Ensuring that you have a healthy balanced diet is part of managing lupus. Take a look at the commonly asked questions below to understand how your diet or certain foods may impact your symptoms.
Which diet is best for people with lupus?
There is no specific diet for lupus. As a general rule, people with lupus are advised to eat a nutritious, well-balanced and varied diet that contains plenty of fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, dairy and moderate amounts of meat, poultry and fish. Some people may find it useful to follow the Mediterranean diet which includes plenty of fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains and seeds, two portions of fish per week and small amounts of meat and dairy produce.
However, there are some exceptions, including:
· Pregnant women with lupus – as with any pregnancy women are advised to avoid eating certain foods.
· People with lupus nephritis (lupus affecting the kidneys) will need to follow tailored dietetic advice.
· People with lupus aged over 60 years old and children may require individualised dietary advice.
What foods should I avoid?
The main food to avoid is alfalfa. A certain amino acid found in alfalfa seeds and sprouts can activate the immune system and increase inflammation.
In order to follow a healthy diet, it is also advised to avoid foods containing:
· Saturated fats (found in cakes, pastries and biscuits) and trans fats (found in some dairy foods and meats, also processed and hardened vegetable oils)
· Too much sugar
· Too much salt
· Foods which are high processed
These foods contribute to raising the risk of coronary heart disease. There is already an increased risk of this in people with lupus which is why it is important to reduce the amount of these foods in your diet.
Some people with lupus find that certain foods trigger a flare up. However, unless a particular food causes a flare up for you then there is no reason to avoid any foods. Foods that may trigger a flare vary greatly from person to person, so a food that causes problems for one person may have no effect on you. One food group that has been said to make lupus worse is nightshade vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines and peppers), although there is no scientific evidence to suggest that people with lupus should avoid eating them.
Should I stop eating red meat?
There is no scientific evidence that avoiding red meat will have an effect on lupus. If you have kidney disease, red meat can give you more protein than your kidneys can handle. Or if you have high cholesterol or high triglyceride levels, red meat can raise these further. On the other hand, if you have inflammation in your body you need more protein than when you are healthy. So, the bottom line is to eat a well-balanced diet, the only reason you should modify your diet is if you are advised to by a healthcare professional.
Are there any foods that will help manage my symptoms?
Most people with lupus have low levels of Vitamin D, which is essential for proper function of the immune system. Studies have shown that people who have more severe lupus tend to have lower levels of vitamin D compared to those who have milder lupus. We get vitamin D from some foods (eg: oily fish, fortified spreads and cereals) and sunlight. However as ultraviolet rays can be a trigger for people with lupus and it is difficult to achieve adequate intake from diet alone, your Doctor may advise that you take a vitamin D supplement.
Omega-3 fatty acids appear to have beneficial effects on cholesterol levels, inflammation and lupus disease activity. Therefore, it is important for people who have lupus to supplement their diet with foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (eg: oily fish, walnuts). Not only may this possibly improve lupus related symptoms but also improve cholesterol levels which could help decrease the risk of heart attacks, strokes and blood clots.
Should I change my diet when I have a flare?
As long as you are following a nutritious, well balanced and varied diet you will not need to change your diet during a flare up. Due to fatigue, weakness and pain during a flare, it may be difficult to prepare meals. Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for help preparing meals, alternatively you may wish to batch cook meals so you always have some extra meals prepared in the freezer when you do not feel like cooking.
Can I drink alcohol?
Moderate alcohol intake is not usually a problem for people with lupus. But, alcohol can lower the effectiveness of some medications or cause new health problems or make existing problems worse. It is advised to discuss this with your Doctor.
Are vegetarian or vegan diets okay for people with lupus?
Vegetarian or vegan diets are okay for people with lupus, but you need to take a multivitamin that includes vitamin B12, as this vitamin can only be obtained through animal products. Without enough vitamin B12 you might develop anaemia and nerve damage. It is also important to think about the sources of plant protein in your diet (eg: rice, beans, corn, wheat) and to have a variety, so that you get complete proteins.