Autoimmune diseases might as well be called “super inflammation diseases.” All autoimmune diseases come with inflammation in addition to the fact that your immune system is trying to destroy you; we’re talking about everything from RA to MS to Grave’s, and everything in between. When living with an autoimmune disease it’s important to address inflammation with the foods you’re eating; there are foods that increase inflammation in the body and foods that decrease inflammation. In addition to controlling inflammation through eating the right things and avoiding the wrong things it’s also important to eat foods that help keep your immune system functioning well, this might sound crazy because it is your immune system that is the problem and a lot of the time autoimmune flare ups are treated with steroids which suppress the immune system, but the reason it is important is because flare ups can be triggered by bacterial and viral infections like the common cold, the flu, a UTI, etc. so you need to make sure that your body is able to fight off viruses and bacteria.

So how do you fight inflammation? A lot of you aren’t going to want to hear this but the most important thing when trying to eat for your autoimmune disease is avoiding gluten. It seems like gluten intolerance is this huge epidemic that just popped up out of nowhere and sometimes it’s hard to take people seriously when they say they are gluten intolerant. The thing is, if you have an autoimmune disease you need to take this very seriously, gluten causes inflammation in the body, and studies show that people with autoimmune diseases (especially MS) have higher levels of gluten antibodies in their blood, this means we are actually allergic to gluten and as I’m sure you know allergic reactions cause inflammation; if you have an autoimmune disease and are consuming gluten that’s like a double dose of inflammation that you definitely do not need. The inflammation markers in my bloodwork have drastically decreased since I gave up gluten, not to mention I physically feel a difference and visually see a difference in the areas of my body that I experience the most amount of inflammation. Minimizing animal products such as meat, dairy, and eggs is also very important, they all increase inflammation in the body, I recommend avoiding dairy at all costs and if you must consume meat eat turkey breast (no dark meat). Luckily, we’ve come a long way in terms of gluten free and vegan options that are readily available to consumers (be sure to check out my other blogs for great healthy gluten free and vegan recipes). Another reason to avoid animal products is that they take a lot of energy to digest and may leave you feel sluggish, when fatigue is already a common symptom of many autoimmune diseases the last you want is to be eating foods that are going to cause you to be even more fatigued. Be leery of grains, try to minimize them in your diet, try avoid corn as much as possible. I know this may be difficult as I’m already asking you to go gluten free and move towards more of a plant-based diet. Grains that you can get away with having a little of in your diet are brown rice and more of the ancient grains; just remember moderation is key, don’t over do it, avoid anything overly processed. Avoid wheat, it contains proteins that cause inflammation and people with autoimmune diseases are especially sensitive to it. Quinoa is totally fine because though it may seem like a grain it is technically a seed, so that is a great source of protein if you are going to be cutting out a most animal products. Minimize legumes in your diet (that means beans,) this may also be tricky if you’re going gluten free and will be eating less animal products, so a little bit of black beans or garbanzo beans here and there isn’t going to be the end of the world.

Now let’s talk about what to increase in your diet. Turmeric is an amazing anti-inflammatory as well as an immune booster, I recommend taking it in capsule form everyday and using it as a seasoning on your food wherever possible. Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and collard greens are an excellent and delicious way to help fight inflammation and at the same time they provide your body with a lot of important nutrients to help bodily systems function properly. Olive Oil is a great oil to have in your diet, it has many health benefits including anti-inflammatory properties. Fruits like strawberries, blueberries, oranges, and pineapple (especially pineapple,) all help decrease inflammation in the body as well. Ginger helps reduce inflammation caused by an overactive immune response so it certainly seems like the perfect thing for those of us with autoimmune diseases to be consuming regularly whether it be ginger tea or pickled ginger. Additionally, ginger contains iodine so those suffering from the autoimmune disease Hashimoto’s Disease definitely should make sure to be getting ginger daily as they need more iodine than the rest of us. Foods rich in antioxidants are really important in the diet of someone living with an autoimmune disease, in addition to fighting inflammation all of the aforementioned foods are rich in antioxidants; we all know “superfoods” are hugely popular right now, most superfoods are considered superfoods because they are high in protein, antioxidants, and other important nutrients, so anything considered a superfood is probably something you should be eating if you have an autoimmune disease to help you get antioxidants and replace the protein from the animal proteins you should be avoiding. Omega-3s are also important for those of us with autoimmune diseases, one of the reasons is that they too help fight inflammation. For people with MS omega-3 is especially important, this is because it supports brain health and has actually been shown to slow the progression of MS and decrease relapse rates.

There’s a number of ways to get omegas, avocados, dark leafy greens like the ones mentioned earlier, seeds like hemp, chia, and flax, and nuts such as almonds and walnuts (no peanuts). When talking about omegas it’s important to differentiate omega-3 which helps fight inflammation from omega-6 which can cause inflammation, this is why you need to pay attention to what oils you use to make sure they have more omega-3 than omega-6; I recommend avocado oil, coconut oil, and olive oil, but the key with all oils is moderation. Now, I’m sure the most obvious and well known source of omega-3 is fish, I know I said no animal products but if you find yourself fiending I’m not going to argue with you over a little fish here and there; at least you’ll be getting the omega-3 that you need. If you are going to eat fish just make sure it’s wild caught, I recommend fresh water or cold water; avoid larger fish like tuna or swordfish to try to minimize heavy metals getting into your system, and once again, remember moderation as an overall rule to eating any seafood. Salmon is probably the best fish to eat. Wild caught fish is also high in vitamin D which is another nutrient people with MS need to make sure they’re getting enough of, however for people with MS it’s not going to be enough just to get it from food, I recommend taking a vitamin D capsule everyday. If you plan on taking an omega-3 supplement please note that omega-3 in large amounts can interfere with some blood thinning medications so it’s best to consult with your doctor first as your meds may need to be adjusted.

In short, people with autoimmune diseases need to be on low inflammation diets, this means avoiding gluten, wheat, and animal products, focusing on a mostly plant-based diet, and reducing the intake of most grains and legumes. Foods and spices that decrease inflammation such as dark berries, dark leafy greens, turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger should be staples in the diet of people with autoimmune diseases. Eat foods rich in vitamins to keep the immune system functioning well and avoid processed foods that will confuse your body and weaken the immune system. When decreasing animal proteins make sure to replace them with plant proteins. Diets will become more specific with each individual disease, but this is a good place to start.

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