What Are the Best and Worst Foods for Psoriatic Arthritis?

Knowing what foods to eat—and which ones to avoid—can complement medical treatment of psoriatic arthritis.

If you have psoriatic arthritis (PsA), there are many reasons to eat healthful foods. The autoimmune disease, which strikes about 30% of people who have the skin ailment psoriasis, can cause pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints. It's possible to have psoriatic arthritis without psoriasis, though some people develop it after PsA is diagnosed, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

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Because extra pounds put added pressure on joints—potentially worsening psoriatic arthritis symptoms and leading to deterioration of the joints over time—patients should make it a goal to maintain a healthy weight, said Marie Jhin, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Also, psoriasis may increase the likelihood of developing other health problems, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes, according to the American College of Rheumatology. This makes it especially important for psoriatic arthritis patients who also have psoriasis to eat foods that protect their heart and help them maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

At the same time, they should avoid foods that promote inflammation, contain empty calories that can lead to weight gain, and are high in cholesterol. Read on to learn which foods people with psoriatic arthritis should avoid—plus more healthful choices to eat instead.

Avoid Candy and Sugary Treats

Sugary treats have little (if any) nutritional benefits and have been linked to weight gain, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure as well as greater risk of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. What's more, consuming refined starches and sugar may boost the release of proinflammatory molecules known as cytokines, according to a September 2021 Ageing Research Reviews article. In other words, limiting your sugar intake is a smart strategy for everyone, but it's especially important if you have psoriatic arthritis.

The good news: You can still satisfy your sweet tooth with fresh fruit, such as frozen grapes or bananas sprinkled with cocoa powder. "Natural fruits are fine, but the artificial stuff I would avoid," said Dr. Jhin.

Cut Back on Sodas

Like candy, soda delivers tons of calories and is packed with sugar, nearly 3 tablespoons in a 12-ounce can. And diet sodas aren't much better, since they contain artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose, which have been linked to increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, depression, and tooth erosion. Plus, diet sodas have no nutritional value and can still lead to weight gain—even if they're marketed as containing zero calories.

To wean yourself off of soft drinks, said Dr. Jhin, start watering them down, which will cut down on the sugar and calories. If you find yourself still craving caffeine, try making the switch to unsweetened iced tea.

Stay Away From Processed Foods

Canned frosting, store-bought baked treats, flavored coffee creamers, and other manufactured products are often full of sugar, salt, and preservatives. In fact, a January 2016 study published in BMJ Open found that 60% of calories in the average American's diet can be traced to "ultra-processed" foods that contain additives such as hydrogenated oils and emulsifiers. These foods include chips, snack cakes, and frozen pizza.

Processed foods won't do your skin, joints, or heart any favors, said Marcy O'Koon Moss, senior director of consumer health at the Arthritis Foundation. "If you minimize processed foods, that covers a lot of bases," said Moss.

Instead, make it a goal to stick with fresh, whole foods. If you must grab something processed, check the ingredient list before you buy. If the list includes ingredients you recognize and if you could replicate the recipe in your own kitchen, it's probably okay to eat.

Go Easy on the Bacon

While it may be hard to keep track of good and bad fats, fatty meats, especially processed meats like bacon, are clearly ones to avoid. They contain saturated fat, which can increase levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol and raise your risk of heart disease.

Then there's also the link between bacon and cancer. A June 2020 article published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians noted that increased consumption of red and processed meats can be considered a risk factor for cancer.

Plus, depending on how fatty meats are prepared, they can also contain advanced glycation end products (AGEs), harmful compounds formed when fats and protein combine with sugar in the blood, according to a 2018 study published in Nutrition & Metabolism. AGEs have been linked to inflammation and degenerative diseases including diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and cardiovascular disease.

Moss suggested people with psoriatic arthritis—or any type of joint disease—limit their intake of fatty meat in order to maintain a healthy weight and keep inflammation under control. But "limit" doesn't necessarily have to mean "eliminate" completely. "I like to say 'minimize' so that people aren't too strict on themselves," said Moss. In other words, rather than removing bacon from your diet forever, it may be more realistic to tell yourself you can indulge occasionally as a treat.

Limit Dairy Products If Necessary

Some people with psoriatic arthritis may experience worsened symptoms after consuming dairy products, said Dr. Jhin. "There's always been talk about milk being a source of inflammation. I would tell people with any type of inflammatory disease to limit dairy. With any inflammation, dairy can be a source of aggravated inflammation."

But Dr. Jhin noted that dairy is good for you in other ways (for example, nonfat milk contains important nutrients, and yogurt is packed with probiotics, which help with digestion). So, it's fine to keep eating dairy if you can tolerate it without experiencing worsened symptoms.

Eat Fatty Fish

If you have psoriatic arthritis, fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout, and eel should definitely be on the menu. The omega-3 fatty acids contained in these foods can have anti-inflammatory effects, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Packed with protein and vitamin D, fatty fish may be beneficial for your brain and help reduce risks associated with diabetes.

Substitute Nuts for Red or Processed Meats

All nuts contain monounsaturated fats that can have anti-inflammatory properties. Walnuts are particularly beneficial, as they are a good source of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid that may help reduce inflammation in the arteries after a heavy, fatty meal.

In a January 2021 study published in Antioxidants, diets containing nuts were associated with less severe levels of psoriasis. Additionally, replacing red meat with nuts may help reduce harmful inflammation throughout the body, according to a July 2016 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Bring on the Berries

Fresh fruits and vegetables should be part of everyone's diet. If you have psoriatic arthritis, fruits may be particularly therapeutic.

"You want more foods that have been shown to be high in antioxidants," said Dr. Jhin. Colorful berries—strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, acai berries, cranberries, and others—have achieved superfood status, in part because they're a great source of antioxidants, which can "rid the body of free radicals that promote inflammation" according to the Arthritis Foundation.

Ultimately, coupled with treatment options suggested by your healthcare provider, simple diet changes can help you deal with psoriatic arthritis.

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