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Recent studies have found that diet has an impact on rheumatoid arthritis – and if you’re looking for a treatment as an adjunct to your prescribed medicine, the right diet may help to relieve this debilitating condition1. So, let’s get you motivated to change your eating habits!

  • Well-rounded nutrition that consists of predominantly whole foods, or a plant-based diet, is always a great idea2.
  • Organising your meals and eating healthy creates discipline and order in your life – plus it feels good!
  • Learning how to cook tasty, nutritious meals is a valuable skill.

The bad stuff

Before we discuss foods that are good for you, we might as well deliver the bad news. Yes, many of us love the aroma of chops sizzling on the braai while relaxing with a cold soda in hand, but sadly, both are best avoided3,4. And the same goes for other temptations like takeaways, milkshakes, cheese toasties, and many of your favourite snacks and sweets4. Why? Mainly because they  contain a level of saturated fats that may increase inflammation in your body and harm your health3.

Try to steer clear of the following types of foods and/or ingredients:

  • Red meat3
  • Dairy3
  • Certain oils (sunflower, peanut and soy)5
  • Salt1
  • Processed food1
  • Sugar – particularly in fizzy soft drinks1,4,5
  • Deep-fried food or fast food3
  • Refined carbohydrates (white flour used in pasta, bread and biscuits)5

The good stuff

Now that we’ve explored what to limit or exclude from your diet, consider gravitating towards the options below more frequently. They’ve been widely shown to decrease inflammation over time, and as a result, potentially minimise the pain that this causes people who are living with rheumatoid arthritis1.

1. Fatty fish

Salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines come packed with essential omega-3 fatty acids that help fight inflammation6. Omega-3s work by reducing levels of unhealthy blood fats (triglycerides), decreasing the growth of artery-clogging plaques, and raising levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol6. If your budget is tight, you can opt for canned fish, which gives you the same benefits as fresh fish6.

2. Garlic

These nutritious bulbs contain diallyl disulphide, an anti-inflammatory compound also found in onions and leeks7. Not only does garlic help fight inflammation, but it may also help prevent cartilage damage in people living with arthritis7. It’s recommended that you choose fresh rather than bottled garlic in order to derive optimum benefit7.

3. Olive oil

You may have heard people say a Mediterranean diet is good for you, and researchers confirm that a contributing factor is the high intake of virgin olive oil that’s part of this way of eating8. Virgin olive oil has been found to contain many phenolic compounds that act as anti-inflammatories, the most powerful being oleocanthal8. In fact, its anti-inflammatory properties have been compared to that of ibuprofen8.

4. Spinach and other dark green leafy veg

Spinach isn’t reserveed solely for the cartoon character with the popping biceps – like other dark green leafy greens, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale, it’s rich in calcium, vitamin C, vitamin E and iron9. Vitamin E in particular helps protect against inflammation9. All these nutritious greens are also packed with antioxidants, which may help lessen damage caused by arthritis9.

5. Nuts

Nuts are a healthy fat that you can enjoy as is, or add to cereals, salads, and other dishes9. They contain antioxidants to help fight inflammation, with walnuts in particular containing high amounts of omega-39.

Nutrition might not cure or absolutely reduce the impact of arthritis – and you still need to take your prescribed medication – but it’s worthwhile exploring the positive impact it could have in the long term1. Speak to your healthcare provider or a registered dietician for advice on a well-balanced eating plan to meet your needs.

Try these recipes from Food24

Grilled sardines with skordalia
Turmeric, lentil and spinach soup
Roasted cracked baby potatoes with garlic and rosemary


  1. Khanna, S., et al., Managing Rheumatoid Arthritis with Dietary Interventions. Front Nutr.4(52). 2017
  2. Clinton, C.M., et al. Whole-Foods, Plant-based Diet Alleviates the Symptoms of Osteoarthritis. Arthritis. 2015. 2015
  3. Arthritis Foundation. Staff overview: Fats and Oils to Avoid. Available here:
  4. Tedeschi, S.K., et al. Diet and Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms: Survey Results From a Rheumatoid Arthritis Registry. Arthritis Care Res. 69(12). 2018
  5. Cleveland Clinic. Staff overview. Foods that can cause Inflammation Available here:
  6. Arthritis Foundation Staff overview. Best Fish for Arthritis. Available at,inflammation%20and%20protecting%20the%20heart.
  7. Arthritis Foundation. Staff overview. Best spices for Arthritis.
  8. Lucas, L. et al. Molecular mechanisms of inflammation. Anti-inflammatory benefits of virgin olive oil and the phenolic compound oleocanthal. Curr Pharm Des. 17(8): 754-68. 2011.
  9. Illinois Bone & Joint Institute. Staff overview. 5 Foods that help fight Inflammation & Arthritis Pain. Available here: