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Talk Over RA: The Best Foods for Rheumatoid Arthritis

This year, I am participating in the #TalkOverRA campaign which encourages Canadians living with Rheumatoid Arthritis to find their own voice to come up with a realistic plan to reach their goal treatments.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a chronic, progressive, and often debilitating inflammatory disease that causes pain, stiffness, swelling, and loss of function in the joints. It can affect people of any age but often begins between the ages of 30 to 50. About 300000 Canadians live with RA. My RA symptoms started when I was 21 years old and was officially diagnosed at 22 in Colombia.

Eileen Davidson, known as Chronic Eileen, is a passionate Canadian patient advocate living with RA. Eileen and I discussed the most common misconceptions and diet trends around those living with Rheumatoid Arthritis for this campaign. Read the full blog post "Talk Over RA: Diet, Myths and Rheumatoid Arthritis with The Arthritis Dietitian." I am breaking down the information on four separate blogs in both English and Spanish:

  • The best foods for Rheumatoid Arthritis

  • The worst foods for Rheumatoid Arthritis

  • Diet and RA myths

  • Breaking free from diet culture

Let's begin with some of the best foods for Rheumatoid Arthritis and related anti-inflammatory recipes.

There is no such thing as a miracle diet that will cure your Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). However, dietary patterns with anti-inflammatory properties may augment the effect of the therapies used to manage RA. A few of those dietary patterns include the Mediterranean Diet, The Cretan Diet, controlled Fasting and Vegetarian Diet. A Swedish research group recently conducted a trial called Anti-inflammatory Diet in Rheumatoid Arthritis (ADIRA) with potential benefits. More robust research is needed regarding the above diets’ long-term effects in reducing inflammation in RA patients.

In general, an anti-inflammatory way of eating includes daily consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pulses, healthy fats, and herbs and spices. There is moderate consumption of fish, seafood and dairy (mostly yogurt, cheese), eggs, and poultry, with minimum consumption of refined sugars, ultra-processed foods and red meats. Most meals are prepared from fresh ingredients, and little processed food is used.

According to the anti-inflammatory dietary patterns, the following foods could be classified as the best foods for arthritis:

Cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, herrings, sardine, mackerel, are rich in essential Omega 3 fatty acids, such as Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Omega 3s may have a role in attenuating inflammation and regulating autoimmunity. One 3-oz serving of Atlantic salmon contains about 1240mg DHA and 590 mg EPA. No need to take that fish oil cap at dinner time!

Cocoa Chia and Hemp Goodness

Flax seeds, hemp seeds and chia seeds are an excellent source of plant-based Omega 3- alpha-linolenic acids (ALA). ALA can be converted to the more bioavailable fatty acids EPA and DHA by the liver, but the mechanism is not as efficient. These seeds are an excellent source of magnesium, manganese, thiamin. The latter being an essential vitamin involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates and energy supply in the body.

DHA+EPA supplements derived from algae, such as NutraVege, are an alternative option Omega 3 fatty acids option for those following a vegetarian or a vegan diet.

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is high in oleocanthal, which has similar properties to non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs. It also contains anti-inflammatory polyphenols, antioxidants and unsaturated fatty acids. Classic olive oil or light olive oil is a good start if you can’t tolerate the strong taste of EVOO.

Other unsaturated oils with anti-inflammatory properties are made from avocado, chia seeds, flaxseed, hemp seed, and tea seed. Keep in mind that chia and hemp oils must be kept refrigerated.

Very Berry Chia Jam

Berries such as cherries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries have an antioxidant called anthocyanin, which has anti-inflammatory effects. Try the Very Berry Chia Jam on your pancakes, toast or oatmeal.

Crispy Quinoa Breakfast Bowl

Yogurt and cheese are rich in calcium, vitamin D, phosphorus and protein, which are essential nutrients for bone and muscle strength.

Try this delicious way of incorporating yogurt into your life: Crispy Quinoa Breakfast Bowl

Plant-Based Pasta Salad

Legumes such as chickpeas, black beans, white beans, red kidney beans have a low glycemic intake, meaning that their carbohydrates break down slowly, minimizing the rapid rise of sugar in the blood. They are also known to lower C-Reactive Protein (CRP) levels, a biomarker of inflammation.

This plant-based pasta salad is made with chickpea-pasta

When it comes to nuts, almonds are high in monounsaturated fats and vitamin E, which is an excellent antioxidant. Brazil nuts and cashews are high in selenium, another potent antioxidant. Cashews contain less fat than other nuts, and their content of anacardic acid may help improve insulin sensitivity and lower inflammation. Walnuts are an excellent source of plant-based omega 3-fatty acids and a natural source of melatonin, which is vital in regulating sleep.

Whole grains such as wheat, corn, rice, oats, barley, quinoa, sorghum, spelt, and rye provide anti-inflammatory phytochemicals and antioxidants often not found in fruits and vegetables. They also contain B vitamins, vitamin E, and magnesium, and fibre. If you follow a gluten-free diet, most whole grains are gluten-free, such as wild rice, amaranth, millet, quinoa, teft, millet, buckwheat, certified gluten-free oats. Here is a guide to cooking with whole grains from the whole-grains council.

Green tea is high in polyphenols, particularly Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG), an antioxidant with the potential to reduce inflammation by blocking the production of molecules that causes joint damage in people with RA. Remember, when preparing green tea, boil the water and let it rest for a minute or so, then steep your loose tea or tea bag for only one minute to preserve the polyphenol content and reduce the bitter taste.

A rainbow of seasonal fruits and vegetables will provide a wide range of polyphenols and antioxidants. For instance, in Ontario during May and June, there is more access to locally grown fruits and produce, such as asparagus, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, radish, mushrooms, peppers, radishes, spinach, sprouts, summer squash, sweet potatoes. Check out recipes from Foodland Ontario for cooking ideas with seasonal foods.

Mayan Inspired Spice Hot Chocolate

Herbs and spices with anti-inflammatory properties include ginger, curcumin, black pepper, garlic, cinnamon, cayenne, parsley, mint, oregano, basil, rosemary and thyme for their higher content of phytochemicals.

This Anti-inflammatory Mayan Spice Hot Chocolate is a fantastic way to combine anti-inflammatory ingredients.

Other nutrients of interest are cocoa powder, nanopowder red ginseng, and probiotics.

There is a saying in Colombia, “en la variedad, está el placer” there is pleasure in variety. RA patients typically have a low gut microbiota diversity, which can trigger inflammation. Growing evidence shows how the Mediterranean Diet components are favourable to maintain a healthy gut balance.

To learn more about Talk Over RA and how to engage in meaningful conversations with your health care provider, download the Talk Over RA discussion guide and check out their website.


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