Autoimmune diseases affect over 23.5 million Americans and are recognized as the “leading cause of death and disability.”
What exactly is an autoimmune disease? It all comes down to your body’s safeguard, your immune system. Autoimmune diseases are conditions in which your “immune system mistakenly attacks your body” identifying certain body parts — such as organs, joints, and even your skin — as foreign. When it comes to bacteria and viruses, your immune system is a powerful weapon, but, unfortunately, when those fighter cells are deployed against healthy cells, the ramifications can be unpleasant and even fatal.
Currently, there are around 80 identified autoimmune diseases, yet there may be more that are unidentified. While some are incredibly rare, other autoimmune diseases are actually fairly common such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, irritable bowel syndrome, and Sjogren’s syndrome.
What do all these diseases share in common? Inflammation.
Most likely you’ve been hearing this word rapidly making its way through the health world and even from your doctors own mouth and for good reason. Inflammation has been linked to a variety of serious health issues such as heart health, diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune disease. The immune system is an inflammatory response meaning every time this system is activated it creates inflammation in the body.
While this may sound bad, it actually provides a path to fighting the disease with natural remedies, in particular, plant-based food! Plant-based foods are naturally rich in anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce inflammation, while also infusing the body with vitamins, minerals, macronutrients, and antioxidants.
What is Sjögren’s Syndrome?
Even though Sjögren’s syndrome is quite common — affecting “one to four million people in the United States” alone — the method of attack within the body is incredibly targeted. Sjögren’s syndrome attacks salivary and lacrimal glands which are glands that “help the body create moisture in the eyes and mouth, in the form of saliva and tears.” The immune system attacks these glands causing damage leading to the body failing to produce the proper amount of moisture.
There are certain factors that can increase your risk of developing Sjögren’s syndrome. To begin, it affects more women than men, in fact, nine out of ten sufferers are female, and generally, these women are post-menopausal. If you have a family history of autoimmune disease, you are more likely to develop Sjögren’s syndrome. Lastly, as is similar to other autoimmune conditions, if you already have one you are more likely to develop Sjögren’s syndrome.
Sjögren’s syndrome can present with very mild and oftentimes mistaken symptoms. The salivary and lacrimal glands are attacked by the immune system causing them to fail to produce moisture. This results in dryness throughout the body, yet most commonly experienced in the mouth and throat, — causing cavities, speech difficulties, and problems swallowing — eyes, — resulting in a burning sensation — vaginal dryness, and skin dryness. Beyond this, Sjögren’s syndrome may cause fatigue, rashes, joint pain, and “inflammation of organs like the kidneys or lungs.”
Managing Sjögren’s Symptoms with a Plant-Based Diet
Plant-based foods are rich in anti-inflammatory properties making them a great agent when fighting inflammation caused by autoimmune disease. Yet, it’s not just about introducing fruits, veggies, and whole grains, it’s also about balance. Specifically for Sjögren’s syndrome, it’s recommended to eat a diet rich in “vegetables, lean proteins, and fruits,” while reducing or eliminating “foods that can cause inflammation or trigger allergic reactions.”
Foods to Avoid
When it comes to removing trigger foods, focus on going as unprocessed and meatless as possible. It’s recommended to avoid processed foods that are rich in added sugar, vegetable oils, and trans fats, as well as red meat, fried foods, dairy, sugars and sweets, alcohol, soda, gluten, and refined grains. If you suffer from Sjögren’s syndrome, it’s also recommended to avoid safflower, corn, and canola oils, which have been linked to an increase in bodily inflammation.
Foods to Include
Plant-based foods are naturally rich in anti-inflammatory agents, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. They are also low in cholesterol or have zero cholesterol and are generally low in calories. For these reasons, plant-based foods are great as a healthy, well-balanced, autoimmune disease-friendly diet.
Leafy green veggies — such as kale, spinach, and arugula — are rich in anti-inflammatory properties, as well as essential vitamins and minerals. Plus, leafy green veggies have been linked to other health benefits such as “reduced risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and mental decline.” With that said, one of the best parts of leafy greens for Sjogren’s syndrome is the fiber content, which helps keep digestion healthy.
Try a few of these delicious leafy green recipes: Marinated Kale and Mushroom Salad, Classic Spanish Crepes, or this Arugula and Strawberry Salad with Cayenne Lemon Vinaigrette.
Nuts are a staple ingredient in plant-based diets. They are rich in healthy fats, fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals, depending on the type you choose. And there are many to choose from! Almonds are wonderful for fiber and protein, macadamias and walnuts are incredibly rich in healthy fat, and brazil nuts are a great source of selenium. Plus, if you’re looking to cut out dairy, such as is recommended for autoimmune disease diets, nuts are a great ingredient for milk alternatives such as this Raw Cashew Almond Cheese or this Brazil Nut Vegan Parmesan. You can also process them down for spreads, such as this Pepper Almond Spread or simply grind them for meatless crusts, such as this Macadamia Crusted Tofu.
Olives and Olive Oil
When it comes to healthy fat, you can’t get much better than extra-virgin olive oil. Extra-virgin olive oil is not only rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, but it’s also a great plant-based source of anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing omega-3 fatty acids. Plus, you can swap out your unhealthy veggie oils and margarine and simply substitute extra-virgin olive oil. Try a few of these recipes with the next bottle you buy: Roasted Winter Vegetables with Almonds and Olives, Oil-Free Olive Crackers, Sun-Dried Tomato Olive and Veggie Quiche, Chili Olive Oil, or this Chocolate Olive Oil Cake.
Don’t forget to stock your kitchen with avocados as often as possible! Not only are these plant-based foods incredibly delicious — creamy and rich — but they are also one of the healthiest foods you can eat. They are rich in anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants, filled with healthy fats, and are brimming with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Plus, avocado is a great ingredient to sub out dairy products for baking purposes such as in this Chocolate Banana Avocado Pudding. Yet, you can also go traditional with this Roasted Vegetable Guacamole, get a raw infusion with this Roasted Corn and Avocado Salad, or try something creative, such as these Panko-Crusted Avo Wedges.
Garlic has long been hailed one of the most powerful and potent natural medicines. In fact, garlic has been used for hundreds of years to treat ailments, in particular, infection. This is because when crushed or masticated, garlic releases rich anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It doesn’t hurt that garlic is beautifully aromatic and delicious! You can add garlic to almost any savory dish or try a garlic-specific recipe such as this Quinoa Corn Bowl with Garlic Sauce, this Cucumber Tomato Salad with Creamy Garlic Dressing, or these Jackfruit Tacos With Garlic White Sauce.
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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