Foods To Avoid If You Have an Autoimmune Disease

July 24, 2022

Healthy Hawiian bowls with salmon and avocado and veggies

Autoimmune diseases develop when the body’s own natural defense system can no longer tell the difference between the person’s own body’s cells and foreign cells. This “mistaken identity” causes the body to attack normal cells and results in a bewilderingly diverse array of some 80 different types of autoimmune disorders, including lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, and even type 1 diabetes.

Autoimmune Disorders and Leaky Gut Syndrome

Over the last three decades the incidence of autoimmune diseases has increased in Westernized countries. Researchers hypothesize that one of the contributing factors to this increase is likely increased intestinal permeability brought on by industrial food additives. This results in the unwanted passage of bacteria, toxins and other substances into the bloodstream which can trigger an autoimmune response. The degradation of our diets also means a greatly decreased consumption of dietary fiber, triggering enzymes that can degrade the inner mucus lining of the intestines and can also contribute to what some have termed “leaky gut” syndrome.

More and more medical professionals are coming to embrace the idea that a change in diet might decrease the incidence of autoimmune disorders and also decrease debilitating symptoms in individuals suffering from these diseases. Many autoimmune disorders cause inflammatory changes as well as fatigue and sometimes include swelling, pain, fever and skin changes.

The Autoimmune (AIP) Protocol

So, most important is to consult with your healthcare providers before going on any highly restrictive diet plans.  Dieticians and physicians are good resources when considering an elimination diet. 

When considering AIP diets, the goal is to see what foods make the disorder worse, but this can be complicated as we all eat a wide variety of foods every day.  Researchers studied individuals with inflammatory bowel disease, and they used a diet known as the AIP (autoimmune protocol) which focuses on consuming vegetables, lean proteins and fruit, and eliminates a wide variety of other foods especially processed foods, or foods with added sugar and chemical additives. Although the diet was studied relative to those with inflammatory bowel disease, the dietary principles can be applied to those with other autoimmune diseases.

The protocol involves strictly following a carefully constructed diet for several weeks, then one slowly introducing one eliminated food at a time to see if there is any reaction. Of course, those foods that do produce a reaction or increase in symptoms should be permanently eliminated.  This helps people to know what foods to permanently stay clear of and what foods they can eat freely.

First, let’s look at what foods are commonly eliminated.

Foods To Avoid

Foods one might avoid in the first few weeks of strict adherence include grains, legumes, dairy products, coffee, eggs, nuts and seeds, and alcohol. Plus avoid cooking oils except for olive, avocado and coconut oils.  It almost goes without saying that any food additives as well as refined or added sugars should be avoided as well.

There are those who also recommend to initially stay clear of “nightshade vegetables”, but there isn’t much evidence around this to date.  Nightshades contain tiny amounts of alkaloids, which can be dangerous in large doses (many things are good for us in small doses but dangerous in large doses).  Even though they contain low levels of alkaloids, edible nightshades might, to some people, seem guilty by association. But some people also seem to think they promote inflammation which is the root of many health problems. While there haven’t been any large-scale studies demonstrating this, some diet plans exclude nightshades, claiming that people report feeling better when they don’t eat them.  But that doesn’t mean everyone should be cutting them out of their diet. 

It’s important to remember that food sensitivities are very specific to individuals.

Foods To Consume

Here is the good news! Feel free to eat any vegetable. You may also enjoy seafood that is high in omega-3 fatty acids such as wild caught salmon, sardines, Atlantic mackerel and cod, along with lean cuts of meat as well as liver. Modest amounts of fruit are advised, and oils are permitted as long as they are olive, avocado or coconut oils. Fermented foods such as kimchi, naturally fermented pickles and sauerkraut are good as well, due to their beneficial bacterial content.

NOTE OF CAUTION: Consult your medical practitioners before starting an elimination diet.  Your body needs a wide variety of vitamins and minerals to be healthy and any diet that isn’t properly contemplated has the possibility of leading to nutritional deficiencies. Please consult with your physician and a dietician for further advice on your particular situation.

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