Diet Options for Alleviating Autoimmune Diseases

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When you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system attacks your body, which can cause a long list of problems. Many people with autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s or Celiac disease experience physical discomfort, pain anywhere from a scale of 1-10, fatigue, joint and muscle soreness, nausea and vomiting, and so much more.

While autoimmune diseases do not have a cure, they are treatable in most cases. This often requires finding the right treatment protocol for you and the type of disease you are suffering from.

Changing Your Diet

Aside from medical intervention, like medications prescribed for pain and managing other symptoms, diet is often the first recommendation you will get. This is because diet has a very high probability of causing flare-ups, where your symptoms return or get worse.

Trigger foods might vary based on the type of autoimmune disease, but many are common, like dairy, gluten, and nightshade vegetables.

Certain foods can trigger greater pain or discomfort while other foods seem to have the opposite effect. Determining which is which can be one of the toughest parts of your all-important self-care plan.

You might not want to change your diet, but if you are looking for a natural way to manage your autoimmune disease, this really is a great place to start.

Let us break down just a few the diet options available to lessen the symptoms of an autoimmune disease.

The Gluten-Free Diet 

Over the past decade, the Gluten-Free diet trend has skyrocketed in popularity. Thanks to celebrity endorsement, Gluten-Free alternatives line the shelves of even the smallest grocery stores. Celiac patients are not the only ones that can benefit from going Gluten-Free.

Going gluten-free will be mandatory if you have Celiac disease, but even other autoimmune diseases also find that foods with gluten can trigger painful flare-ups, so it might be a good idea to at least remove gluten from your diet for a little experiment.

Looking for a Gluten Sensitivity

To determine whether you have a non-Celiac gluten sensitivity, you will need to give up all gluten for about thirty days and then reintroduce it gradually. It is important to pay attention to how you feel throughout this process. If you have a gluten sensitivity you will feel worse when you reintroduce gluten to your diet.

If this is the case, studies recommend that you give up gluten altogether because continuing to consume gluten with a non-Celiac gluten sensitivity may irritate or awaken autoimmune diseases within your body. This area of nutritional science is being actively explored so it may be beneficial to keep up with the latest research as you determine which diet is most likely to benefit your autoimmune condition.

Types of Foods with Gluten

This can be a big change in the beginning, because so many of your normal food staples will contain gluten. You probably know a lot of the main culprits, including wheat, rye, barley, couscous, and many other grains and starches.

However, you also have to be careful for packaged and processed foods, baked goods, and snacks like chips and crackers. Many of these will have gluten as well. Even dips, sauces, and salad dressings often have traces of gluten. To be successful, you will need to read your food labels and do research before cutting out all gluten.

The Vegan Diet

Another diet that can help some autoimmune disease sufferers is a vegan, plant-based diet. There is a little controversy over switching to a plant-based diet, so this is really base don personal preference. Like a gluten-free diet, you can try it for a few weeks and track your symptoms to see if it helpful or not.

There are some things to think about in terms of nutrition, ensuring you get enough nutrients like protein and iron. In order to follow a vegan diet, you will need to get rid of all animal products in your diet. Not only does this include meat, poultry, fish, and dairy, but also bone broth, beef or chicken broth, eggs, and any foods with dairy added to it.

Tips for Following a Vegan Diet the Right Way

A well-balanced plant-based diet has protein from grains, legumes, and leafy vegetables; fat from beans, vegetable oil, and nuts, and carbohydrates from potatoes, carrots, and most other plants. You really want to make sure each meal and snack is properly balanced – don’t just load up on fruit all day, as they are filled with sugars.

It is okay to have some packaged vegan food, but don’t rely solely on that. Use this as an opportunity to eat more whole, fresh foods.

Beyond that, a plant-based diet also contains a wealth of micronutrients like calcium, beta-carotene, and vitamin C. At the very least, veganism increases your chances of getting all your essential vitamins from your diet alone.

A well-nourished body will be more capable of responding to inflammation and external stressors.

The Low FODMAP Diet

Next, let’s look at the Low FODMAP diet. FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols. These are components of food that cause gastrointestinal distress and bloating because they are difficult to break down. While this diet is aimed primarily at reducing gastrointestinal pain it has been shown to be beneficial for a wide variety of diseases.

Why Does the Low FODMAP Diet Work?

Much like the Gluten-Free diet, the FODMAP diet is designed to be a kind of diagnostic tool as well as a symptom-relief tool. You begin by giving up all high FODMAP foods like Garlic, Onions, Broccoli, and Cauliflower for about thirty days.

Then you slowly reintroduce these foods back into your diet one by one. Pay attention to how you feel during the elimination period and as you reintroduce individual foods, this will tell you which foods are your trigger foods and which are safe.

High FODMAP Foods to Avoid

Here is a closer look at the types of foods you will eliminate from your diet while tracking symptoms to see if it helps. Typical high FODMAP foods include:

Most Grains
Most Condiments
Most Dair

Low FODMAP Foods to Enjoy

Don’t get intimidated yet! There are also plenty of foods you already enjoy that you can keep on eating while on the low FODMAP diet. Here are some examples:

Nut milk
Coconut milk
Some cheese – cheddar, brie, goat, swiss, parmesan, cottage (limited quantities)
Most herbs and spices (no garlic or onion)
Wheat-free bread
Most fish and seafood
Most meat and poultry

These food lists are very short in comparison to all the foods you can have on a low FODMAP diet. Be sure to research and meal plan!

The Autoimmune Protocol (or AIP) Diet

Last is the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet. This is definitely one of the most popular options as far as changing your diet to help manage your autoimmune disease.

About the AIP Diet

The autoimmune protocol diet combines some of the ideas of the diets listed above with the popular diet called “Paleo.” The ultimate idea is to heal the gut by providing it with digestible and anti-inflammatory foods. Followers of this diet believe that many, if not all, autoimmune diseases are tied to intestinal permeability which allows food to leak out of the gastrointestinal system and into the rest of the body.

This is said to cause an autoimmune reaction resulting in inflammation and discomfort. Like FODMAP, the AIP diet advises complete elimination of all possible trigger foods for the first few weeks. Without the gastric distress of difficult-to-digest foods, your gut should begin to heal itself. After that point, you can begin to reintroduce foods with the hopes of discovering what your trigger foods are.

Tips for Those Not Ready to Make a Major Dietary Change: 

Use Turmeric. This spice is a popular ingredient in many Indian food dishes but you can also buy it in capsule form from your nearest health food store. Studies have shown that turmeric can help prevent inflammatory responses by limiting the production of inflammatory proteins.

Quit Drinking. You probably already know that a night of drinking will make you feel terrible due to its diuretic nature and complete lack of nutritional value. What you may not know is that alcoholism greatly increases your risk for infection and increases your body’s inflammatory responses. This may be why both the AIP and the FODMAP diet advise strongly against alcohol consumption.

Reduce or Eliminate Caffeine. While its effects are not yet thoroughly understood, caffeine consumption does seem to increase the risk of developing Rheumatoid Arthritis and Type 1 Diabetes. As you may have noticed, caffeine also irritates your bladder and gastrointestinal system. Reducing your intake to decaffeinated or even half caffeinated coffee may help you feel better all around.

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