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Do vegetarian or vegan diets help?

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Some studies have shown that people who eat a lot of red meat have a higher risk of developing inflammatory types of arthritis. And vegetarian diets have been shown to be helpful in the long term for some people with rheumatoid arthritis. A vegan diet, which doesn’t include any meat, fish or other animal products, may also be helpful – possibly because of the types of polyunsaturated fatty acids included in the diet.

If you eat a vegan diet it's important to make sure you get all the nutrients you need, particularly calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D and selenium.

Calcium is present in leafy green vegetables (e.g. cabbage, kale, broccoli), watercress, beans and chickpeas, and some nuts, seeds and dried fruits. Calcium is often added to white bread and to some soya milks, oat and rice milks – check the label.

Vitamin B12 is also commonly added to soya milk, and yeast extract is another good source. Many vegan foods are fortified with B12.

Selenium can be found in Brazil nuts and is often included in multi-vitamin supplements.

Vitamin D isn't naturally present in many foods, especially if your diet is vegan. However the body naturally produces it when the skin is exposed to the sun. If you're dark-skinned or prefer to keep your skin covered, then look for vegetable milks or margarines which have vitamin D added. Shiitake mushrooms also provide some vitamin D, or you may need to consider taking a supplement – vegan supplements are available. Aim for 10–25 micrograms (μg) depending on whether you go out in the sun often or not.

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