Top 13 Foods To Avoid With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Top 13 Foods To Avoid With Rheumatoid Arthritis

RA is a terrible condition, and I’m not only talking about the pain. You have to follow a harsh treatment and a lot of restrictions. In my opinion, food is the most difficult. You have to stay away from lots of stuff when you have RA, simply because they could worsen your condition.

So which are the top 13 foods to avoid with rheumatoid arthritis? A lot of doctors don’t say anything about the diet, but I noticed that certain foods can make your condition better and some can make it worse.

There isn’t always a rule, but I have a pretty good knowledge about these foods at this point. I won’t enter into any details with the useful foods, because they’re basically the ones for osteoarthritis. But there are some foods that can worsen RA and there’s a good explanation behind.


1. French Fries

To be honest, I don’t know anyone who hates french fries. But despite being so delicious, this food can be a real danger for any form of arthritis. In fact, it’s not only them but any kind of deeply fried food.

Why They’re Bad: Foods cooked in very high temperatures produce some substances called “glycotoxins”. Once these glycotoxins get into our bodies, they release free radicals, which lead to inflammation. Also, fried foods usually contain lots of saturated fats, which can worsen inflammation. 

So french fries (and not only) can increase inflammation by several mechanisms. That’s why they’re one of the most dangerous foods for arthritis. 

The Alternatives: If you really can’t give up french fries, you could try to cook organic potatoes at home. They aren’t as dangerous because they are free of chemicals and preservatives. Try to cook them in lower temperatures, as much as you can. Obviously, they’re not very healthy either, as long as you’re eating them fried.

So the best thing you can do is to stay away from them completely, even from those cooked at home (if possible).



2. Pasteurized Milk

Top 13 Foods To Avoid With Rheumatoid ArthritisEven though you can find in anywhere for really low prices, pasteurized milk isn’t the best choice for arthritis. In fact, diary products in general aren’t very well-regarded, at this point. But it’s only pasteurized products that can cause any harm.

Why It’s Bad: Because it’s processed. Ironically, organic milk can actually decrease inflammation or at least help it a bit. However, pasteurized diary lacks a lot of substances that you can find in raw milk. For this reason, studies say that processed milk can actually worsen inflammation and arthritis problems.

The Alternatives: Organic milk is the best choice. Not only that it’s healthy and contains a lot more beneficial compounds, but it can also decrease inflammation. That’s the irony. 

So if you are a fan of milk and diary products (as I am), you don’t have to give them up completely. Try to find a source of organic milk, even though it could cost you a bit more. You can continue to consume processed milk, but not in high quantities.

I noticed that if you only drink a glass per day, nothing major happens in terms of pain. That was my case, but I think it’s available for everyone.



3. Potato Chips

Just like french fries, potato chips don’t seem like a great food for arthritis. But I’m not talking about cutting round pieces of potatoes and cooking them at home. Potato chips are actually the snacks you buy from shops, which are so famous for being unhealthy. 

Why They’re Bad: Just like pasteurized milk, chips are also heavily processed so they are full of chemicals and preservatives. If you’re healthy, these substances won’t hurt you on the short term. But if you have a chronic inflammation like RA, your pain could get worse immediately. 

That’s why potato chips are a big NO for me and I try to avoid them completely. That’s exactly what I recommend you to do, if it’s possible. But if not, there are some options.

The Alternatives: Just like you can make french fries at home, you can also cook round pieces of potatoes and make them look like chips. Obviously, they will never taste as good as Lays, but they’re still better than nothing. You can choose a healthier oil, like Olive or Coconut one

Don’t imagine that your home-made chips will be extremely healthy, but compared to processed ones, they will be a lot better.



4. Cheese

Top 13 Foods To Avoid With Rheumatoid ArthritisIn the US, cheese is everywhere – no matter what you eat, it must have cheese on it. Otherwise it’s not as tasty. But believe it or not, cheese is also a dangerous food, especially for people with joint problems. After all, it’s a diary product.

