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With over 100 known autoimmune diseases, many of them overlapping and co-existing, it is crucial to find out how to manage symptoms of your chronic condition to improve your quality of life. A food first approach is one of the most attainable and affordable means to manage inflammation from the inside out — but with so much nutrition information out there, you may be wondering which diet advice is best to follow. In this article we’ll look at which diet may be right for you and your autoimmune disease. (Source)
Autoimmune Disease and Inflammation
Autoimmune diseases are inflammatory medical conditions accompanied by uncomfortable symptoms that may make it difficult to function. The immune system plays a large role in mediating inflammation as the body’s own cells are wrongly attacked, creating a fiery response from the inside out.
With so many autoimmune diseases it can be difficult to receive a diagnosis, as symptoms may overlap and flare at times and then not be noticeable for a bit. One trait each autoimmune condition does have in common though is systemic inflammation, disrupting the immune system and causing it to overreact and manifest into bothersome symptoms. (Source)
When managing your condition, the main goal is to reduce inflammation, which may be made possible by making healthy choices in how you live. Learning to manage your stress with healthy outlets, getting good sleep, and eating a well balanced anti-inflammatory diet are lifestyle choices you can adopt to reduce your inflammatory response.
Of course, inflammation is actually normal and at times a very necessary systemic response. The issue arises when it becomes chronic, day in and day out, causing damage to your body. Making changes in how you eat is a great starting point to reducing chronic inflammation from the inside out and improving your immune response. (Source)
The Role of the Gut Microbiome
Research has shown that the gut microbiome, or community of microbes, plays a role in the development and prevention of autoimmune diseases. Your gut harbors many different microbes including viruses and fungi, but it’s your gut bacteria that impact your immune system the most. An imbalance of bacteria, or dysbiosis, may eventually breed disease, while a balanced microbiome is beneficial to both you and your bacteria.
Factors that influence your microbiome include your age, sex, where you live, and your dietary choices. By consuming whole foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and probiotics, you can help balance your microbiome, prevent intestinal permeability, reduce inflammation, and support healthy digestion. (Source)
What Is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
An anti-inflammatory diet is one that focuses on whole and fresh foods while cutting back or eliminating processed and packaged foods. Packaged foods are highly processed and may flood your body with loads of pro-inflammatory sugar and additives. On the other hand, a whole food has one ingredient, like a carrot or an apple, chicken or beef. You don’t need to wonder what’s in it, you already know! Whole foods, when combined, can make some really tasty dishes and snacks that promote a healing environment from within. (Source)
Rather than one specific diet that fights inflammation, there are many out there that may work for you. Anti-inflammatory diets bring in inflammation-fighting foods that will not trigger the immune system and include a variety of fruits and vegetables, healthy sources of protein and fats, and fresh herbs and spices. This style of eating limits foods such as refined sugar and carbohydrates, processed meats, packaged snacks, and inflammatory vegetable oils that contribute to disease.
The autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet is an example of an anti-inflammatory eating plan that has a track record of helping those with chronic illness put their symptoms into remission. You can personalize your own anti-inflammatory diet by combining healing foods to reduce your inflammation and manage your symptoms. (Source)
The autoimmune protocol (AIP) is an elimination diet that is actually a variation on the popular paleo diet. The AIP style of eating focuses on consuming nutrient dense sources of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, while eliminating gut irritating foods that may trigger an immune response such as inflammatory bowel disease. This diet may be helpful in managing your symptoms while reducing overall inflammation and supporting beneficial gut bacteria, too. The 3 phases of this diet include the elimination phase, the reintroduction phase, and the maintenance or personalization phase. (Source)
The elimination phase kicks off the AIP and encourages removal of several foods that are known to be pro-inflammatory for many people. The reintroduction phase brings back the eliminated foods one at a time, while monitoring your response to each one. As long as disease symptoms do not reappear and you are still feeling and functioning optimally, the reintroduced foods can be incorporated back into your diet. You may find some foods can be brought back while others need to continue to be left out as you move into the personalization phase of AIP. (Source)
Foods to Avoid in Your Diet
A typical Western diet contains many pro-inflammatory foods and beverages that do not provide a strong foundation for living well with chronic illness. Removing these foods may reduce both food intolerances and systemic inflammation, which with regular consumption can lead to dysbiosis and disease. Imbalanced gut bacteria can be a breeding ground for disease, but an anti-inflammatory diet focuses on rebalancing the gut microbiome with nutrient dense whole foods to repair and support a strong immune system.
To re-establish and promote healthy bacteria, you should avoid:
sugary beverages such as soda, juice, and sweetened iced tea
If you recognize you have a reaction to a healthy food you should probably avoid it as well, even though it may otherwise be deemed good for you. Nightshade vegetables including eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers are good examples of healthy foods that may be a risk factor for increasing an autoimmune response in some individuals. Any food intolerance or sensitivity may lead to excess inflammation. (Source, Source, Source)
Foods to Include in Your Diet
Comprehensive dietary changes can go a long way in restoring healthy gut flora. Adding essential nutrients from fresh and whole foods while removing inflammatory foods can be a radical overhaul for your microbiome, but a necessary move if you struggle with inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, or inflammatory bowel disease.
Whether you choose to follow the AIP diet or another anti-inflammatory protocol such as the paleo or gluten-free diets, there are a lot of delicious foods available to you. Diversify your eating plan and prevent boredom by choosing different fruits and vegetables each week, adding a variety of fresh herbs and spices to your meals, and rotating your protein sources often.
In your diet you should include anti-inflammatory foods such as:
While autoimmune disease cannot be cured, anti-inflammatory diets can help manage them, and rest assured you won’t have to wonder if your diet is working for you. Measure your symptoms and how you feel while following your eating plan. Have your symptoms lessened or disappeared? Maybe you notice you have more energy, are sleeping better, and have less brain fog, joint pain and swelling, and headaches.
Inflammation can show up in different ways from one person to another. To weigh the effectiveness of your plan, take notice of how you felt and what symptoms you were experiencing before you changed your diet. Making small changes over time can have a big impact, but keep in mind it may take 2 to 3 weeks to first see progress and results in how you feel. (Source)
The Bottom Line on the Best Diet for Autoimmune Disease
While there is no single diet that is best for everyone with autoimmune disease, it is possible to improve how you think, feel, and function each day by following a nutrient dense anti-inflammatory eating plan such as the autoimmune protocol. If you’re ready to try a food forward approach to reducing your autoimmune symptoms and improving your quality of life, WellTheory’s Nutritional Therapy Practitioners can help you personalize a nutrition plan that’s right for you.