Foods That Worsen Rheumatoid Arthritis
No single diet is best for all people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes pain and limited functional mobility due to inflamed joint tissue. Many people with RA report that certain foods make their symptoms worse or better, but there is little evidence to support a specific RA diet.

A poor diet in general may increase inflammation in the body for anyone with a chronic illness. Some studies have reported that processed foods, high-sugar foods, and sugary drinks can aggravate RA symptoms.

Though certain foods can make arthritis worse, it varies from person to person.

Inflammation of the blood and body is a common result of the typical American diet, which is high in fried, fatty, processed foods, as well as meat, dairy, and sugar. Though research is still in the early stages, it is best to avoid these foods for general health.

14 foods that may worsen rheumatoid arthritis

  1. Dairy
    • Avoid full-fat dairy products. The proteins found in dairy may cause rheumatoid arthritis (RA) flare-ups.
    • Many varieties of dairy include saturated fat. Dairy is a significant allergen, with 25 percent of individuals allergic to lactose or casein proteins present in dairy.
    • Any allergic reaction might cause an inflammatory response. If you feel bloated after eating dairy, you should reduce or eliminate dairy from your diet.
  2. Sugar
    • Studies have reported that the processed sugars present in many packaged snack foods can cause the body to release cytokines, which are inflammatory molecules. Avoiding candy, soda, dessert, bread, and other sweets will help you consume less sugar.
  3. Meat
    • Compared with other foods, meat has more calories and fat, which are more readily converted into chemicals that lead to inflammation in the body.
    • It gets worse if you grill, sear, or fry meats at high temperatures because the flavor of charred meat is caused by toxins called advanced glycation end (AGEs) products, which may harm proteins in the body.
    • Cytokines disassemble AGEs, and this can lead to inflammation. Although a clear link between increased AGE levels and inflammation has not yet been established, a few studies have supported this theory.
    • Most processed meat is manufactured with synthetic dyes, preservatives, and flavors that your immune system interprets as foreign invaders and could result in RA flares.
  4. White flour-based products
    • White bread, rice, and crackers have refined carbohydrates in them. These foods can lead to inflammation and increase AGE production.
    • Refined or white grains have a relatively simple molecular structure, are rapidly converted to sugar by the body, and may trigger inflammatory responses, leading to RA flare-ups.
  5. Gluten
    • In some people, the sticky protein called gluten (which is present in wheat, barley, and rye) can increase inflammation.
    • Numerous people with RA experience inflammatory reactions after consuming gluten-containing foods. This protein is a well-known immunological trigger for rheumatoid arthritis.
    • Gluten products should be avoided because both celiac disease and RA are autoimmune diseases that frequently co-occur.
  6. Alcohol
    • Evidence suggests that people with RA should never drink alcohol because it can increase levels of C-reactive protein, a protein that causes inflammation in the body.
    • Alcohol alters how your organs communicate with one another, which could lead to inflammation. According to studies, drinking too much alcohol causes the body to produce more inflammatory cytokines.
    • Alcohol abuse can worsen inflammation and interact poorly with some RA medications and symptom-management treatments.
  7. Artificial sweeteners
    • According to studies, artificial sweeteners reduce the quantity of the beneficial bacteria in the intestines that help release anti-inflammatory substances into the body.
    • Researchers have reported a link between glucose intolerance and artificial sweeteners. The inability to properly digest glucose causes the body to release cytokines. It is best to avoid diet soda and other items with artificial sweeteners.
    • Although sugar substitutes might help you stay away from one trigger, products with artificial sweeteners (occasionally marketed as “sugar-free” products) can worsen RA symptoms. Some contain aspartame, a hazardous substance. The body cannot break down aspartame, which causes an inflammatory reaction.
  8. Artificial additives
    • Chemical flavoring and synthetic coloring harm people with rheumatoid arthritis. The body may start a chain reaction of inflammatory events if you react allergically to any of these ingredients.
    • Avoid processed foods that have fruit flavors or that have bright colors or colors listed among their ingredients.
  9. Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
    • A flavor enhancer and food preservative. This ingredient, like aspartame, cannot be naturally digested. MSG consumption may cause inflammation and aggravate RA symptoms in some people.
    • MSG and other artificial food additives could be mistaken for foreign particles by compromised immune systems, sending them into attack mode and causing additional inflammation.
  10. Saturated fats
    • Studies suggest that saturated fats do not burn energy but cause inflammation in the tissue that stores it. With a high saturated fat intake, your fat cells expand and release unfavorable inflammatory-promoting substances.
    • Low-density lipoproteins (LDL or bad cholesterol) or unhealthy fat are raised by saturated fats. Saturated fats have risks for the heart and general health. When digested, they can cause inflammation in the fat tissues.
    • High concentrations of these fats can be found in foods, such as cheese, red meat, palm, coconut, and butter. Avoid eating burgers, pizza, chips, and other processed foods that are high in fat.
  11. Trans fats
    • Your body cannot properly process it, resulting in an inflammatory immune reaction. They can exacerbate systemic inflammation and harm cardiovascular health.
    • Frequently present in highly processed foods and are commonly referred to as “partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.”
  12. Vegetable oil
    • Food manufacturers switched to using vegetable oil instead of partially hydrogenated oil when the risks of trans fats became widely known.
    • Unfortunately, the inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids in canola, corn, sunflower, and safflower oils outweigh their anti-inflammatory omega-3 counterparts.
    • Omega-6 fatty acids, which worsen inflammation, should be considered by those with RA.
  13. Excess salt
    • In addition to raising blood pressure, consuming too much salt may increase the risk of immune-mediated inflammatory diseases, such as RA.
    • According to several recent studies, eating a diet high in salt may cause the immune system to become overly stimulated, which may contribute to the onset of autoimmune diseases. It might be prudent to limit salt intake and use herbs and spices to enhance flavor.
  14. Tobacco
    • Studies have reported a strong correlation between smoking and interleukin-6 levels, a pro-inflammatory marker harmful to people with RA. Stay away from tobacco-related products because they may exacerbate RA symptoms.


