gut Health: The Hidden Ally Against Rheumatoid Arthritis

gut microflora and rheumatoid arthritis

Understanding the link between diet and rheumatoid arthritis, particularly in relation to gut health, opens exciting possibilities for dietary interventions and gut-supporting supplements. The gut microbiota, a bustling community of bacteria in our digestive system, has been identified as a significant player in rheumatoid arthritis development. An imbalance in this ecosystem can trigger inflammation, as seen in conditions like celiac disease, and might also influence RA. Thankfully, strategies to restore gut balance can help mitigate inflammation. Probiotics like Bacillus coagulans and prebiotics such as inulin can rejuvenate beneficial bacteria, potentially easing rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

Additionally, short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) produced by gut bacteria during digestion have shown anti-inflammatory properties. Propionate, one such SCFA, can reduce inflammation and modulate immune responses, offering promising avenues for rheumatoid arthritis treatment. While further research is needed, the gut-rheumatoid arthritis connection opens exciting possibilities for dietary interventions and gut-supporting supplements.

The Balancing Act of Zinc and Cadmium

Trace elements such as zinc and cadmium play crucial roles in the gut-rheumatoid arthritis relationship. Zinc, abundant in oysters, red meat, and chickpeas, is vital for anti-inflammatory processes and joint health. In contrast, cadmium—found in cigarette smoke and certain root vegetables—can worsen inflammation. Monitoring and balancing these minerals through diet can be beneficial in managing RA.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: The Anti-Inflammatory Champions

omega-3 and rheumatoid arthritis

Among dietary interventions, omega-3 fatty acids (n-3 PUFAs) stand out for their anti-inflammatory properties. Rich in EPA and DHA, these compounds found in fish oil can significantly reduce pain and inflammation, improving overall disease activity. Incorporating fish oil supplements or omega-3-rich foods into the diet can offer substantial relief and enhance the quality of life for rheumatoid arthritis patients.

Plant-Based Anti-Inflammatory Powerhouses

Plants and herbs are emerging as formidable allies against chronic inflammation. Compounds like polyphenols found in turmeric, pomegranate extract, and quercetin have shown promise in reducing rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Everyday spices such as garlic, ginger, cinnamon, and saffron also possess anti-inflammatory properties. Including foods like mushrooms, citrus fruits, and dairy products can further bolster defenses against RA.

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Mediterranean Diet: A Mixed Bag?

Mediterranean diet and rheumatoid arthritis

The Mediterranean diet (MD), renowned for its heart-healthy benefits, has been scrutinized for its impact on RA. While some studies suggest a positive link between the MD and reduced rheumatoid arthritis risk, particularly in men, the evidence isn’t conclusive for women. However, the diet’s rich content of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and omega-3 PUFAs, along with its emphasis on fruits and moderate wine consumption, could still offer benefits in managing inflammation-driven conditions like RA.

Fasting: A Potential Relief Strategy for RA patients?

Fasting, practiced for centuries in various cultures, is now being explored for its potential health benefits, including rheumatoid arthritis management. Observational studies during Ramadan, a month of daily fasting for Muslims, have shown mixed but promising results. While some rheumatoid arthritis patients report improvements, the overall impact of fasting on rheumatoid arthritis remains an area ripe for further research.

Smart Beverage Choices for Rheumatoid Arthritis Management

Making wise beverage choices is crucial for those with RA. Hydration is essential, and water is always a good choice. Fresh fruit juices rich in polyphenols, like pomegranate and orange juice, can provide anti-inflammatory benefits. Beetroot juice, known for its betalain pigments, can improve joint function and reduce oxidative stress.

Green tea, with its antioxidant EGCG, may offer anti-inflammatory benefits, while the effects of other caffeinated teas and coffee are less clear. Cocoa, rich in flavanols, could also have anti-inflammatory properties. Milk’s role in rheumatoid arthritis is debated, and sugary sodas should be avoided due to their inflammation-promoting effects. Moderate red wine consumption might be beneficial due to its resveratrol content, but moderation is crucial to avoid negative effects.

