Foods to avoid when you have rheumatoid arthritis (or any inflammation!)

What you eat has an effect on inflammation. In clinic we are often asked by our patients to provide diet suggestions. In Chinese medicine, the general rule of thumb is to avoid cold, raw, fried, greasy, spicy and sugary food, but if we want to be more specific as to what foods to avoid, my personal view is that everyone is different, your arthritis may have a different trigger to your neighbours, therefore it is always good to keep a food diary. By doing so over time, you will find a connection between what you eat and how you feel. You will be able to plan your diet in advance to avoid any inflammation triggers. For pain management, Professor Marian T. Hannan from Harvard Medical School has suggested patients to opt for an anti-inflammatory and weight-loss friendly diet. Here are the 7 common inflammation triggers that may aggravate your pain and should be avoided (if possible) in your diet.

1. Red Meat

High-fat meat contains a lot of saturated fatty acids, these acids can induce inflammation and "promote endotoxin translocation into the bloodstream, stimulating immune cells and leading to a transient postprandial inflammatory response”(Reference 1). Omega-6 from red meat is also pro-inflammatory. So if you are a meat lover please try to reduce intake or have lean meat only.

2. Sugar and Refined Starch

Dessert, soft drinks, white bread, pasta, pizza and rice are high in glycaemic index. These carbohydrates are quickly digested, affecting the blood sugar levels and inflammatory cytokines. Inflammation can also cause insulin resistance, which is the main cause of Type 2 diabetes. If you are trying to manage your weight, try to avoid high glycaemic index foods. By shedding a few kilos, you will ease the burden on joints and reducing pain.

3.Fried Food

A research article published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism by the School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in the United States in 2009 stated that foods that have been exposed to high temperatures, such as grilling, frying or toasting tend to contain very high levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These harmful products may cause oxidative stress in the body, causing inflammation and may gradually develop into diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure, Alzheimer's and even premature aging (Reference 2).


Gluten is the general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley, which are thought to be triggers for inflammation. Gluten can be found in many types of foods, even ones that would not be expected.

5. Alcohol consumption

Moderation is good. In 2012, articles published in Rheumatic Disease Clinics of North America and the BMJ have shown that females drinking 3 glasses of wine per week can reduce by half the chance of getting RA. However, drinking too much alcohol can elevate C-reactive protein levels in the body, which prolongs the inflammation process (Reference 3).

6. Processed food Processed foods from supermarket or any microwavable packages contain a lot of sugar, saturated fat and unhealthy ingredients. These ingredients can aggravate inflammation as discussed above and increase the likelihood of gaining unwanted weight. Please read the label before you purchase these products.

7. Nightshade vegetables and Alfalfa sprouts

What are nightshade vegetables? Eggplants, peppers, tomatoes and potatoes are all members of the nightshade family. As these vegetables contain the chemical "solanine", some people can respond to this chemical and aggravate their inflammation and arthritis.

Alfalfa sprouts is a common theme in salad and sandwiches. As it contains L-Canavanine, a research article published in 2005 in Autoimmunity Reviews said that it causes joint pain in the mice and a decrease in white blood cells/platelet making one susceptible to infection, bleeding or other symptoms and signs.

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Lastly, I think it is important to know that you are not fighting this battle alone, there are a lot of resources and support groups out there, you can try and connect with people who have the same symptoms and sign, as an example, for RA patients, here is a list of Top 10 RA bloggers in 2019:

Having arthritis (or any other inflammation in your body) is not the end of the world; we just need to try our best to manage it. Like one of the bloggers said: "We finally have a real excuse to take the elevator instead of the stairs." And as one of patients said, she now has the legitimate reason to receive regular acupuncture and massage!






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