The term arthritis refers to stiffness in the joints. See Answer

What type of diet is recommended for people with rheumatoid arthritis?

No diet has been proven to be the best for all people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Try to eat a diet low in processed foods, high in fruits and vegetables, and plenty of fiber. If you start to suspect a link between diet and flare, keep a food journal to see if there is a specific food that is to blame. Always consult a dietitian or rheumatologist before making any dietary changes.

Diets and food recommendations for people with RA

  • Elimination diet
    • Can help you learn more about which foods make your RA symptoms worse. With this diet, you temporarily cut out some foods from your diet before gradually reintroducing them back into your daily intake.
    • This method makes it simpler to determine which foods are aggravating your symptoms.
  • Anti-inflammatory diet
    • Although eating certain foods linked to an anti-inflammatory diet may help, there is no conclusive evidence that it can prevent, treat, or reduce the symptoms of RA.
    • In theory, any diet that lowers inflammatory levels in the body qualifies as an anti-inflammatory diet. These diets are most frequently practiced in their high-fiber and plant-based (or vegan) forms.
  • Mediterranean diet
    • According to studies, adopting a Mediterranean diet improves the symptoms of RA. Aim for at least four portions of vegetables and two portions or more of fruit each day to adopt this eating style.
    • Use more rapeseed or olive oil and other products that are high in monounsaturated fats. Inflammation and symptoms could be lessened by consuming more omega-3 polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
    • Eating five servings a day of a variety of vibrant fruits and vegetables will increase your intake of antioxidants, which may help lessen inflammation and the symptoms of RA.
  • Iron-rich foods
    • Inflammation or long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, in some cases, can cause internal bleeding, stomach ulcers, and anemia.
    • Consume foods high in iron regularly, such as lean red meat, eggs, green leafy vegetables, peas, beans, and lentils, as well as fortified breakfast cereals, to combat this.
    • Have some fruits or vegetables with your meal because iron is better absorbed by the body when it is consumed with vitamin C.
  • Calcium-rich foods
    • Everyone must consume enough calcium in their diet to keep their bones strong and healthy. This is especially important for people with RA, who are more likely to develop osteoporosis.
    • Include low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese, green leafy vegetables, calcium-fortified soy beverages, almonds, and fish with bones, such as sardines and pilchards.
  • Oily fish
    • Fish with darker flesh, such as sardines, mackerel, herring, fresh tuna, salmon, and snapper are high in omega-3 polyunsaturated fats.
    • Aside from their heart-health benefits, fish oils help reduce general inflammation, joint pain, and stiffness. Eat two portions of oily fish per week.

