How What You Eat Affects Your Psoriatic Arthritis

Choose foods high in omega-3s and antioxidants; avoid red meat and dairy
Closeup of cooked salmon plated with a garnish of chunky blueberry sauce.

If you have psoriatic arthritis, you know all too well the discomfort that can come from having inflamed joints.

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That’s why what you eat can help manage pain. So, is there a certain psoriatic arthritis diet you should follow?

While certain foods like fish high in omega-3 fatty acids can help lower inflammation, other options like processed foods or foods that contain sugar can cause flare-ups.

Rheumatologist Binita Sapkota, MD, explains how your diet can impact psoriatic arthritis, what foods to eat and avoid — and if following certain diets can be beneficial.

How diet impacts psoriatic arthritis

When it comes to psoriatic arthritis management, what you eat plays a key role.

You want to focus on eating anti-inflammatory foods, as they can help reduce a flare-up. And maintaining a healthy weight is important as well, as any extra weight puts more stress on your joints.

Obesity is a known risk factor for causing psoriatic arthritis,” says Dr. Sapkota. “Obesity can increase trauma in the joints and in areas where tendons insert into the joint. Weight management is a very important component in the management of psoriatic arthritis.”

Here are some foods to eat when you have psoriatic arthritis:

Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids

Studies have shown that eating omega-3 fatty acids can help those with psoriatic arthritis decrease their joint tenderness and joint redness and how often they need to use over-the-counter pain relievers.

“Foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids have been found to have antioxidant properties, as well as anti-inflammatory properties,” notes Dr. Sapkota. “Consuming omega-3 fatty acids is also good for your heart health and your general health.”

Foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Fatty fish like salmon, sardines and tuna.
  • Edamame.
  • Hemp seeds.
  • Walnuts.
  • Chia seeds.

Foods high in antioxidants

You also want to consider adding fruits and vegetables, as well as other foods, that are high in antioxidants to your diet. Antioxidants are known to help decrease the amount of oxidative stress that comes from chronic inflammation.

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Foods that are high in antioxidants include:

  • Berries like blueberries and blackberries.
  • Dark leafy greens like spinach and collard greens.
  • Nuts.
  • Dark chocolate.
  • Tea.
  • Coffee.

Whole grains high in fiber

Additionally, eating whole grains that are high in fiber can be helpful in managing your psoriatic arthritis. Research shows that for people with psoriatic arthritis, there’s a connection between weight, blood sugar and chronic inflammation.

Dr. Sapkota states that high-fiber whole grains are digested slowly, which helps reduce any blood sugar spikes.

Foods that are good sources of whole grains include:

  • Corn.
  • Quinoa.
  • Brown rice.
  • Whole wheat.

“People with psoriatic arthritis have different types of gut bacteria compared to the general population,” explains Dr. Sapkota. “A high-fiber diet can promote healthy gut flora. And a high-fiber diet helps maintain a healthy weight, which is helpful for those with psoriatic arthritis.”

Foods to avoid to prevent psoriatic arthritis flare-ups

Are there certain foods that cause psoriatic arthritis flare-ups? Yes. Dr. Sapkota suggests avoiding the following foods:

  • Red meats. The saturated fats in red meat can make inflammation worse. Dr. Sapkota suggests eating chicken, fish or beans and legumes instead.
  • Dairy products. Like red meat, the saturated fats found in dairy can cause inflammation. Swap out dairy products for plant-based products like soy milk, almond milk or coconut milk.
  • Sugar. Sugar releases small proteins called cytokines that cause inflammation.
  • Processed foods. Items like cereal, cheese and frozen meals tend to contain trans fat, which can trigger inflammation.

“These types of foods are known to increase inflammation and they can also cause an increase in your weight, which is not good for psoriatic arthritis,” Dr. Sapkota adds.

Popular diets and how they affect psoriatic arthritis

It can be overwhelming to think about changing your eating habits.

Is there one recommended diet for psoriatic arthritis management? While certain diets can provide guidance on what foods to eat or avoid, Dr. Sapkota says it’s hard to find a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to treating psoriatic arthritis.

“There’s no single diet that fits everyone with psoriatic arthritis,” she says. “I would recommend trying one type of diet and avoiding certain foods to find which one works best for you.”

For example, some people might be sensitive to gluten, so following a gluten-free diet may help with their symptoms. Other may have an intolerance to dairy and need to avoid products that contain dairy.

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“It’s all an individual approach and you have to figure out which one helps you the best and follow that,” she emphasizes.

Overall, Dr. Sapkota doesn’t recommend the keto diet, which involves eating red meat. “Red meat is considered highly inflammatory.”

But in general, she’s a fan of the Mediterranean diet, which includes plenty of nuts, fruits and vegetables.

The importance of diet and exercise for psoriatic arthritis patients

When it comes to managing your psoriatic arthritis through what you eat, Dr. Sapkota says her best advice is to avoid foods like red meat, sugar and processed foods that can cause inflammation and lead to a flare-up.

“Avoiding those foods tends to help everyone with psoriatic arthritis,” she says. “After that, you can try to identify certain triggers and eliminate those types of food from your diet.”

And don’t get too hung up on sticking to certain diets — whether it’s a vegetarian diet or the paleo diet. It’s best to keep it simple and focus on what you’re eating rather than the plan you’re following.

“Just try to include healthy food in your diet and avoid foods that you find that your symptoms are triggered by,” Dr. Sapkota encourages.

And when it comes to eating better, exercise like walking or swimming also plays a role in managing your psoriatic arthritis symptoms.

“Both diet and exercise are linked with obesity and weight,” she adds. “Not only does exercise help with strengthening your muscles, but it also decreases the stress in your joints and helps you reach a healthy weight.”

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