I was diagnosed with lupus when I was 11 years old and have been coping with it for the past 29 years. As a teen, I believed that my health depended solely on my prescribed medications. I didn’t realize the foods I put in my body could also have a significant effect.
It also didn’t dawn on me that my daily consumption of junk food was terrible — and I had no idea there was such a thing as a “lupus diet.”
I first learned about this diet in college. I had been feeling terrible, so my best friend suggested I eat less pizza, tacos and Chinese food, and instead consume more fruits, veggies and lean meats. I took her advice and adopted a lupus diet. With practice, I learned which foods triggered a “lupus flare,” and which ones made me feel 100 times better.
Lupus and Lupus Diets
Lupus is an autoimmune condition that affects the skin, tissues, joints and organs. When you have lupus, your immune system can’t tell the difference between harmful bacteria and your body’s own healthy cells, so it attacks the healthy cells. Lupus symptoms may include swollen joints, chest pain, fever, chronic pain, “butterfly” rashes and weak bones.
A lupus diet, when used with medications, can improve your symptoms and quality of life. As a rule, you should aim for a well-balanced diet, complete with lots of fruits, veggies, low-fat dairy and protein.
Here are just a few of the foods you can include in your diet.
Fatty Fish, Nuts and Seeds
Lupus is an inflammatory disease, so it’s important to consume foods that have anti-inflammatory properties — foods like fatty fish, nuts and seeds. While red meat is generally avoided, fatty fish like salmon, tuna, cod, snapper, halibut, sardines, trout, mackerel and herring are rich in protein and Omega-3 fatty acids.
Protein aids in the healing process, while Omega-3 decreases inflammation in the body. If none of the options listed above seem particularly appetizing, you can always munch on walnuts, almonds, pecans, sunflower seeds and hazelnuts.
People with lupus tend to suffer from recurring infections, so it’s important to add lots of fresh fruits like blueberries, strawberries, cranberries, cherries, oranges and pineapples into your lupus diet. Fruits that are rich in antioxidants can strengthen your immune system and help your body fight off the harmful bacteria intent on destroying your healthy cells.
Low-Fat or Fat-Free Dairy
The most common lupus treatment is steroids, and while this medication eases many lupus symptoms, it can also weaken your bones and increase your risk of fractures. The best way to combat this side effect is to add low-fat or fat-free dairy to your diet. Calcium and vitamin D work together to strengthen your bones, so rather than consuming whole milk, try skim or 1% milk.
Instead of eating full-fat yogurt and cheese, try the low-fat options. If you’re sensitive to dairy, try calcium-rich alternatives like almond milk, soy milk, beans, tofu, calcium-fortified orange juice and dark leafy greens like kale, spinach and broccoli.
Foods to Avoid
Some foods are known for causing “lupus flares,” (i.e. fatigue, muscle pain, joint stiffness, chest pain, inflammation, abnormal test results, etc.) and should be removed from your lupus diet. These foods include alfalfa sprouts, garlic, saturated and trans fats, nightshade veggies like potatoes and tomatoes, artificial sweeteners and large quantities of sugar and salt.
Adopting a diet that is rich in anti-inflammatory foods has made a world of difference in my life — and it could do the same for you.
Consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.