The Rheumatoid Arthritis Diet: 5 Foods You Must Avoid

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) isn’t an easy condition to live with. Inflamed joints make it hard to function normally and can be a huge setback to daily life. Research, however, has shown that there are some things you can do to make life a little easier. And of these, the one that’s easiest to control is your diet. Avoiding foods that can worsen the inflammation or aggravate the pain can go a long way in improving your symptoms.

Avoiding These Foods Can Ease Your Condition

So here’s a rogue’s gallery of the worst offenders in the pantry.


1. Sugary Food

According to the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center, people with RA should try and keep their dietary intake of sugar moderate. Which means things like desserts need to be kept to a minimum, especially if they come out of a packet. Fruit and light homemade desserts once in a way should be fine, so don’t fret!1 Here are foods that pack in a lot of sugar – some may surprise you!

  • Candy And Sweet Spreads: One survey by the National Health Services, UK, found that a lot of people that side of the pond eat a lot of candy. If this rings true for you too, it means you’re eating more sugar than you should for someone with RA. For instance, a 100 gm bar of chocolate contains on average about 62.6 gm of sugar. Your favorite chocolate spread packs in around 57 gm of sugar in a 100 gm serving. Even fruit pastilles aren’t good, with nearly 60 gm of sugar per 100 gm serving, never mind if the word “fruit” makes it seem deceptively healthy.2
  • Sodas: A 12 ounce serving of cola has around 10 teaspoons of sugar in it, and orange soda which is even sweeter has about 11 spoons worth of sugar in it. Even sports drinks have about 5 spoons of sugar in a 12 ounce serve – way more than is good for any of us. Especially if there’s RA involved.3
  • Packaged Fruit Juice: Sweetened fruit juice has nearly 10 gm of sugar in a 100 ml serving, and you’re probably getting in twice that in a standard 200 ml serve.4
  • Cordials And Squashes: They might be made from fruit or have fruit flavoring in them but these drinks have about 24.6 gm of sugar in every 100ml.5
  • Ketchups And Condiments: If you thought only sweets had sugar in them, think again! Salad dressings with a cream base, savory sauces, and condiments like ketchup have sugar in them too. Before you drown your food in sauce, remember, a stir-in sweet and sour sauce has about 20 gm of sugar per 100 gm, ketchup has 27.5 gm in 100 gm, and salad cream has around 16.7 gm per 100 gm portion.6

2. Saturated And Trans Fats

For those with RA, a diet that’s low in cholesterol and saturated fats or trans fats in particular, and low in fat in general, is highly recommended. Which means you should consider cutting down on your red meat intake, skipping junk food or fast food, and opting for healthier alternatives like seafood or lean protein or vegan sources like tofu or lentils. When you cut these kinds of food out and eat more on the lines of a Mediterranean diet – relying on polyphenol-rich olive oil as a base for your cooking instead of butter, or more seafood and less of those fatty meats – you are likely to also experience a lowering of inflammation in the body. And that’s good news for your condition. One study that made some test subjects with RA switch to the Mediterranean diet, low in cholesterol, found that vitality improved and inflammatory activity in the body reduced. They experienced an overall improvement in physical function as well compared to those who continued with a regular diet.7


3. Alcohol

Alcohol is high in sugar content and a regular drink every evening can add to the sugar you consume.8 Alcohol consumption can also be a problem if you’re taking medications that might interact with it. For instance, you could develop liver problems from having alcohol alongside methotrexate (which already puts you at increased risk of liver damage).9

4. Processed Food

Processed foods are rich in salt, sugar, and fat and spell disaster for inflammatory conditions like RA. In fact, one survey of a thousand RA patients found that these were among the top ingredients that caused a worsening of symptoms. Avoid eating anything out of a packet, buy fresh produce, and cook up your own snacks at home instead. Things should start looking up in a couple of weeks.10


5. Dairy (Milk As Well As Milk Products)

Dairy (milk as well as milk products and cheeses) doesn’t agree with everyone. According to some researchers, the protein in the dairy worsens RA. So if you’ve switched to low fat or skim milk in the hope that the reduced fat content will help your cause, it may not be enough. Whole milk and skim milk are equally bad. The inflammation is triggered by the casein found in whey protein.11

Foods You Are Allergic To

You may sometimes be allergic to some foods and may not know it. Because RA is an autoimmune disease, it can be aggravated by constant exposure to foods you are allergic to. That’s why you should test each food using diet elimination therapy to determine which ones cause food hypersensitivities. You’ll need to avoid eating one suspected food at a time for a few months (a minimum of one month) and then reintroduce it to see if it causes any reaction. Gluten, nightshades like tomato, and citrus are common allergy-causing foods often named by patients.12


As one group of researchers found, eliminating these foods and modifying the diet helped bring improvement in symptoms of RA, but when foods were reintroduced, the pain, swelling, and stiffness came back. So eliminating these foods can offer temporary respite, but if you can’t quit eating them altogether you will need to be prepared for symptoms to reappear when you indulge in any of them next.13