In rheumatoid arthritis, your diet can make a difference in your inflammation levels. You’ve probably heard talk of omega-3 fatty acids—you know, the fatty acids found in fatty fish like salmon. However, omega-6 fatty acids are also important to take into consideration when you have rheumatoid arthritis.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids vs. Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are both essential fatty acids, but here’s the catch: our bodies don’t make them. We have to get these essentials—which are polyunsaturated fatty acids—through what we eat.
Omega-3 fatty acids can actually help reduce inflammation, so of course, that’s crucial in rheumatoid arthritis. Omega-6 fatty acids, on the other hand, can promoteinflammation. Since you need both kinds of fatty acids, the key is to take in more omega-3 than omega-6.
And there’s the catch: the typical Western diet has a lot more omega-6 than omega-3. A study in 2008 put the ratio somewhere between 15:1 and 16.7:1.1
This somewhat off-kilter ratio can cause COX-2 enzymes—proteins that cause inflammation—to become more active. Eating more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids can cause more joint inflammation if you have rheumatoid arthritis.
Sources of Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Should you adjust your diet if you have rheumatoid arthritis? You certainly should be paying attention to what you eat and striving for a healthy, balanced approach to eating (actually, everyone, regardless of whether they have RA, should strive for that).
Omega-6 fatty acids are in (but this list isn’t all-inclusive):
You may be looking at that list thinking, ‘But wait! Isn’t poultry a good thing to eat? And whole grains? I know I’m supposed to have those…’
Yes, you will have omega-6 in your diet; you have to have it in your diet because, as mentioned before, it’s one of the essential fatty acids. The point is to have less omega-6 than omega-3.
How to Limit Omega-6
The first few items on the list above are types of vegetable oils. These oils are often used in snack foods and fried foods. If you have rheumatoid arthritis and you want to adjust your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, watching your snack choices is a good place to start.
When you snack, reach for fresh vegetables or fruit. Nuts—almonds, especially—are also a good choice. Walnuts, if you’d like to snack on those, are an excellent source of omega-3.
When using oils, try cooking with olive oil or canola oil instead of the corn oils.
Also, check out these valuable resources for nutrition information: