Read on for the list of healing foods for autoimmune diseases.
If you’re a victim of autoimmune disease, this is not the blog to skip. In the United States alone, there are more than 80 different health conditions associated with autoimmune disease. These include, but are not limited to, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s disease, Grave’s disease, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and so on.
But before we get too deep, let me quickly remind you of what an autoimmune disease actually is. Basically, it’s an incurable health condition in which our own immune system attacks the healthy cells in our bodies. In turn, the body experiences a wide variety of symptoms and side-effects caused by the destruction of these healthy cells.
Depending on the person and their particular disease(s), symptoms can include anything from fatigue and tiredness to loss of hair, increased risk of heart disease, and serious pain and inflammation throughout the body. Having dealt with my fair share of these symptoms, I can personally attest to how painful, disruptive, and just devastating these symptoms can be. Believe me when I say, an unmanaged autoimmune disease can really wreak havoc on the body.
While plenty of factors can affect the development of these conditions – genetics, environmental exposure to chemicals or metals, environmental triggers, diet – you can make certain lifestyle changes that can help manage your autoimmune disease. In fact, there are some specific foods out there that, when incorporated into your diet regularly, can really help manage the symptoms of autoimmune disorders.
In light of this, we’re going to talk about the best foods to eat for managing autoimmune symptoms, preventing flare-ups, and just feeling better overall. Let’s dive right in!
According to research conducted by the Stanford School of Medicine, consuming fermented foods can boost your micro-biome diversity and thus, boost your immune system.
Most victims of autoimmune disease have to deal with food intolerances such as gluten-intolerance and lactose intolerance. This can lead to serious side-effects like bloating or inflammation, ulcerative colitis, leaky gut syndrome, and even inflammatory bowel disease (IBS). However, when fermented foods are consumed, they aid in digestion and improve the existing gut bacteria.
When the bacteria in our gut are healthy, so is our immune system. It’s also key to note that fermented foods have properties that inhibit negative immune responses. Thus, the immune system is less likely to attack healthy cells.
Fermented foods to eat include kefir, yogurt, aged cheeses, fermented cottage cheese, tempeh, miso, pickles, fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha.
If you’ve been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, you’ve probably already heard of the autoimmune protocol diet. And if so, you know that leafy greens are a staple in this autoimmune diet. Also known as the AIP diet and the elimination diet, and similar to the Mediterranean diet. If not, I definitely recommend checking out my beginner AIP article for a brief overview.
Leafy greens are excellent at helping people with autoimmune diseases manage their symptoms because they are chock full of antioxidants and immune-boosting vitamins and minerals. Antioxidants help fight free radicals throughout the body, thus reducing inflammation and preventing unnecessary immune responses. The vitamins and minerals found in leafy greens that benefit the immune system include vitamins C and A and magnesium.
So, what leafy greens are the best for managing autoimmune diseases? For the best results, be sure to consume plenty of spinach, kale, lettuce, and swiss chard. You can also feel free to include mustard greens, collard greens, and cabbage.
Victims of autoimmune diseases often suffer from severe inflammation. This can take place in the stomach, the thyroid, the joints, and even the face. And in turn, this inflammation can trigger pain, swelling, weight gain, and even full-on flare-ups. (As a side note, if you are struggling with weight gain as a victim of chronic illness, check out my tips for healthy weight loss, here!)
Luckily, cruciferous veggies are chock full of plant-based nutrients called phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are excellent at reducing inflammation throughout the body and giving the immune system a much-needed break. This nutrient not only provides relief from existing inflammation but can also help prevent future inflammation as well.
Cruciferous veggies to add to your diet as soon as possible include broccoli, cauliflower, arugula, bok choy, and brussels sprouts.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
A main staple of the AIP and Mediterranean diet is extra virgin olive oil. This is because it has strong anti-inflammatory powers and contains nutrients that directly benefit the immune system. These nutrients include oleic acid, other healthy monounsaturated fats, and many phenolic compounds.