Empowering Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients with Diet

Dietary interventions offer a beacon of hope for those battling RA. By making informed food choices, individuals can better navigate the relationship between diet and rheumatoid arthritis, mitigating risk, alleviating symptoms, and enhancing treatment outcomes. Embracing omega-3-rich foods, antioxidants, and gut-friendly ingredients is a promising start. As research continues to unravel the complex relationship between diet and rheumatoid arthritis, personalized nutritional strategies will become indispensable tools in the fight against this debilitating condition.

Diet and Rheumatoid Arthritis: Some Useful Recipes


Here are some delicious recipes to incorporate these dietary recommendations into your daily meals:

Salmon and Quinoa Power Bowl


  • 1 salmon fillet (baked or grilled)
  • 1 cup quinoa, cooked
  • 1 cup roasted Brussels sprouts
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • Lemon vinaigrette


  1. Prepare quinoa according to package instructions.
  2. Roast Brussels sprouts until tender.
  3. Grill or bake salmon fillet.
  4. Combine quinoa, Brussels sprouts, and salmon in a bowl.
  5. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts and drizzle with lemon vinaigrette.

This dish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids from the salmon, with quinoa providing fiber and protein. Brussels sprouts add antioxidants, and walnuts contribute healthy fats.

Turmeric-Spiced Lentil Soup


  • 1 cup lentils
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Sauté onion, garlic, carrots, and celery in a large pot until softened.
  2. Add lentils, vegetable broth, ginger, turmeric, cumin, and coriander.
  3. Simmer until lentils are tender.
  4. Stir in lemon juice, then season with salt and pepper.

This soup is brimming with anti-inflammatory ingredients like turmeric, ginger, and vegetables, offering a warming and nutritious meal.

Mediterranean Chickpea Salad


  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cucumber, diced
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup Kalamata olives, halved
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Combine chickpeas, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, olives, feta cheese, and parsley in a large bowl.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, red wine vinegar, oregano, salt, and pepper.
  3. Pour dressing over salad and toss to combine.

This refreshing salad is packed with fiber, healthy fats, and anti-inflammatory properties from its vibrant mix of ingredients.

Green Tea Smoothie


  • 1 cup green tea, cooled
  • 1 cup spinach
  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup frozen mango chunks
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • Honey (optional)


  1. Brew green tea and allow it to cool.
  2. In a blender, combine cooled green tea, spinach, banana, frozen mango chunks, and Greek yogurt.
  3. Blend until smooth.
  4. Add honey for sweetness if desired.

This smoothie combines the antioxidant power of green tea with nutrient-dense fruits and yogurt for a delicious and healthful start to the day.

Anti-Inflammatory Berry Smoothie


  • 1 cup mixed berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries)
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tbsp ground flaxseeds


  1. In a blender, combine mixed berries, almond milk, Greek yogurt, and ground flaxseeds.
  2. Blend until smooth.
  3. Add honey for sweetness if desired.

This berry smoothie is rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids from flaxseeds, offering a tasty and nutritious option for managing inflammation.

By incorporating these recipes and dietary strategies into your routine, you can harness the power of food to support your fight against rheumatoid arthritis. Embrace these nutritious choices, and you’ll be well on your way to managing your symptoms and improving your quality of life.

Picture of Gianluca Tognon

Gianluca Tognon

Gianluca Tognon is an Italian nutrition coach, speaker, entrepreneur and associate professor at the University of Gothenburg. He started his career as a biologist and spent 15 years working both in Italy and then in Sweden. He has been involved in several EU research projects and has extensively worked and published on the association between diet, longevity and cardiovascular risk across the lifespan, also studying potential interactions between diet and genes. His work about the Mediterranean diet in Sweden has been cited by many newspapers worldwide including the Washington Post and The Telegraph among others. As a speaker, he has been invited by Harvard University and the Italian multi-national food company Barilla.

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