While there isn’t a specific “Lupus Diet,” maintaining good nutrition is essential for individuals with lupus. Here are expert tips from lupus specialists on how to maintain a healthy diet.
Living with lupus, an autoimmune disease where the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells and tissues, means there’s no universal “lupus diet.” However, this doesn’t diminish the importance of a healthy diet in managing lupus. It’s crucial to consume a balanced diet that promotes heart health and includes nutrient-rich foods that reduce inflammation. It’s not overly complicated, but there are some fundamental guidelines to follow.
Jessica Goldman Foung, a 34-year-old full-time food writer, possesses unique insights into both lupus and nutrition. Diagnosed with lupus in 2004, she acknowledges that this diagnosis significantly transformed her life and dietary choices.
“First and foremost, everyone’s body is different,” Goldman Foung emphasizes. “Dietary recommendations will vary depending on the type of lupus you have and the medications you may be taking. This is why it’s essential to consult with your doctor or a registered dietitian before embarking on any dietary changes.”
What to Include in Your Lupus Diet
“There isn’t a specific diet tailored for lupus, but the Mediterranean-style diet comes close to the ideal,” says Sotiria Everett, RD, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Family, Population, and Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook School of Medicine in New York. “You should aim for a diet that’s low in fat and sugar while being rich in fruits and vegetables. Incorporate fish for protein and consume plenty of beans and legumes due to their high fiber content, as well as their richness in vitamin B and iron.”
According to Goldman Foung, “A diet abundant in vegetables provides me with energy and maintains my strength and well-being.” She typically includes dark leafy greens and colorful vegetables in her meals, prioritizes whole grains, and limits meat and processed food consumption. “I also make an effort to include fresh-pressed beet juice in my diet as often as possible,” she adds. “It’s an excellent way to incorporate those health-boosting ingredients.”
Everett emphasizes the benefits of fish as a protein source, particularly fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, tuna, and mackerel. Omega-3s play a crucial role in combating inflammation. They are also available as supplements and may reduce the risk of heart disease. This is especially significant for women with lupus, as they face at least double the risk of heart disease compared to women without lupus, as indicated in a review of studies published in August 2013 in Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism. Everett advises, “Since lupus is an independent risk factor for heart disease, maintaining a heart-healthy diet that combats inflammation and helps you maintain a healthy weight is essential.”
What to Take Out of Your Lupus Diet
For many individuals with lupus, it’s advisable to steer clear of high-fat and processed foods. If you’re dealing with conditions such as kidney disease, fluid retention, or high blood pressure, it’s also important to consult your doctor regarding the restriction of salt.
There has been some concern about “nightshade” vegetables, which encompass tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplant, potentially triggering inflammation in lupus. Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that the Lupus Foundation of America points out that the supporting evidence for this is primarily anecdotal.
How to Eat Right When You Have Lupus
You might benefit from taking these items off the menu altogether:
Processed foods: Consider processed foods as any products that come in packaging, whether it’s a box or a can. Processed foods tend to have elevated levels of fat, sugar, and salt (you can verify the nutritional information for specific quantities). Additionally, refined foods such as white bread, pasta, and white rice fall into this category. Goldman Foung emphasizes that by substituting processed items, packaged foods, and takeout meals with dishes composed of fresh ingredients, she has made her diet both more delicious and healthier.
Alfalfa sprouts and garlic: Both of these foods contain compounds that can stimulate your immune system, which is not advisable if you have lupus. “I would suggest steering clear of alfalfa sprouts and excessive garlic consumption,” says Everett. She also recommends consulting your doctor before incorporating any dietary or herbal supplements into your routine.
Too much alcohol:“A small amount of red wine can provide antioxidants beneficial for heart health, but high-sugar alcoholic beverages are empty calories that can elevate the risk of obesity and heart disease,” Everett explains. She recommends adhering to safe alcohol consumption guidelines, which entail one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.
Consider Goldman Foung’s advice: “Adjusting your diet to accommodate lupus doesn’t have to equate to limitations or added complexity in your life. Embracing the right mindset and being open to experimentation might even lead you to a more enjoyable, healthier, and more flavorful way of living than you could have envisioned,” suggests Jessica Goldman Foung.