If you’ve been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, you probably see several specialists and take all of the medications and supplements that you need. You may even be living in remission. But what else can you do to help support your body? Read on to learn how you can use nutrition to continue to heal and thrive with an autoimmune condition.
What we eat on a daily basis is often overlooked as a contributing factor to our health, for the good or bad. When living with a chronic condition like Lupus, RA or Hashimoto’s, the last thing you want to be doing is eat or drink things that are going to worsen your condition or symptoms!
Gut Health and Inflammation
For many years now, science has been highlighting direct links between autoimmune disease and gut health. Research also shows that autoimmune disease and inflammation are closely intertwined. Whether it is a contributing factor or one of your primary symptoms, inflammation at some level is happening alongside your autoimmune disease. When looking at nutrition to help further support your body, we naturally aim to look for foods that are going to cause the least amount of inflammation as possible and bring balance back to your gut/microbiome.
Popular Diets and Autoimmune Disease
You may have heard of popular diets promising to cure your woes or even eliminate inflammation all together. Popular trending diets include paleo, keto, low FODMAP or even going completely raw. While each of these diets can have their own benefits, you don’t have to eliminate entire food groups forever just to keep your autoimmune condition in check.
Finding A Balanced Diet For You
When using nutrition to manage an autoimmune disease, the best approach is often by fuelling your body with a well-rounded and balanced diet. This includes a variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, quality fats and lean proteins. By maintaining a balanced diet a majority of time, your body is able to reach a sense of homeostasis, or balance. This helps the body is various ways, including hormone and metabolic regulation and promotion of natural circadian rhythm. In your case, it helps the body step away from (vs. towards) your autoimmune disease and its havoc-wreaking symptoms.
Most of what these diets have in common is that they offer nutrient rich foods and eliminate or reduce processed, inflammatory foods. Because we are all different, the diet that works best for you will be unique and depend on many factors. Your beliefs, budget, likes and dislikes are all things to consider when seeking a diet change that is right for you and your health.
It’s important to note that stress also directly leads to inflammation, which is the last thing your body needs. This includes stressing over what to or what not to eat. At the end of the day, food is here to fuel and nourish your body. It doesn’t need to be as difficult as diet culture makes it seem.
Low-Inflammatory Diet For Autoimmune Disease
Here are my top five tips for following a low-inflammatory diet for autoimmune disease:
- Reduce processed and packaged foods wherever you can
- Premade sweet treats, bagged items cooked in low quality oils and fast food are all sources of inflammatory foods, but it doesn’t mean you can never enjoy them. Try following the 80/20 rule: Consume whole, natural foods 80% of the time and “other” foods 20% of the time.
- Increase daily fiber intake by eating fruits and vegetables with every meal (yes, even breakfast)
- Sure, there is sugar in fruit, but it comes with fiber, which helps decrease inflammation in the body. Aim to get 2-3 servings of each per day. Overall, women should eat 25-30g and men should eat 30-35g of fiber a day.
- Promote gut health with prebiotic and probiotic rich foods
- While taking a probiotic can be helpful, natural sources from food are best. Prebiotic options include garlic, onion, bananas, apples, dandelion greens (tea form works), chicory root, asparagus and mushrooms. Probiotic options include fermented foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and kefir.
- Pair a protein and fat source with every carbohydrate to have a balanced meal or snack
- By food pairing, insulin levels are leveled instead of spiked. This is especially true when a carbohydrate is paired with a protein. Balancing blood sugar levels helps promote overall reduced levels of inflammation.
- Keep it simple and don’t overthink it — quality food does not have to be difficult or fancy
- Some of the best meals are the ones that take a simple approach. Having a protein, vegetable, fat and carb on your plate can be sustainable and much simpler than searching for complicated recipes that check all the boxes. Good food doesn’t have to be difficult!
Carolyn E. Meyer, BSN, RN, RWP is a Bachelor’s trained RN with close to 15 years of healthcare experience. She is further certified in Holistic Nutrition and as a Restorative Wellness Practitioner. Her mission is to promote health equity through education, striving to reach those who may otherwise never know their alternative options to traditional western healthcare. Her passions are working with women and chronic disease.