Diet is probably one of the most hotly contested part of lupus treatment. With a disease that leaves us uncertain and feeling wild and lost, diet is one of the few things we can control so it’s usually the first thing that people jump on to try to help themselves and feel in control again. Since doctors often don’t like to talk about it, people to turn to the internet for answers and easily get overwhelmed by the information they find. What’s safe to eat? What foods will help combat symptoms or side-effects? Can the right foods stop lupus altogether? What information is worth following?
First, it’s vital to get your head on straight. Many newly diagnosed lupies fly into panic mode and get seduced by extensive vitamin programs and strict “miracle” diets, to try to weasel out of accepting their diagnosis or avoid taking medication. Thinking critically about what you’re reading online is fundamental to making smart choices. Misinformation is everywhere, so be skeptical about any claims that make unrealistic promises.
The second most important thing to keep in mind, is that every lupus patient is unique – so what works for someone else might work differently for you, or not work at all, or might make your condition worse. I met one young woman at a lupus focus group who claimed to fend off lupus symptoms for years by changing her diet. However, by that time her symptoms had worsened to the point where she was seriously considering taking medication. My own lupus journey had a dramatic start and I needed drastic medical intervention. While I’ve done my best to improve my diet over the years, none of those changes were enough to stop lupus pummeling my kidneys (and neither was the medication.). On the flip side, if you ask on any lupus board, you’ll find people who will claim that specific diet changes have worked wonders for their symptoms. Don’t blindly follow diet trends; carefully consider what works with your body and your lifestyle.
My last cautionary note ties back to the first one; don’t let food rule your life. Eating disorders can happen to anybody and people trying to fight the helplessness and uncertainty that come with lupus can be especially vulnerable to using our control over food to compensate. Eating is one of the great joys of living, not something to make you anxious or depressed. If you’re concerned that your attitude toward eating is becoming unhealthy, seek professional help.
Okay, now that the dire warning stuff is out of the way, the good news is that there is plenty you can do if you want to change your diet. On the flip side, if you feel fine with your current diet and your doctor hasn’t made any comments about your blood pressure or cholesterol, then you’re free to not change anything at all.
One of the easiest moves that I was able to make in eating healthier was adding more veggies to my diet. Frozen vegetables made this even easier, allowing me to simply throw a handful into a pot with my pasta or steam in the bag using my microwave. There is no downside to simply adding vegetables to your meals, and fruits to your snacks. And, even if you don’t like the taste or texture of certain kinds of produce, there are ways to try to warm your tastebuds up to them. If you want to go for bonus points, cut back on the super-processed food in your pantry. For me, snack foods were the easiest to start switching out for more healthy alternatives.
Another popular option is an elimination diet. That means that you stop eating a set of foods thought to trigger inflammation and then slowly add them back one by one to see if one or two of them are contributing to your symptoms. Some of the common culprits are nightshade vegetables (which include eggplant and tomato), dairy products, gluten and sugar. You can try cutting one food out for a month and keeping track of any changes in your energy level or symptoms. Personally, I think doing one potential trigger at a time is a gentler way to go instead of trying to eliminate several at once.
The Lupus Foundation and the SLE Lupus Foundation both have Q & A pages about healthy eating that covers some common answers as well. Across the more authoritative website, a general balanced diet is the most commonly recommended, to make sure that the lupus body isn’t lacking for the nutrients it needs to function.