Food, Nutrition and Lupus

Karla M. Giboyeaux, MA, RD
Registered Dietitian and Natural Foods Chef

The diet for people with lupus is essentially no different than for anyone who cares about maintaining healthy nutrition – a balanced diet with an emphasis on plant-based foods.  While there is no particular “lupus diet,” dietitian Karla Giboyeaux emphasizes that the key is avoiding foods that promote inflammation and increasing those that promote healing. 

Watch this webinar for invaluable information on:

  • Benefits of a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables
  • Diet recommendations a healthy immune system
  • Ways to incorporate healthier foods in your diet
  • Easy and quick healthy recipes

A few highlights of Karla’s talk include:

Diet Recommendations for foods that can help calm down the immune system:

  • Rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes
  • Rich in Omega 3 fatty acids
  • Low in saturated fats  
  • High in fiber
  • Adequate hydration (water)

Foods to Limit or Avoid that can overstimulate the immune system and promote inflammation:

  • Foods high in Omega 6 acids send a message to the immune system to react.
  • Fast foods.
  • Junk foods and highly processed foods, red meat and dairy.
  • Refined oils such as canola, corn or sunflower oils are purified with heat and chemicals. Better choices include coconut and extra virgin olive oils, which are not processed the same way.
  • Red meats – not only do red meats have Omega 6 acids that promote inflammation, but they can also contain chemicals, pesticides, hormones and antibiotics absorbed by the animal that can stimulate the immune system. Karla suggests buying organic meat if possible.
  • Dairy products can also contain the same substances absorbed by the animal so organic dairy products are recommended if possible.
  • Night Shade vegetables, a group of plants grown in the shade of night. Examples include potatoes, tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, pepinos, pimentos, paprika, and cayenne peppers.
  • Sugary foods and drinks -- when the body cannot use excess sugar, it gets stored as fat, promoting weight gain and heart disease. For people with lupus, excess weight can add physical stress to the body and stimulate inflammation.
  • Gluten in wheat products is a common allergen which stimulates the immune system and causes inflammation.
  • Alfalfa has an amino acid can increase lupus flares.
  • Caffeine is a stimulant that can lessen your ability to get enough sleep, and getting enough rest is very important.

Foods that Promote Healing and “calm down” the immune system:

  • Both starchy and non-starchy vegetables
    • Starchy vegetables like carrots and potatoes have high levels of carbohydrate and are a good source of energy.
    • Non-starchy vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli have fewer calories and more fiber and nutrients than starchy vegetables, but lower amounts of carbohydrate and energy.
  • Fresh fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Beans and legumes
  • Healthy fats (nuts and seeds, unrefined oils)
  • Fish (particularly wild salmon) that is high in the fatty acid Omega 3 can help stop inflammation and calm down the immune system. 
  • Any nuts except peanuts; peanuts are a common allergen and can stimulate the immune system. 

Overall Tips

  • Unless you have kidney issues, it is important to include a protein at each meal for energy.
  • Water is essential. Karla recommends drinking half your weight in ounces every day. So if you weigh 120 pounds, you should drink 60 ounces of water daily.
  • Talk to your physician about taking any vitamins or dietary supplements.
  • Buy organic foods when possible to lessen your exposure to chemicals.
    • The USDA National Organic Program specifies that organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.
    • But Karla suggests prioritizing what to buy organic. For instance, the non-profit Environmental Working Group provides a list of the “Dirty Dozen” fruits and vegetables like apples and peaches with the highest likelihood of containing pesticides versus the “Clean 15” such as avocados and pineapple with the lowest likelihood of containing pesticides. Investing in organic alternatives to the “Dirty Dozen” is more important than for the “Clean 15."

Karla urges you to be your own food detective to see what triggers your flares. She suggests keeping a diary of what you eat and how you feel. You will have an excellent tool to share with your nutritionist or doctor to help decide what foods you should avoid and those you should increase in your diet.

The suggestions provided here are strictly the opinions of dietitian Karla Giboyeaux and do not necessarily reflect the views of the S.L.E. Lupus Foundation or the Lupus Research Institute. It is very important to discuss your specific nutritional needs with your own healthcare provider before making any changes to your diet.