Diet Tips for Lupus

Medically reviewed by Natalie Butler, RD, LD on October 11, 2016Written by Stephanie Watson on October 11, 2016

Despite what you might have read, there is no established diet for lupus. Just as with any medical condition, you should aim to eat a healthy blend of foods, including fresh fruits vegetables, whole grains, legumes, plant fats, lean proteins, and fish.

However, certain foods may be better than others for managing your symptoms. Keep reading to find out what to include in your diet.

Switch from red meat to fatty fish

Red meat is full of saturated fat, which can contribute to heart disease. Fish are high in omega-3s. Try to eat more: 

  • salmon
  • tuna
  • mackerel
  • sardines

Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids that help protect against heart disease and stroke. They can also reduce inflammation in the body.

Get more calcium-rich foods

The steroid drugs you may take to control lupus can thin your bones as a side effect. This makes you more vulnerable to fractures. To combat fractures, eat foods that are high in calcium and vitamin D. These nutrients strengthen your bones.

Good foods include: 

  • low-fat milk
  • cheese
  • yogurt
  • tofu
  • beans
  • calcium-fortified plant milks
  • dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and broccoli

Ask your doctor about taking a supplement if you’re not getting enough calcium and vitamin D from food alone.

Limit saturated and trans fats

Everyone’s goal should be to eat a diet that’s low in saturated and trans fats. This is especially true for people with lupus. Steroids can increase your appetite and cause you to gain weight, so it’s important to watch what you eat.

Try to focus on foods that will fill you up without filling you out, such as raw vegetables, air-popped popcorn, and fruit.

Avoid alfalfa and garlic

Alfalfa and garlic are two foods that probably shouldn’t be on your dinner plate if you have lupus. The alfalfa sprouts contain an amino acid called L-canavanine, and garlic contains allicin, ajoene, and thiosulfinates, which can send your immune system into overdrive and flare up your lupus symptoms.

People who’ve eaten alfalfa have reacted with muscle pain and fatigue, and their doctors have noted changes on their blood test results.

Skip nightshade vegetables

Although there isn’t any scientific evidence to prove it, some people with lupus find that they’re sensitive to nightshade vegetables. These include:

  • white potatoes
  • tomatoes
  • sweet and hot peppers
  • eggplant

Keep a food diary to record what you eat. Eliminate the vegetables that cause your symptoms to flare up every time you eat them.

Watch your alcohol intake

The occasional glass of red wine or beer isn’t restricted. However, alcohol can interact with some of the medicines you take to control your condition. Drinking while taking NSAID drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin) or naproxen (Naprosyn), for example, could increase your risk of stomach bleeding or ulcers. Alcohol can also reduce the effectiveness of warfarin (Coumadin) and methotrexate.

Pass on salt

Set aside the saltshaker and start ordering your restaurant meals with less sodium. Here are some tips:

  • order your sauces on the side, which are often high in sodium
  • ask for your entrée to be cooked without added salt
  • order an extra side of vegetables, which are rich in potassium

Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk for heart disease, while potassium can help combat high blood pressure. Lupus already puts you at higher risk for developing heart disease.

Substitute other spices to enhance food flavor, such as:

  • lemon
  • herbs
  • pepper
  • curry powder
  • turmeric

A number of herbs and spices have been sold on the web as lupus symptom relievers. But there is very little evidence that any of them work.

These products can interact with drugs you’re taking for lupus and cause side effects. Don’t take any herbal remedy or supplement without first talking to your doctor.

The takeaway

Lupus affects each person differently. A diet change that works for one person may not work for you. Keeping a food journal and having an open dialogue with your doctor and dietitian will help you determine how different foods help or hurt your symptoms.

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