Why It’s Bad: Processed cheese can increase inflammation or even make it worse. Unfortunately, most of the cheese we eat is fully processed. What restaurant could afford using organic cheese since it’s so expensive?

There weren’t a lot of studies conducted on cheese and its link with inflammation. However, many people claim that eating cheese on every food increases their pain after a while. And to be honest, it really makes sense. Cheese can increase inflammation, just like most processed diary. 

The Alternatives: Fortunately, it’s not that bad. There are a lot of types of cheese, and some of them have the opposite effect. Swiss cheese is actually a pretty good anti-inflammatory, so it can decrease your swelling. The problem is that it tends to cost a lot more than regular cheese and it probably won’t do any miracles alone.

Also, organic cheese is also beneficial and it’s a lot easier to find. So my advice for you is to give up processed cheese and to stop adding it on top of every food you eat. That could make a difference on the long term.



5. Red Meat

In my opinion, meat has a lot of benefits that you can’t find in other foods. However, certain types of meat seem to be better than others. But red meat seems to be the worst, especially when it comes to arthritis. 

Why It’s Bad: Fried or grilled meat contains high quantities of AGE, some substances that are broken apart into cytokines once they get into our body. These cytokines are actually inflammatory molecules, so they can either produce or worsen inflammation.

Now, the problem is that red meat contains higher quantities of AGE than other types of meat. Also, it needs to be deeply fried if you want that delicious taste. Studies didn’t prove there’s a direct link between red meat and arthritis, but there’s one between red meat and inflammation.

So that’s the reason why giving up red meat can help a lot.

The Alternatives: No matter how you cook it, red meat tends to be more dangerous than others. So I wouldn’t really recommend it in any form, only occasionally. I personally never like red meat, so I didn’t have to give it up suddenly. But I eat a lot of fish, so this is my #1 alternative.

Fish is also very healthy, because it contains a lot of useful substances. It’s not a cure for RA, but it will surely not worsen it.



6. Pasta

I know a lot of people criticize pasta for having a high number of calories, and that’s completely true. However, it doesn’t have much to do with arthritis. Pasta is a bad choice for people trying to lose weight, not for the ones with joint pain. But why is it on this list then?

Top 13 Foods To Avoid With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Why It’s Bad: Because it’s made of white grains. Once they get into the body, white grains are quickly transformed into sugar, which is a real danger for inflammation. Compared to whole grains, white grains are converted into sugar much faster, so there’s also a higher risk of swelling. 

That’s why foods made from white grains aren’t recommended in arthritis. Unfortunately, most pasta is made of white grains. But I started to notice a lot more brands producing whole grain pasta, so things seem to get better in the future.

The Alternatives: As I said, whole grain products are much better. Our body doesn’t transform them into sugar so quickly, so the intake would be much lower. You can find whole grains bread, crackers and everything, but it’s a bit harder for pasta.

However, there are more and more brands producing whole grains formulas. They do cost a bit more (about $5), but that’s not a fortune. So in my opinion, it’s totally worth it.



7. Eggplants

You may be surprised to see eggplants on this list, because fruits and vegetables are usually the #1 diet in arthritis. Well, it seems that eggplants aren’t the top choice for arthritis.

And it’s not just them, but all “nightshade” vegetables. This category includes tomatoes, bell peppers and even potatoes.

Why They’re Bad: Eggplants and the other nightshades contain a substance called solanine. It may seem hard to believe, but some people say this substance if responsible for the pain from arthritis.

Studies didn’t show any connection, but a lot of people claim to feel better when they give up nightshade vegetables. So if you consume eggplants and some of these vegetables often, you could try to give them up for a while and see if there’s any change.

The Alternative: Giving up eggplants may not be that hard, but what about tomatoes or potatoes? I know there are lots of other vegetables, but these 2 are very special. I personally can’t replace them with anything, so I don’t think there’s a certain alternative.

