Changing your diet to accommodate a health condition is not a new practice. Low-sodium diets for high blood pressure and low-fat diets for cardiovascular disease are the standard of nutritional care. But what happens when your health condition is a mysterious combination of symptoms with no traceable cause and no cure? This is the dilemma that patients with lupus face. There is no one-size-fits-all lupus diet plan, but in this edition of Eat This, Not That, we are looking at healthy, delicious dietary support for this complex disorder.
5 lupus diet tips
Instead of: Salt for flavor
Some lupus patients experience poor kidney function as a direct result of their condition. Salt is very taxing to the kidneys and can stress them beyond their ability during a flare-up. But who wants to eat bland food?
Try: New spice blends
Salt isn’t the only way to add flavor into a lupus diet. On a very basic level, the addition of acid to a dish at the end (squeeze of lemon, splash of vinegar) can wake up sleepy flavors and bring everything together.
Aside from that, there are tons of spices and spice combinations that can change up your flavor profiles and make even the plainest dishes sing. Two of the easiest are:
- Vadouvan: This ready-made blend of spices is French in origin with strong Indian flavors. Spices are made into a paste then dried in a sheet that can be ground and added to food.
- Harissa: Made from a variety of chilies, this paste has anti-inflammatory properties and a ton of flavor. Use it on meats, in stews, and on roasted potatoes.
There are many more spice mix options from all over the world. If you really want to add flavor to your lupus diet, back away from the salt shaker!
Recipe to try: Red lentil soup with vadouvan
Instead of: Farmed tilapia
Fish is supposed to be good for you, right? So you add a twice-weekly tilapia filet to your diet and feel like you are doing the right thing. This may not actually be the way to go, though. Farmed fish can contain unwanted antibiotics due to the way they are raised, and they may not be the best choice of protein for a lupus diet, both environmentally and nutritionally speaking.
Try: Cold-water, wild, oily fish
Wild salmon is packed full of omega-3 fatty acids, known for their anti-inflammatory properties. When responsibly harvested, wild, cold-water fish offer a huge nutritional benefit for the diner. Other delicious oily fish to include in your lupus diet are:
- Lake trout
- Canned sardines
- Albacore tuna
Women who are pregnant should avoid certain types of fish due to high mercury levels. Otherwise, aim for two or three servings of fish weekly for the most (delicious) benefit.
Recipe to try: Roasted wild salmon
Instead of: Low-fat milk and dairy
We have all heard by now that a high-fat diet contributes to heart disease, and lupus is a risk factor for heart disease. If you are not a fan of low-fat milk and dairy, this guideline may be difficult to follow.
Try: Full-fat dairy products (plus leafy greens!)
Good news! The latest research is showing that whole-fat dairy is better in many cases than low-fat dairy. If you are a lover of whole milk and full-fat dairy products, this works in your favor. Those who take steroids to help control their lupus may experience thinning bones that could lead to osteoporosis. Consuming adequate calcium is crucial to help support strong bones. While full-fat dairy is the fastest route to calcium, dark, leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli also contain good amounts of calcium.
Recipe to try: Cheesy broccoli pasta bake
Instead of: Bleached, all-purpose white flour
Let’s face it: bleached, all-purpose white flour is everywhere. It is cheap, filling, and utterly lacking in any nutritional value whatsoever. In addition, you notice that sometimes after eating a dinner like pasta, you feel bloated and tired. But white flour is always what you have used in your cooking and baking. It seems complicated to try something else.
Try: Whole grain flours
Notice the plural? Whole-grain isn’t just about wheat anymore, which is good news for the gluten-sensitive or celiac lupus sufferers. For some people, wheat can be highly inflammatory, so having other options for cooking and baking can be a very good thing.
Whole grains and whole grain flours can include:
- Brown rice
Many of your favorite foods are now available using these flours. Why have plain pasta made with white flour when you can try quinoa pasta or another whole grain combination?
Recipe to try: 29 whole wheat pasta dishes (feel free to swap in other pasta!)
Instead of: Sugar
Sugar is delicious. Not only that, it is one of the main reasons that dietary changes don’t always stick. We are genetically programmed to enjoy sweet things, but sugar in large amounts is the root of many chronic and perhaps fatal illnesses. Obesity, diabetes, and inflammation are all by-products of excess sugar consumption. There is even evidence that sugar acts like heroin in our brain, triggering addiction.
“Natural” sugars like honey and agave are still sugar and still act like processed sugar in the body. The best source of something sweet to eat is fruit, perfectly ripe and in season. Berries in particular offer a satisfying experience because they seem substantial as you eat them and can be as sweet as any sugary dessert.
Another way to have sweet and satisfying treats is to combine them with a tart component. Greek yogurt with a swirl of fruit-juice sweetened jam and a sprinkle of cinnamon can be a sweet way to end a meal. You can even freeze this combination and have frozen yogurt.
Recipe to try: Two-ingredient banana peanut butter ice cream (use unsweetened peanut butter!)
As always, talk to your doctor before making any changes to your diet. A lupus diet should be highly personalized and individual. What changes have you already made?