Mayo Clinic Minute What’s rheumatoid arthritis?
Clean Eating for Rheumatoid Arthritis: What to Know
A diet that limits processed foods may help reduce inflammation and even encourage weight loss. Learn more.
By Beth Levine
Medically Reviewed by Alexa Meara, MD
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There’s been a lot of buzz lately about “clean eating,” but definitions have been widely divergent and confusing. To set the record straight, clean eating is simply a style of eating — not a strict diet — that aims for optimal health by limiting processed foods. “What we should be looking for is food that is as close to what it looked like when in the ground, on a tree, or swimming in water, and food that has a label with recognizable ingredients and limited additives and preservatives,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, author ofRead It Before You Eat It.
The Importance of a Food’s Origin, Source, and Freshness
James Loomis, MD, medical director of the nonprofit Barnard Medical Center in Washington, DC, and a representative of The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, explains that the food is clean in the sense of what is the ideal diet for human health. “Think about what foods are optimal and then, where do those foods come from. Are they grown cleanly?”
Why People With Rheumatoid Arthritis Should Pay Attention to Clean Eating
The top reasons that a clean diet may help those living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) stem from the way foods in your regular diet may affect your body and disease activity.
Omega-6 foods can increase inflammation.The standard American diet is considered highly inflammatory. Most of the inflammation comes from the skewed ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. The omega-3s, which we don’t eat enough, create compounds that are anti-inflammatory; omega-6s, which we eat too much, create compounds that are considered inflammatory.
“We need some inflammation to fight infection and fight wounds, but we need a balance. When we get rid of meat and dairy and start to consume fresh fruit, fiber, and whole grains, we bring that ratio back down, and that can help with all autoimmune diseases,” says Dr. Loomis.
Omega-6 is contained in processed seeds and vegetable oils, especially sunflower, corn, soybean, and cottonseed oils. Omega-3 comes from fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and tuna, as well as walnuts, flaxseed, and egg yolks.
Pesticide exposure has been linked to an increased risk of developing autoimmune diseases. A study published in the journalArthritis Care and Researchshowed that frequent exposure might increase your risk for developing rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
Weight loss can result from eating cleanly. The added bonus to clean eating is that it promotes weight loss, which helps improve joint pain, and can decrease the risks for developing comorbids of RA, such as osteoporosis and heart disease.
What a Clean-Eating Diet Looks Like
Eat local and organic fruits and vegetables.Research suggests that choosing meat from grass-fed, antibiotic-free animals helps lower the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.
Balance your plate.The recommendation is that carbs should make up about 50 percent of your diet, protein around 15 to 20 percent, and fat about 30 percent, says Taub-Dix. “When you balance the nutrients in your diet, it enables you to feel more satiated in body and mind so you can eat a cleaner diet. You are less apt to start snacking.”
Take it easy on salt, sugar, and saturated fats.“People with RA are at increased risk of cardiac disease, so you will help decrease that by . Humans are just not designed to eat processed sugar, salt, and saturated fats,” says Loomis.
Find your calcium from nondairy sources.Calcium intake is important because it helps decrease the risk of osteoporosis, often a cormorbid disease with RA. But studies have shown that You can find alternative sources of calcium in plants such as navy beans, Swiss chard, kale, and beet greens.
Flavor with spices, not sauces.Eating in a less adulterated fashion doesn’t mean the food has to be bland. Instead of covering up your dish with sauces, gravies, or melted cheese, add fresh organic spices to give it a zip and zing.
Watch what you drink.Those fancy lattes and sodas can add empty calories without actually filling you up. Stay hydrated instead with 100 percent fruit juice diluted with sparkling water or seltzer. Try unsweetened tea with cut-up fruit in it. Put fruit into a water jug. “Afterward you can munch on a fruit, which can be a good speed bump to an unnecessary snack,” says Taub-Dix.
Don’t get too strict.There has been some backlash against clean eating — that it is too restricting and focuses too much on clean versus dirty food, instead of proportions. Some experts fear that it creates panic around certain so-called toxins and under-recognized sensitivities that either do not exist or are greatly misunderstood. Also, eliminating an entire food group may lead to disordered eating. Taub-Dix cautions that people are interpreting it too strictly.
She says, "Clean eating really means you are eating food that you can identify, that you can rely on for energy, and will make you feel satiated in your head and body. There are so many fearmongers making people think certain foods are poison. People become overwhelmed so they wind up not knowing what to do. Food shouldn’t be feared, just practice balance and moderation.
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