Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease that causes inflammation to the skin, joints, and vital organs because the immune system has gone awry. Although there is currently no permanent cure for lupus, there are ways to treat the condition and lower the rate of inflammation. One way to help ease the symptoms of lupus is by opting for a healthier diet, free from inflammatory foods.
In this article, we will explore the many advantages a plant based diet has to offer when it comes to living with lupus.
1. What is Lupus?
When a person has lupus, something has gone wrong with the immune system, which is what causes this autoimmune disease to occur. In a person with a healthy immune system, the body produces antibodies to defend against pathogens, viruses, bacteria, and germs. In a patient with lupus, the immune system cannot tell the difference between invading pathogens and normal, healthy tissues. This is referred to as autoimmunity, in which the immune system attacks and destroys healthy cells, due to the production of autoantibodies.
The confusion of the immune system can cause inflammatory symptoms like pain or swelling of the joints, fever, muscle pain, red rashes (especially on the face known as a butterfly rash), chest pain, hair loss, swollen glands, sun sensitivity, extreme exhaustion, and mouth ulcers in a patient with lupus. These symptoms sometimes come and go, and may often even flare up on occasion and range from rather mild to severe.
Dietary and lifestyle changes are usually a part of the treatment plan when it comes to alleviating lupus flare ups.
2. How a Plant Based Diet can Help with Autoimmune Diseases
Eliminating inflammatory foods from your diet is a great place to start when you are diagnosed with lupus, as certain foods can further aggravate your symptoms. Some inflammatory foods include refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup, artificial trans fats like margarine, excessive amounts of vegetable oils, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, whole milk dairy products, and processed meats.
Some may say that a plant-based diet may be ideal for lupus patients as it limits a plethora of inflammatory foods, like meat and dairy, and instead includes an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts and seeds that help to heal the body without causing further inflammation. This is because plant-based foods contain two vital components that make them optimal for your health: fiber and phytonutrients. Fiber protects the gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and immune systems, while phytonutrients provide protection against diseases or the progression of a disease, while reducing inflammation and oxidation. Adding nutritious foods to your diet that will not further trigger the immune system, can only stand to help.
The implementation of more whole, plant-based foods, and the reduction of inflammatory foods like processed meats, added oils, dairy, and alcohol, can help support the immune system, while alleviating inflammation caused from an autoimmune disorder such as lupus.
Although proper diet may help relieve symptoms, it should never be used in place of medical treatment.
3. The Best and (Worst) Foods for Lupus
Joel & Kate/Flickr
There is unfortunately no set diet plan for a person with lupus, but there are certain foods that should definitely be included in your diet if you are suffering from an autoimmune disorder. Instead of consuming red meat which is full of saturated fat and inflammatory, it is best to consume plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids to lessen inflammation. Some sources of omega-3 fatty acids are chia seeds, hemp seeds, algal oil, flaxseeds, brussel sprouts, and walnuts.
It is also very, very important to include sufficient amounts of calcium in your diet because steroid drugs taken to ease lupus symptoms can weaken your bones. Calcium packed food sources include tofu, beans, fortified plant-based milks and yogurts, and dark leafy greens like spinach, arugula, collard greens, kale, and broccoli. Some lupus patients also report being affected by garlic and alfalfa sprouts. Garlic contains thiosulfinates that can overwork the immune system, and alfalfa contains an amino acid called L-canavanine which can increase inflammation, so those two ingredients are best to be avoided.
It is also important to note that because lupus puts you at a higher risk for developing heart disease, it is important to limit your intake of sodium as it can raise your blood pressure. Same goes for alcohol as well!
Teriyaki Glazed Tofu Steaks/One Green Planet
Here are some recipes from our Food Monster App that limit salt, pack a healthy punch of calcium, and do not contain any garlic or alfalfa! Feel free to try this Notorious Green Collard Wrap, Spinach Salad with Barley Bacon, Broccoli Spinach Soup with Toasted Chickpeas (minus the garlic), Tropical Vegan Ceviche and Tangy Tofu, Paleo Plantain Blondies, or these Apple Walnut Bars.
For more information, we recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
Lead Image Source: NIH History Office/Flickr