Lupus and Proper Nutrition

Kellie McRae avatar

by Kellie McRae |

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lupus and nutrition



It is no secret that food is one our most basic needs. It provides the building blocks for strong and healthy bodies. People with lupus have the same requirements as everyone else, except we are a little more sensitive to the effects of food. Food for a lupus warrior can be a trigger — even foods thought to be healthy can create issues for someone battling this disease. For example, our bodies are on hyperdrive when it comes to our immune system, so we are often on immunosuppressants to keep our immune systems from constantly being in hyperdrive. While most people take a little garlic in their food for granted and others realize that it has some great health benefits, for a lupus patient, it’s something we need to avoid. Why? Garlic is an immune booster, and to give an immune system that is in hyperdrive a booster is tantamount to giving a 3-year-old chocolate cake just before bedtime. In my opinion, nothing good can come from that.

When I first started feeling less than myself, I started keeping a highly detailed food diary. I recommend this to everyone who is battling any form of autoimmune issue, because it certainly can’t hurt to learn what works with your body and what works against it. Please keep in mind that what I share here is my own personal experience: some people can eat things with no issues while others cannot, just like in the general population. But again, those of us battling autoimmune issues are a bit more sensitive.

I really started paying strict attention to the actual ingredients in my foods, not just what was on the front of the box —gluten free, sugar free (thinking that was healthier), and high in fiber. What I have learned by just whipping out my smartphone has been downright scary. I became a little paranoid about the aisles in the grocery stores and that paranoia has paid off.

The vast majority of the foods I eat (I do occasionally fall off the wagon, and trust me, suffer for it) are organic and real.  I have had so many people say to me that to eat this way is costly. I have shown time and again that it is not as long as you stay out of chain grocery stores and shop at local farmers’ markets. I have managed to find a farmers’ market that had an honor system for its buyers. It even had a sign that said, if you are hungry and can’t afford to buy, please still get good food. I have found a farmers’ market that is over 100 years old, and a “no pesticide” market that not only takes EBT cards (they have a $5 box that you can fill up of fresh fruits and vegetables that are going to go bad soo). These are items you can take home and freeze.

Lupus presents its own challenges when it comes down to how our bodies use food. Since food can be a trigger for pain, it's important to know what you're eating.

Lupus presents its own challenges when it comes down to how our bodies use food. Since food can be a trigger for pain, it’s important to know what you’re eating.

A little digging in your own community will, I am certain, yield some wonderful treasures.  A little research goes a long way when it comes down to these diseases. I can tell you that while getting good, real food can be helpful, not knowing how the foods affect you can still leave you in pain. Many don’t realize that just because something is natural does not automatically make it great for you, as in the example of garlic. There are natural foods that naturally cause inflammation (see nightshades) so again, some people can eat them (no tomatoes or potatoes for me, but I can eat peppers). A food diary really helped me figure this out.

I highly recommend staying on the edges of your local grocery store, and if there is anything that is in a package that you must buy, be diligent about what the actual ingredients are. I have learned that much of what we eat is genetically modified, and this is not something I am personally interested in consuming. Many of the side effects are known to create problems in lab animals and have not been extensively tested for human consumption. I am learning how to garden (in containers, because I’m a chicken when it comes to the bugs) and finding that cooking at home is not as inconvenient as I’d once convinced myself that it was. I have also discovered new flavors and a new enjoyment because of testing new recipes. Five months ago, I could not walk and talk at the same time; now I have more energy than I thought possible. I attribute that to the changes in the way I eat.

Recently, on a visit to my son’s home, I admittedly felt like I was imposing by wanting to take over his kitchen, load his fridge with my special foods and such, so I ate what would be considered “convenient.” Store-bought, quick-processed foods, and my body was in severe pain because of this error in judgement. I tend to do my best to stay away from opiate painkillers, but this was unavoidable after a few days of jarred spaghetti sauce, boxed cereal and one particularly painful morning of gourmet coffee & a blueberry muffin from a local coffee spot (no, it was not Starbucks). The lesson I learned was inspiration for this post. Eat. Good. Food. For those that would say this is costly or inconvenient, trust me when I tell you that medical bills are more expensive than grocery bills, and multiple trips to the hospital will muck up your schedule a lot more than making a meal at home.

I am a big proponent for eating the best foods you can find that are naturally grown, and with as few pesticides as possible (some organic farmers do use pesticides). Ask questions (they’ll tell you what they use) and do your own research. Smartphones have put a serious wealth of information right at your fingertips. I often move out of the main spots of the grocery aisles with a product, reviewing its ingredients. If you are interested in a great app, please check out Fooducate — it allows you to scan in the barcode of the item, and then it gives you all the nutritional information on what you are shopping for. I like it because it’s fast, grades the foods, and offers you better alternatives if the food item you have selected is rated poorly.

I hope this helps you on your journey to get well and stay as healthy as possible.

Note: Lupus News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Lupus News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to lupus.