Foods You Should Avoid with Rheumatoid Arthritis   

Foods You Should Avoid with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Foods You Should Avoid with Rheumatoid Arthritis
Clinical Contributors to this story:
Halyna Kuzyshyn, M.D.

By Brianna McCabe

Roughly 54 million adults have been doctor-diagnosed with arthritis – and according to the Arthritis Foundation, the number of people battling this disease by 2040 is projected to soar to over 78 million.

Arthritis is a general term that encompasses conditions of joint pain and functional limitations. Symptoms of joint swelling, pain, stiffness, and a decreased range of motion mark the illness.

There are many different types of arthritis, divided into two main categories: inflammatory and non-inflammatory. The most common form of non-inflammatory arthritis is osteoarthritis, while the most common inflammatory arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune inflammatory illness that occurs when joints and other tissues are mistakenly attacked by the immune system. Halyna Kuzyshyn, M.D., board certified in rheumatology and internal medicine, explains that if the tissue remains inflamed it can lead to the loosening of tendons and ligaments while also destructing joints with cartilage damage, bone erosion, and loss of function.

Early diagnosis and aggressive treatment with disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs is critical to reducing inflammation and pain, improving physical functions, and preventing further joint damage. However, Dr. Kuzyshyn advises that a person’s diet can be complimentary to medication and can help to control inflammation. “After all, we are what we eat,” she says.

While there is no concrete research on diets that can treat rheumatoid arthritis, researchers have identified certain pro-inflammatory foods. Dr. Kuzyshyn advises that the following six foods should be avoided – or at least limited – to help reduce inflammation and joint pain:

  1. Grilled, broiled, or fried meats (and other fried foods). “Meats contain high levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), a toxin that generates inflammatory reactions and leads to tissue damages within the body,” explains Dr. Kuzyshyn. “When cooking meats at particularly high heat levels, such as frying, grilling or broiling, more AGEs are formed in foods and trigger an inflammatory response.” Instead, it is recommended to steam, simmer, or braise lean proteins.
  2. Fatty foods full of omega-6 fatty acids. Trans fat, also known as trans-unsaturated fatty acids or trans fatty acids, are typically found in packaged goods, margarine, and vegetable oils and are used to reduce the chance of food spoilage and increase the shelf life. “Research has shown that the consumption of trans fats can increase inflammation,” says Dr. Kuzyshyn. “Additionally, trans fats can increase the risk of insulin resistance and obesity, which is a known risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis.” Trans fats can also raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol, which increases the risk of heart disease.
  3. Sugars and refined carbohydrates. Digesting these molecules triggers the release of cytokines, or inflammatory messengers in the body. “Sodas, juices, and pastries are full of sugars that lead to inflammation,” notes Dr. Kuzyshyn. Individuals should also be on the lookout for sugar substitutes and foods that end in –ose: fructose, sucrose, glucose. “I’m not telling you to cut out cookies and cakes forever,” she reassures. “But definitely just have them on occasion. While they may satisfy your taste buds, your joints may not be so happy.”
  4. Gluten. If a person already has a sensitivity to gluten, foods containing the substance should be avoided.
  5. Preservatives and flavor enhancers. Monosodium glutamate (MSG), a chemical ingredient added to many foods as a flavor enhancer, has been shown to trigger inflammation. “Make sure to really pay attention to your food labels,” advises Dr. Kuzyshyn.
  6. Alcohol. “Alcohol in moderation might be okay,” says Dr. Kuzyshyn. “In fact, red wine contains resveratrol which has been found to have anti-inflammatory effects. On the other hand, though, too much alcohol can cause liver damage, enhance medication-induced liver toxicity (particularly if you take methotrexate), and cause inflammation.” It is recommended that women consume no more than one glass of wine per day, and men consume no more than two. If you are taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or acetaminophen, alcohol can increase your risk of stomach bleeding and liver problems, respectively. “Be mindful of your medications and talk with your doctor about any potential side effects,” she warns.

Next Steps & Resources:


  • J Nutr. 2014 Jul;144(7):1037-42. doi: 10.3945/jn.113.189480. Epub 2014 Apr 17.  Dietary intake of advanced glycation end products did not affect endothelial function and inflammation in healthy adults in a randomized controlled trial. Semba RD1, Gebauer SK2, Baer DJ2, Sun K3, Turner R3, Silber HA3, Talegawkar S4, Ferrucci L5, Novotny JA2.
  • Autoimmun Rev. 2018 Sep 10. pii: S1568-9972(18)30210-6. doi: 10.1016/j.autrev.2018.05.009. Are we really what we eat? Nutrition and its role in the onset of rheumatoid arthritis. Philippou E1, Nikiphorou E2.
  • Adv Nutr. 2017 Jan 17;8(1):54-62. doi: 10.3945/an.116.013912. Print 2017 Jan. Formation of Fructose-Mediated Advanced Glycation End Products and Their Roles in Metabolic and Inflammatory Diseases. Gugliucci A1.
  • Neonatal monosodium glutamate treatment causes obesity, diabetes, and macrovesicular steatohepatitis with liver nodules in DIAR mice. Tsuneyama K1, Nishida T, Baba H, Taira S, Fujimoto M, Nomoto K, Hayashi S, Miwa S, Nakajima T, Sutoh M, Oda E, Hokao R, Imura J.
  • Rheumatology (Oxford). 2013 May;52(5):856-67. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/kes376. Epub 2013 Jan 3. The protective effect of alcohol on developing rheumatoid arthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Scott IC1, Tan R, Stahl D, Steer S, Lewis CM, Cope AP.

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.


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