No overarching diet exists for people with lupus. However, lupus is a systemic disease, so maintaining good nutritional habits will help your body remain as healthy as possible. Generally, doctors recommend a diet composed of about 50% carbohydrates, 15% protein, and 30% fat. However, since people with lupus often experience symptoms like weight loss or gain, inflammation, osteoporosis, kidney disease, high blood pressure, and atherosclerosis, certain specific nutritional concerns may also need to be taken into consideration. If you need help managing your weight or making healthy food choices, please speak with your doctor. S/he can give you more specific information and refer you to a registered dietitian if needed.
Foods to avoid
Certain foods, including garlic and alfalfa sprouts, should be avoided by people with lupus. [For a more complete list of items to be avoided, please see the article “Things to Avoided” in the Lupus 101 section.] Recently controversy has also arisen over whether aspartame induces lupus. However, scientists have concluded that there is no evidence to suggest that aspartame causes lupus.
Weight changes, high blood pressure, and kidney disease
Often, people with lupus experience weight loss or gain due to loss of appetite, unhealthy dietary habits, or decreased energy and mobility. If you experience weight loss or loss of appetite, talk to your doctor. S/he can help you determine the cause of the problem and take strides to correct it. Weight gain can be caused by many factors, including reduced activity levels and overeating due to steroid use or increased stress. However, remember that women with lupus between the ages of 35 and 44 experience a risk of heat attack that is 50x that of the normal population. Therefore, it is very important that you try to stick to a diet that is low in cholesterol and saturated fats. A low-sodium diet is also essential for people suffering from high blood pressure (above 120/80 mmHg for people with lupus) and kidney disease.
Steroid medications such as prednisone can also cause significant weight gain and redistribution of fat stores in the body. While taking steroids, your cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood sugar (glucose) levels may increase. For these reasons, it is absolutely essential that you follow a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet. You do not need to cut out all of the foods you love, but concentrate on eating whole grain breads and cereals and lean sources of protein such as chicken and fish. When you need a snack, look to raw vegetables—they are low in sugar and calories and provide the perfect food for “grazing.” Try to eat them without Ranch dressing or vegetable dip, because these items carry lots of fat and calories. If you need something to accompany your vegetables, try lighter dips like hummus. It is also important that you minimize alcohol intake ,because combining alcohol with corticosteroids, Tylenol, warfarin, and other lupus medications could be very harmful to your liver and stomach. For those taking methotrexate, alcohol is never allowed.
A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids may help to mitigate inflammation. Although omega-3s have not been adequately studied in lupus, studies of the general population suggest that these essential fatty acids may also boost mood and improve cardiovascular health. Fish, nuts, and flax are excellent sources of omega-3s and can be easily incorporated into everyday meals. Try to avoid saturated fats, such as those in beef and fried snack foods, since these fats are known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and may actually stimulate the immune system.
Osteoporosis / Osteopenia
If you have osteoporosis or osteopenia, your doctor will most likely recommend that you take calcium and vitamin D supplements in addition to your regular bone medications, since vitamin D helps your body to absorb calcium. It is important that you also try to eat foods rich in calcium, such as milk, light ice cream/frozen yogurt, cottage cheese, pudding, almonds, broccoli, fortified cereal, oranges, yogurt, hard cheese, soybeans and soymilk, navy beans, oysters, sardines, and spinach. These foods will help to keep your bones as healthy and strong as possible.
Certain medications require the observance of strict dietary controls. Your doctor and pharmacist will most likely update you on these regulations, but more information on the dietary restrictions and considerations that accompany certain medications can also be found in the “Lupus Treatment” section.
- FAQ: Causes of Lupus.” Lupus Foundation of America. 26 June 2009 <http://www.lupus.org/webmodules/webarticlesnet/templates/new_aboutfaq.aspx?articleid=379&zoneid=19>.
- Wallace, Daniel J. The Lupus Book: A Guide for Patients and Their Families. 1st ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.