The Best Diet for Inflammatory Arthritis

HSS Health Connection by Community Education & Outreach

There's no one-diet-fits-all for inflammatory arthritis. The best diet is the one that works best for you. How do you know what to eat and if there's anything to avoid? A registered dietitian (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) can help you make the most effective choices and create a diet that helps you feel well and live well.

A grouping of healthy foods for inflammatory arthritis.

Your customized meal plan

A quick search of the internet reveals a wide range of advice about foods to avoid or eat more of if you have inflammatory arthritis or other type of rheumatoid arthritis. You may have even heard from neighbors, friends, and family members about entire food groups they can no longer eat, like dairy. There is no rigorous scientific evidence to support the need for this, however, and eliminating an entire food group may deprive you of vital nutrients that your body needs. You may risk not getting enough calories, or getting too many of your calories from nutrient-poor sources.

That's why meeting with a RD/RDN can be so helpful. RDs/RDNs are experienced working with people who have chronic diseases and helping them make the best dietary choices. The best diet for you is ideally one that helps you avoid foods that make you feel tired or poorly, incorporate those that give you adequate energy and make you feel well, and ensure you are able to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Anti-inflammatory foods for arthritis

What foods are good for people with arthritis? Some are thought to reduce inflammation, especially those containing omega-3 fatty acids. Your RD/RDN can counsel you about which foods to eat and how much. You can get this important nutrient by incorporating the following foods into your diet:

  • Eat two servings of fatty fish per week. A serving is three to four ounces cooked, or about ¾ cup of flaked fish. Fatty fish like anchovies, herring, cod, salmon, and sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Plant-based foods such as walnuts, chia seeds and flax seeds.
  • Fortified foods such as eggs produced with omega-3, as well as some yogurts, juices, and soy beverages
  • Plant oils (such as flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil).

Some people claim their arthritis symptoms are worsened by "nightshade" vegetables such as eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers. If this is the case for you, there's no harm in eliminating individual foods as long as you can get the nutrients they offer by eating other foods. Again, your RD/RDN can guide you about alternate choices.

What to expect from your dietitian visit

If you have inflammatory arthritis, it is highly recommended that you consult with a RD/RDN for at least a single visit to assess your diet and ensure that you are meeting your nutritional needs. Here's what to expect from your visit:

  • The RD/RDN will go over your medical history and medications with you.
  • You will be asked to either recall the foods you've recently eaten or typically eat or complete a food diary for several days before the visit for the RD/RDN to review.
  • You will also be asked to complete other forms either before or at the visit so the RD/RDN has all the information needed to understand your health and nutrition.
  • The RD/RDN will identify foods you should be getting more of and/or others you may need to eat less of for optimal nutrition and weight management.

Some people are satisfied with just one visit, while others may want to check in periodically for more guidance and to ask questions. The choice is up to you, based on your personal needs and preferences.

The roots of good nutrition

You may know that you should get a certain number of servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins. Your RD/RDN can take it a step further by making sure you're getting adequate nutrients such as calcium, B vitamins, and vitamin C.

The RD/RDN works as a vital member of your healthcare team. When you are taking multiple medications for a chronic disease like inflammatory arthritis, it's important to chat with a professional to see how your diet and medications may be interacting so you can do what you need to do to derive the most benefit from your treatment. Some medications for inflammatory arthritis interact with alcohol. The RD/RDN may counsel you about modifying your alcohol consumption if this could be an issue for you.

A healthy diet can also help you achieve a healthy weight. Being overweight places extra stress on your joints, which can further aggravate your arthritis symptoms. Maintaining a healthy weight will lessen that load and can help you to feel better.

When you have a flare of your arthritis symptoms or an infection like the flu, good nutrition forms the roots that keep your health intact so you can weather any storm.

Authors

Laura Gibofsky, MS, RD, CDN
Clinical Nutritionist II
Hospital for Special Surgery

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