5 foods you need to be eating if you have autoimmune disease
Living with an autoimmune disease can be a daily challenge, but incorporating the right nutrition into your lifestyle can make a significant difference in managing symptoms and promoting overall health.
Once I started cooking from scratch and included a variety of these different foods into my diet each day, I saw a significant improvement in my symptoms, and since then, I have gone from strength to strength and now live symptom-free.
You may not realise what a difference simple tweaks to your diet can make, but having the right balance of foods in your diet can have a huge impact on your health and relief from your autoimmune symptoms.
Here, we delve into five key food groups that play a pivotal role in supporting your health and autoimmune symptoms.
1. Antioxidants: The shield against inflammation
Antioxidants are your body's defence against oxidative stress, a common trigger for autoimmune flare-ups. When I run an organic acids test on my autoimmune clients, such as the Metabolomix panel, I often see markers for oxidative stress, which can lead to inflammation.
A simple solution to this is to incorporate a colourful array of fruits and vegetables, such as berries, spinach, and kale, into your diet. These vibrant foods are rich in vitamins C and E, selenium, and other antioxidants that combat inflammation and protect your cells from damage.
You can include these foods in smoothies, soups and sauces to ensure you get a good variety of these nutrients every day, and I also love to add antioxidant-rich powders such as moringa, acai and baobab.
2. High-fibre foods: Gut health matters
Maintaining a healthy gut is essential if you have an autoimmune disease, as the gut plays a crucial role in immune system regulation. One of the critical factors in the inflammatory response, which is often present in autoimmune disease, is a comprised gut barrier function, as this leads to undigested particles, toxins and bacteria entering the bloodstream, which can switch on the immune system to self-destruct.
For example, studies have shown that in arthritis, often bacteria present in the gut are able to translocate to the joint, which can cause inflammation and damage to the joint and the development of long-term autoimmune conditions such as psoriatic arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Opt for high-fiber foods like whole grains, legumes, and vegetables to support gut microbiota. Many of these foods are missing in some autoimmune diets, such as the elimination phase of the autoimmune protocol, so it is crucial to reintroduce these foods as soon as you can to reap the benefits for your gut health. If you need guidance on this, please reach out to me, as I offer AIP coaching at The Autoimmunity Nutritionist Clinic.
Fibre not only aids digestion but also helps regulate the immune response, reducing the risk of inflammation associated with autoimmune conditions.
3. Healthy fats: Building strong cell membranes with omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish like salmon, flaxseeds, and walnuts, are fundamental for maintaining cell membrane health. These fats contribute to the flexibility and integrity of cell membranes, influencing the way immune cells communicate and respond to threats.
In autoimmune diseases, the health of cell membranes is paramount due to its pivotal role in immune system regulation. A well-functioning cell membrane ensures effective communication between immune cells, helping them distinguish between self and non-self substances. This is crucial for preventing the immune system from mistakenly targeting the body's own tissues, a hallmark of autoimmune disorders.
In addition, omega-3 fatty acids, vital components of cell membranes, contribute to membrane flexibility and modulate inflammation. This is particularly significant in autoimmune conditions where chronic inflammation is prevalent; maintaining healthy cell membranes with adequate omega-3s can assist in managing and mitigating inflammatory responses.
Lastly, the integrity of cell membranes serves as a barrier, shielding cells from external threats and preventing the intrusion of unwanted substances. A compromised membrane barrier may lead to the initiation of immune responses against the body's own tissues, contributing to autoimmune reactions. Therefore, the promotion of healthy cell membranes, supported by a diet rich in essential fatty acids and nutrients, becomes a key strategy in both preventing the development of autoimmune diseases and managing their impact on the immune system.
Cellular health is often overlooked in autoimmune diseases, even though it is an essential component of these conditions. The cell health functional test that I offer at The Autoimmunity Nutritionist Clinic helps assess the adequacy of your cell health, which leads to a more targeted approach when addressing the underlying issues.
Including these healthy fats in your diet can help modulate the inflammatory response, providing a protective barrier against autoimmune challenges.
4. Protein: Amino acid powerhouses for immune support
Protein is vital for repairing tissues and supporting the immune system. Emphasise lean protein sources like poultry, organ meat, fish, beans, and tofu.
Key amino acids, such as glutamine, lysine and taurine, play crucial roles in immune function.
Glutamine supports the integrity of the intestinal lining, preventing unwanted substances from entering the bloodstream and triggering immune reactions. Good sources of glutamine include protein-rich foods such as beef, chicken, fish, dairy products, eggs, and plant-based sources like beans and lentils.
Lysine plays a crucial role in supporting the immune system by aiding in the production of antibodies and enzymes that contribute to immune function. Lysine also possesses antiviral properties, potentially assisting in controlling viral infections that can exacerbate autoimmune responses. In addition, lysine promotes collagen formation, contributing to tissue repair and maintenance. Lysine is found in abundance in protein-rich foods such as meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, eggs, quinoa, and legumes like beans and lentils.
Taurine plays a key role in supporting liver health, particularly beneficial in autoimmune diseases where liver involvement is common, such as primary biliary cholangitis.
Taurine has been shown to protect against oxidative stress and inflammation, crucial factors in autoimmune-related liver damage. By promoting liver function and mitigating inflammatory responses, taurine can be a valuable dietary addition for individuals with autoimmune conditions to help maintain the integrity of this vital organ. Taurine is naturally present in seafood, particularly in fish like salmon and shellfish, as well as in meat, poultry, and dairy products.
Remember, protein is not just one thing, it is made up of 20 different amino acids. Nine of them are essential, meaning they must be obtained through the diet; these essential amino acids include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. So again, variety is key and if you are following a vegan or vegetarian diet, be sure to eat various different plant-based proteins, as each will include different amino acids.
5. Fermented foods: Cultivating a healthy microbiome
The balance of the gut microbiome is paramount for those with autoimmune diseases.
Fermented foods like yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi contain probiotics that promote a diverse and robust microbiota. A well-balanced microbiome can help regulate the immune system and reduce inflammation. Including fermented foods in your diet supports the growth of beneficial bacteria, contributing to a healthier gut environment.
A word of caution when it comes to fermented foods: If you have digestive issues, your gut might not be ready for fermented foods. Either start with a slow and steady approach as you introduce these foods into your diet, or address the root of your gut issues, such as bacteria dysbiosis or small intestinal bacteria overgrowth, by working with a nutritionist like me, and then you can start to include more of these foods in your diet.
In conclusion, autoimmune nutrition is a powerful tool for enhancing health and managing symptoms. By incorporating antioxidants, high-fibre foods, healthy fats, protein-rich sources with key amino acids, and fermented foods into your diet, you can positively impact your immune system and promote overall well-being.
Increasing the nutritional value of my clients' diet is at the heart of what I do, and rather than focusing on restriction, we focus more on overcrowding with good nutrition, so there is little space left for unhealthy foods.
If you would like to find out more about working with me one-on-one as part of my health transformation packages, please feel free to book a free initial consultation with me.