Someone dipping a French fry into sauce.
Eating fried foods can release advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which cause inflammation.

What Foods Make Rheumatoid Arthritis Worse?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that affects the joints. An autoimmune disease occurs when the body recognizes something as foreign. When this occurs, the body attacks itself, causing the autoimmune disease. RA causes the joints to become painful and damaged. It differs from osteoarthritis (OA) because it is caused by different reasons and the pathophysiology is different, although both can cause pain and damage. Diet can also play a factor when it comes to arthritis flare-ups. So, what foods make rheumatoid arthritis worse? Let’s find out.

Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

The hallmark symptoms of RA are pain and inflamed joints. These symptoms can flare (exacerbation) or go away completely (remission).

Common symptoms of RA include:

  • Joint pain.
  • Joint swelling.
  • Joint stiffness.
  • Deformity and loss of function of the joint.

How Can Certain Foods Make Rheumatoid Arthritis Worse?

You may have heard the quote, “The food you eat can either be the safest and most powerful form of medicine, or the slowest form of poison.”

Can certain foods make diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, worse? There needs to be more research to clarify the relationship between food and disease, but many researchers believe that food can hurt or heal.

RA is a disease that is characterized by inflammation. As such, foods that promote inflammation likely worsen symptoms, thus worsening the disease’s state overall. Here are several foods that are thought to worsen rheumatoid arthritis.

1. Fried Foods

While we may think that driving through McDonald’s is not a terrible thing, especially if this is an infrequent habit, there is more to fried foods than just a high calorie count. Fried foods are known to contain trans fat. This type of fat is harmful because it is not a natural source of fat and promotes inflammation. Examples include butter and lard, oils that contain omega-6 fatty acids, such as coconut oil, vegetable oil and corn oil.

Sometimes, it is not just the type of food that we are eating, but also the process of cooking food. Frying food can be especially harmful because it releases advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGEs promote inflammation.

2. Refined Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates have a bad reputation – but not all carbohydrates are created equally!

Carbohydrates, such as fruit and whole grains, can be beneficial because of the nutrients and fiber provided. Refined carbohydrates, such as baked goods and candy, can worsen symptoms of RA.

How can you tell the difference between complex carbohydrates and refined carbohydrates? Read the food label. According to HealthGrades, “…looking for anything that ends in ‘ose,’ including fructose and glucose. Sugars can be sneaky though. You can find them in some products that may surprise you, like white bread and other similar baked goods.”

3. Monosodium Glutamate

Monosodium glutamate, more commonly known as MSG, can trigger symptoms in a variety of health conditions, especially migraine. However, MSG has also been linked to worsening RA symptoms because it triggers inflammation.

What the heck is MSG? It is a flavor additive – it is added to foods to improve the flavor. We associate MSG with Asian foods, but it can also be found in foods, such as lunch meat, chips and crackers.

MSG can be found naturally in certain foods, such as tomatoes, soy products, cheese and yeast extract. With naturally-occurring foods, you will have to experiment to see if these worsen your symptoms.

4. Red Meats

Red meat can be high in saturated fat – and saturated fat is known to promote obesity and inflammation. Red meat also contains omega-6 fatty acids, which we know promotes inflammation.

If you are desiring to include red meat in your diet, pick cuts of meat that are labeled as lean, meaning that the fat has been removed from the meat.

5. Alcohol

Alcohol is tricky because research is slightly conflicting. In research published in BMJ, “Women who drank more than three glasses of alcohol a week had half the risk for rheumatoid arthritis that teetotalers had.”

However, there is also a link between alcohol and C-reactive protein. In a study published in The Lancet, over-imbibing in alcohol can significantly worsen inflammation, which worsens RA.

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Foods That Improve Rheumatoid Arthritis

There are certain foods that may improve the symptoms of RA.

Foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids may be helpful; examples include:

  • Fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and herring.
  • Walnuts.
  • Flax seeds.
  • Chia seeds.

Foods that are rich in nutrients such as vitamin A, C and E, as well as selenium may be helpful – these are all antioxidants. Examples include:

  • Berries.
  • Artichokes.
  • Pecans.
  • Dark chocolate.
  • Spinach.
  • Kidney beans.

Foods that contain flavonoids can reduce inflammation; examples include:

  • Soy products, such as tofu.
  • Green tea.
  • Berries.
  • Grapes.
  • Broccoli.

Foods that contain lots of fiber can also be helpful. Research indicates that a fiber-rich diet may reduce C-reactive protein, which is a marker of inflammation.