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Lupus Diet Tips, According to a Rheumatologist and Dietitian

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Lupus Diet Tips, According to a Rheumatologist and Dietitian

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Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease caused by the body’s immune system attacking its own tissues and organs. This can cause inflammation in various parts of the body, including the joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart, and lungs.

While living with lupus requires management of symptoms and understanding of the condition, it’s also important to note there isn’t a one-size-fits-all “lupus diet.” However, some people find that certain foods can impact their symptoms either positively or negatively. Identifying and incorporating foods that can help manage your symptoms, along with those to avoid, can be a beneficial part of your overall lupus management strategy.

Ahead, PS spoke to dietitians and a rheumatologist about creating a lupus diet that is most beneficial for symptom management, as well as what foods to eat with lupus and what foods to avoid.

How Does Your Diet Impact Lupus?

Like many conditions, dietary choices may impact symptoms associated with lupus, with some caveats to keep in mind.

“Lupus is an autoimmune condition, so it can’t be cured by just changing your diet,” Chrissy Arsenault, registered dietitian at Trainer Academy, told PS. “However, consuming a nutrient-dense diet is an essential part of a holistic approach to treatment.”

“Periods of increased lupus disease activity or lupus flares are a result of inflammation,” adds rheumatologist, Micaela Bayard, MD, assistant Professor of Medicine at Icahn School of Medicine Mount Sinai and advisory board member for POPSUGAR’s Condition Center. Because of this, Dr. Bayard says anything that leads to decreased inflammation may prevent or limit flare symptoms — including eating or avoiding certain foods.

Consulting with a healthcare provider or a dietitian can help in tailoring a dietary plan that suits an individual’s specific needs and conditions.

Food to Avoid With Lupus

People living with lupus should consider avoiding certain types of foods that may exacerbate their symptoms or trigger flare-ups. While trigger foods can vary from person to person, there are some general foods and beverages our experts recommend limiting when you have lupus, including:

  • Alcohol: It may potentially trigger flares due to its immunosuppressive properties, exacerbating symptoms and increasing the risk of kidney involvement, a common lupus complication.
  • Alfalfa sprouts: While beloved by many, these microgreens contain an amino acid called L-canavanine that may stimulate the immune system, potentially leading to flare-ups in individuals with lupus,” Dr. Bayard explains. Because of this, this food may be best left off of the dishes of those with lupus.
  • Foods high in salt: These foods may elevate blood pressure and stress the kidneys, an organ that lupus may affect. Pickles, ultra-processed meats (like bacon and sausage), and many canned soups are just a few items that are typically high in sodium.
  • Sugary beverages, ultra-processed snacks, and fried foods: Foods that fall into this category (like regular soda, fried chicken wings, and fried potato chips) can also negatively affect those with lupus as they’re considered pro-inflammatory foods. “Some research indicates that reducing added sugars may alleviate lupus symptoms, but there is not yet enough evidence to conclude that sugar directly causes lupus symptoms,” says Mascha Davis, MPH, RD, registered dietitian nutritionist and author of “Eat Your Vitamins”.

Food to Eat With Lupus

For those managing a lupus diagnosis, a balanced and nutritious diet can play a crucial role in maintaining overall health and managing symptoms. “Overall, there is no one best lupus diet, and the best balance of food and supplements is specific to the needs of each individual living with lupus depending on their most active symptoms,” Dr. Bayard tells PS. That said, there are also some foods experts believe can be particularly useful for those who have lupus, including:

  • The Mediterranean diet: This eating plan is thought to have a positive impact on lupus health, per Dr. Bayard. One study published in Rheumatology showed that, among people with lupus, greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet was linked to better heart health and lower disease activity vs. those who did not follow this dietary pattern. The researchers suggest that one reason why these positive effects were observed is because of the anti-inflammatory nature of this diet. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes consuming the following foods: plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts, alongside olive oil as a major source of healthy fat. It also includes moderate amounts of fish and poultry, with a reduced intake of red meat and dairy products, promoting heart health and supporting weight management.
  • Foods that provide calcium: Food sources high in calcium (like leafy greens, milk, and tofu) can be beneficial for bone and joint health in lupus, Dr. Bayard says.
  • Fish and nuts: Both are rich in omega-3s which can be beneficial for heart health in lupus, Dr. Bayard tells PS.
  • Dark-colored produce: Cherries, beets, and leafy greens, and other dark-colored produce are rich in antioxidants and should therefore be a part of a lupus-friendly diet, Davis shares. Antioxidants can combat oxidative stress, which may thereby reduce inflammation and potentially reduce flare-ups among some people with lupus.
  • Vitamin D foods: People with lupus tend to have low levels of vitamin D due to a combination of lupus disease activity, corticosteroid use, and avoiding sunlight. Vitamin D impacts bone health, and lower levels of it are linked to negative bone health outcomes. Fatty fish, eggs (with the yolk), fortified milk and dairy alternatives can help fuel the body with vitamin D.

Outside of food, Dr. Bayard also considers supplements as a potentially beneficial component of the “lupus diet”. As more research becomes available, “we may find more about the benefits of many of the supplements that have been suggested to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects: curcumin,/turmeric, selenium, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E,” Dr. Bayard says.

That said, all of our experts agree that every body is different and when it comes to eating a “lupus diet,” there is no one plan. For this reason, consulting with your healthcare provider can help you navigate your diet in the safest and most beneficial way.

Lauren Manaker is an award-winning registered dietitian and freelance writer who is passionate about providing evidence-based nutrition information in a fun and interesting way

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