Consuming just 2-3 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil each day can make a huge difference in the amount of inflammation found throughout the body. In turn, this will relieve pain, swelling, and other symptoms of autoimmune diseases. According to research, it has been proven that the consumption of this oil is especially helpful for those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis.
Hmmm…who doesn’t just love berries? Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries – all the berries! Almost all berries are delicious and nutritious and they are super easy to eat as a snack. Simply eat them plain, throw them on a salad, or add them to your next trail mix.
Berries benefit those with autoimmune diseases for several reasons. First and foremost, they contain vitamins A and C, which both directly support a healthy immune system and help the body fight off viruses. Less sickness means less stress on your immune system.
Second, they are full of antioxidants that fight free radicals throughout the body. This is important because if the antioxidants don’t take care of those free radicals, your immune system will. And when you unnecessarily trigger an immune response throughout the body, you put your healthy cells at risk of destruction.
And lastly, the vitamins and minerals found in berries are excellent for the skin, which is often affected by autoimmune diseases. Eating berries can help you cope with common side-effects of autoimmune disorders like rashes, dry skin, dry scalp, and uneven skin tone.
Did you know a spice, yes a spice, can actually help regulate your immune system? Well – it can! Research has shown that turmeric (that bright yellow spice that everyone is always going on about) has a plethora of benefits for those with autoimmune disorders. Not only does it naturally reduce swelling, but it also contains antioxidant, anti-cancer, and anti-diabetic properties as well.
These anti-everything properties are so beneficial to those with autoimmune diseases because the immune system is already compromised. So, when you eat foods that both reduce inflammation and help prevent other health issues, you reduce stress on the body. And less stress on the body means fewer symptoms of your disease, fewer flare-ups, and a happier and healthier life overall.
Turmeric, or curcumin, is a spice popular in South Asian or Middle Eastern cuisine. But, you can add this spice to plenty of your favorite dishes for a little extra nutrition, taste, and color. Feel free to add it to all your stir-frys, scrambles, or frittatas, or add it to your favorite soup. You can also make a turmeric tea or add this spice to your next smoothie. Really, the options for eating this specific autoimmune food are endless.
Because I’m strictly plant-based and have never in my life eaten meat or fish I can’t speak for this one personally. But I’m adding this to the list because it’s said that high-quality salmon is one of the best foods to consume when dealing with an autoimmune disease. This is because salmon contains both omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, which both benefit the immune system. In fact, a lack of vitamin D directly contributes to increased autoimmunity – no thanks!
Both of these nutrients have properties that not only support the proper functioning of the immune system, but also help the body fight off other viruses, bacteria, and sicknesses in general. Plus, the healthy fats and oils found in salmon are excellent for coating the joints and relieving muscle/joint pain associated with autoimmune disorders.
In particular, salmon benefits those with rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and lupus the most. But, it is still very effective for those with other chronic diseases as well. Feel free to include salmon into your diet several times throughout the week. Just remember to always choose high-quality, certified salmon for the best results.
By adding these common foods to your diet, you can better manage the symptoms of your autoimmune disease!
Believe me when I say, managing your diet is extremely important when it comes to managing your autoimmune disease. From experience, I have learned that what I put into my body makes a huge difference in how I feel on a day-to-day basis. I guess there really is something to the saying ‘You are what you eat.’
So, as you meal plan over the next couple of days, weeks, and months, be sure to incorporate these six foods into your diet. Mostly, you can eat each of these foods each and every day. And, almost all research shows that the more of these foods you eat, the better the results. So, eat up friends!
Need some meal planning inspo? I’ve totally got you covered for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks – yes please! So, don’t forget to check out some of my favorite recipes – they are all autoimmune friendly and absolutely delish. Like *chefs kiss* yummy.
Until next time, I’ll be sending you guys the best of luck and all my positive energy as you learn to manage your specific disease and as you experiment with adding the above foods to your diet. As always, if you have any additional questions or comments, drop them below. And finally, to read stories from real autoimmune Warriors that have been in your shoes, click here. And don’t forget – we’re in this together!