But if you notice they increase your pain, they’re probably worth giving up, at least for a while. In my case, there wasn’t any change so I got back to nightshade vegetables and I felt just as before. But your case could be different.



8. Prepackaged Meals

Top 13 Foods To Avoid With Rheumatoid ArthritisI’m pretty sure that everyone knows how dangerous prepackaged meals are. Yes, I know they are very practical and comfortable, but when it comes to health, they’re terrible. I personally try to avoid them completely, because in my opinion, they are the worst food for arthritis ever.

Why They’re Bad: Does this need any other explanation? As they are meant to last in perfect condition for several months, prepackages meals are full of preservatives and other chemicals that aren’t even worth mentioning.

Once they get into our body, these chemicals tend to trigger inflammatory molecules. After all, our body knows what’s good and what’s not (even in RA). As inflammation increases, so does the pain and the stiffness.

I noticed the effects of processed meals on myself, as my pain gets visibly worse whenever I eat this kind of ready-made meal. That’s why I completely avoid them.

The Alternatives: Cooking the meal yourself or eating home-made foods in town. Obviously, avoid fast-food restaurants and every place that serves processed food. I would prefer to cook the meal myself, but you don’t always have time or strength (people with RA know what I’m talking about).

So if you’re in a painful day or you’re simply too busy, look for a restaurant with cooked food or go for a salad.



9. Rice Recipes

Even though it’s a natural food, rice isn’t something I would recommend to someone with arthritis. At least not the regular, white rice. It’s not a very dangerous foods, that’s something clear. However, it doesn’t have any real benefits for joint pain, on the contrary.

Why They’re Bad: Rice and all the other “white” foods contain lots of refined carbohydrates. Just like red meat, these compounds also increase the number of AGE and consequently, of cytokines. As I said before, cytokines are inflammatory molecules, so they are directly responsible for swelling. 

Now, don’t imagine that eating rice twice a weak will increase your joint pain. Or if you’re already eating lots of rice, don’t imagine that giving it up will cure your pain. That won’t happen, believe me. But you can give it up for a few weeks and see what happens. You pain may decrease a bit, but it all depends on your body.

The Alternative: Brown rice is a lot healthier from this point of view. It doesn’t lead to more AGE so it doesn’t increase inflammation. Even though it’s not as popular as white rice, a lot of people started using it lately.

So you could find a lot of recipes with brown rice, you only have to be willing to experiment. 



10. Pastries

Top 13 Foods To Avoid With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Sugar is no good for arthritis, that’s for sure. Even though they don’t contain as much sugar as candies or cakes, pastries are still something I would avoid. They’re extremely tasty, that’s for sure. But besides the high level of sugar, they also have other downsides.

Why They’re Bad: Most pastries are made from white flour, which is known for increasing inflammation. That’s why I rarely eat white bread, processed cakes and everything. Besides the chemicals they contain, they are also made from white flour, which isn’t the best choice for someone with RA.

Also, pastries aren’t normally very sweet, because of the dough they’re made of. That’s why you need to add a lot of sugar on them, in order to make them tasty and sweet. Do I have to mention the downsides of sugar for arthritis? I don’t think. 

The Alternative: If you enjoy cooking, you can make your own pastries following any recipe you want. The only replacements you should do are white flour-whole grains flour and sugar-honey or maple syrup. In this way, you would get some delicious pastries a lot healthier.

In case you don’t have time or you can’t make them yourself, visit a confectioner’s and make your special order. 



11. Crackers

They may seem harmless, but crackers have the same problems as pastries and bread. I’m talking about brand crackers, because you can make crackers at home whenever you want and after any recipes. 

Why They’re Bad: Just like pastries, crackers are usually made from white flour. I’ve already explained why it’s such a dangerous substances, so I won’t do it again. It basically increases inflammation so it can worsen your joint pain, on the long term.

Nothing will happen overnight, obviously, so eating a pack of crackers today won’t bring your pain to a higher level out of the sudden. 