Under the guidance of a dietician, an exclusion program can be used to identify offending foods. Fasting is a severe and short-term method of managing RA pain and inflammation and is not advised.

Using antioxidants, vitamins, or mineral supplements to treat RA is not backed by research. All the nutrients required by the body are present in a healthy diet. However, a standard multivitamin or mineral pill could offer helpful background fortification if your diet is severely limited or you have a weak appetite.

What are the treatment options for rheumatoid arthritis?

Early, intensive therapy for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) halts joint damage according to studies. RA often needs lifetime treatment, which may include drugs, physical therapy, education, and in some cases, surgery. A combination of all the treatment options can often control the condition.

Managing RA with lifestyle changes

  • Regular exercise, which includes aerobic activity, strengthening activities, and flexibility or range-of-motion exercises, can help maintain joint mobility and strength.
  • Exercise decreases discomfort and maintains a healthy weight, which relieves joint pressure. A physical therapist can assist you in developing an exercise regimen.

Medications for RA

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Address joint pain and inflammation in the early stages. They do not, however, halt the course of RA.
  • COX-2 inhibitors:
    • They inhibit COX-2, an enzyme that promotes inflammation. COX-2 inhibitors were developed to be equally effective as standard NSAIDs.
    • Due to its adverse effects, it should be administered at the lowest feasible dose for the shortest amount of time.
  • Corticosteroids: Reduce inflammation immediately, frequently during a flare.
  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs): These medications can slow the progression of the disease and prevent joint damage. According to current recommendations, everyone diagnosed with RA should begin taking a DMARD, regardless of how severe or mild their symptoms are.
  • Immune suppressants: Suppress the immune system, which is overactive in RA.
  • Biologic agents: These are newer drugs that target a specific part of the inflammatory process and can slow or stop joint damage progression. Biologics are frequently used after other treatments have failed and are commonly used in conjunction with DMARDs.
  • Surgery and other procedures: If a joint is severely damaged, surgery could be required. Knee and hip replacement surgeries are the most successful. Surgery can relieve pain, correct deformities, improve joint function slightly, restore mobility, and improve quality of life in some cases.

Other recommendations

  • To help relieve pain and stiffness, you can combine complementary and alternative therapies with conventional treatment. Certain dietary supplements, particularly omega-3 fatty acids, help relieve pain and stiffness according to studies. 
  • Make sure your doctors are aware of any supplements, herbs, or other therapies you use. Some herbs and supplements may interact with medications and should not be combined.

People with RA are more likely to develop heart disease and diabetes. A healthy diet and regular exercise can help reduce the risk. Although diet cannot cure RA, studies suggest that switching from a typical Western diet to a Mediterranean diet reduces pain, stiffness, and fatigue. Other studies have linked a vegan diet to a reduction in RA symptoms.

Although researchers are unsure whether food allergies are to blame, you may want to try an elimination diet, which involves removing certain foods from your diet and reintroducing them.


What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)? Symptoms, Treatment, Diagnosis See Slideshow

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Medically Reviewed on 10/28/2022
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