Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and thyroid disorders are painful, disruptive and often devastating. At their core, they have one thing in common: an out-of-control immune response, linked with systemic inflammation. The right diet can help ease pain and heal autoimmune diseases. In general, avoid caffeine, alcohol, sugar, grains, dairy and red meat, and focus on fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and fish. Try these six foods to make living with autoimmune conditions easier.
One 3-ounce serving has more than a full day’s worth of vitamin D, which is linked with reduced risk of rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus and other autoimmune diseases. Other good sources of vitamin D include salmon, mackerel, sardines, whitefish and tuna. For vegetarian sources, opt for egg yolks or mushrooms grown in sunlight or UV light.
Try This: Marinate halibut steaks in olive oil and garlic then grill until done and garnish with lemons, capers and parsley; layer halibut fillets with rosemary and shallots, wrap in parchment or foil, and bake until done; poach halibut in white wine, cut into strips and serve on a salad of arugula, thinly sliced fennel, orange segments and black olives.
This bright orange spice contains curcumin, a powerful healing compound that’s been shown to alleviate multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel disease by regulating inflammatory substances in the body. Curcumin is hard for the body to absorb, so to increase its availability, combine it with black pepper and try heating it, both of which make it easier for the body to use.
Try This: Cook butternut squash cubes with coconut milk, turmeric, black pepper and curry paste then purée for an easy, creamy soup; simmer coconut or almond milk with turmeric and black pepper, and sweeten with raw honey for a dairy-free golden milk; toss cauliflower florets in turmeric, black pepper, salt, garlic and olive oil then roast until tender.
Related: Supplements for Autoimmune Health
Traditionally fermented sauerkraut is loaded with probiotics, which help balance the gut microbiome and improve the intestine’s barrier function, critical in protecting against autoimmune conditions. Studies show that people with rheumatoid arthritis who take probiotics feel a significant reduction in stiffness, swelling, pain, and inflammation. Other good dairy-free probiotic sources include kimchi, fermented vegetables, pickled ginger, coconut yogurt with added probiotics, and water kefir.
Try This: Purée sauerkraut with mustard, horseradish and raw honey for a zesty sandwich spread; grill chicken or turkey sausage, slice on the diagonal and serve on a bed of sauerkraut; mix sauerkraut with grated carrots, daikon radish and shredded spinach for an easy side.
It’s high in a compound called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which has been shown to improve symptoms and reduce the pathology in some animal models of autoimmune diseases. The dysregulation of T cell function is a critical factor in the development of autoimmune inflammatory diseases, and green tea has a dramatic effect on T cell function, especially their differentiation, in a way that can favorably impact autoimmunity. While further studies in humans are needed, the results are promising.
Try This: Brewed green tea with mint tea, slices of ginger and raw honey; mix brewed green tea, bananas and coconut milk then freeze in an ice cream maker.
Wild Alaskan Salmon
It’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation, modulate immune activity and protect against several inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis and multiple sclerosis. Tuna, sardines, mackerel and other fatty fish are also good sources of omega-3 fats.
Try This: Simmer seaweed noodles in a broth with ginger and garlic then top with bok choy, scallions and crumbled cooked salmon; in a food processor, combine salmon, leeks, zucchini, garlic and onions then pulse to mix and form into patties and sauté in olive oil; toss canned salmon with avocado cubes, chopped kale, shredded carrots and a simple vinaigrette.
Like other sulfur-rich foods (cauliflower, radishes, cabbage, onions, kale), it’s rich in a powerful antioxidant called glutathione, which has been shown to help alleviate autoimmune diseases. It’s key in taming chronic inflammation and protecting against oxidative stress, and studies show glutathione status may be diminished by as much as 50% in people with autoimmune disorders.
Try This: Toss whole broccoli spears in olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes and grill until tender; cook broccoli, cauliflower and leeks in broth then purée until smooth for a creamy, dairy-free soup; grate or shred broccoli stems, red cabbage, celery, green apples and onions, add golden raisins, and dress with mayonnaise, raw honey and apple cider vinegar for an easy slaw.
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