The Alternatives: Either home-made crackers or the ones made from whole-grain flour. If you choose the last version, it’s important to look at the ingredients before you buy the crackers. If they say “whole-grain flour”, it’s all good. Otherwise choose another brand, even though it might cost $2 more. 



12. Diet Soda

Top 13 Foods To Avoid With Rheumatoid ArthritisIt may seem like a great alternative to regular soda, which is really unhealthy. But diet soda is almost as bad. The only difference is that it doesn’t have such a high quantity of sugar, which is indeed an advantage. But other than that, I would advise you to forget about any type of soda, diet one included.

Why It’s Bad: Most brands use aspartame to replace regular sugar, so that’s what diet soda contains to make it sweet. Now, studies didn’t prove that this substance could cause any harm. But if you have RA, your immune system responds very differently.

For this reason, your body could see aspartame as a threaten and start attacking it. In this case, you would get a major inflammation. That’s why I don’t really recommend any kind of soda, not even diet one. Besides, there are lots of preservatives and chemicals inside, but I won’t mention this point again, as it’s pretty obvious.

The Alternatives: I really advise you to give up any kind of soda. If you really need something sweet, try fruit juices instead but make sure you’re preparing them yourself. You can also get them from an organic shop, only try to avoid conserved ones. They’re almost as bad as soda.



13. Cigarettes

I know they’re not a real food, but cigarettes are one of the biggest enemies of arthritis and joint pain. So I couldn’t forget about it, even on this list.

Why It’s Bad: Together with alcohol, cigarettes are a pretty dangerous “hobby”, when it comes to any chapter of health. But it also has a big impact on inflammation. People who smoke constantly have higher levels of inflammatory molecules, according to studies. So they basically have a chronic inflammation. 

If you have a condition like RA and you’re also a smoker, the future doesn’t look too good for you. In fact, smoking is a risk factor for many forms of arthritis, so giving it up should be a must if you have someone in your family with this condition.

The Alternatives: Tobacco is harmful in any way it comes, so I couldn’t give you any alternative. It may be hard, but giving up smoking completely is the best thing you can do for your pain. In this case, I’m pretty sure you would feel a difference pretty shortly.



My Verdict – So What Foods Should You Avoid?

Short answer: Basically 3 categories – sugar, white flour and fries. If you try to avoid these kind of foods, you’re pretty much doing all you can to keep your RA under control. At least when it comes to diet. 

Another thing you should do is to stay away from alcohol, cigarettes and soda. Giving up the first 2 could decrease your joint pain visibly. Soda is also a source of sugar, so it belongs to the categories I mentioned above.

Other than that, my advice is to consume lots of fruits, vegetables and fish. These foods could bring you some real benefits on the long term, plus that they’re really tasty. You can also try some alternative remedies that worked amazingly for me.

It’s true that foods can’t make miracles, but they can help, especially if you follow a healthy diet for a longer while. However, the wrong foods can worsen your condition, so make sure you eat wisely and correctly. 

Heather Pharm.D.

Heather Tracy Foley is a Pharmacy graduate, Blogger and Author with a vast experience in health sciences. She has a particular interest in joint pain and rheumatology and spent several years studying health problems. You can find her on Pinterest or via email.

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4 Responses

  1. Heather Pharm.D. says:

    Hi there, I’m so happy you learned some useful tips. Thanks for your kind words, I really appreciate it!

  2. RMB says:

    Hi Heather! I really enjoyed reading all of your “Top 13 Foods To Avoid With Rheumatoid Arthritis”, this is a great list to live by. I learned a lot, there are so many things on your list I never knew about and will help in my everyday life with making food choices. Thanks again!

  3. Maria says:

    You should really add your sources/references and the bottom to back your claims and give you credibility.

  4. Heather Pharm.D. says:

    Hey Maria, I actually have references to most of my articles ans reviews, feel free to check them out.

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