Lupus, also known as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a form of autoimmune disease that can attack any part of the body, including the internal organs like the kidneys, lungs, brain, heart or the skin.
Proper diet and nutrition is an important component of a comprehensive treatment program for lupus patients. This is especially important if you have any nutritional needs related to some of the symptoms that may develop during your life with lupus such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure or others.
Some lupus patients may experience a reduction in appetite, follow by weight loss. However, there are also others who find themselves eating more and gaining more weight. Steroids which are commonly used to control the symptoms of lupus may cause the rise in appetite but it may not be the main factor.
So the question is how to eat correctly in order to maintain ideal weight, and at the same time have to consider the nutritional benefit to your health, especially if you have lupus? Is there any particular diet which is tailored specially for lupus sufferers? Well, the fact is there is no such “magic diet” which can cure lupus at all! The rationale is to maintain a nutritional and balanced-diet by knowing what are the necessary vitamins, minerals or supplements to look out for.
For example, fish oil has all along been viewed as an essential supplement due to its anti-inflammatory properties. The best part is you can get fish oil capsules over the counter anywhere easily, but that does not mean you should just rely on it alone. A healthier option is to include fish in your daily meals in this case. On the other hand, alfalfa sprouts is a “bad food” which you need to avoid since it trigger lupus flares. This applies to those natural supplements which contain alfalfa as well.
If you have lupus, you may experience nutritional deficiencies at times. During a flare-up, your body may use up certain nutrients at a faster rate than it normally would. This explains why usually fatigue or tiredness set in after a flare. Therefore, your doctor may advise you dietary or nutritional supplements to make up these deficiencies. Again, this does not mean that it will simply “cure” your lupus.
Ultimately, adopting a well-balanced diet that included the right nutrition will then helps in your overall treatment program for lupus. So what are the types of nutrients which are essential to your body system?
Basics Of Nutrition
Typically, there are 6 types of nutrients which our body needs for survival namely water, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals. It is recommended to eat a variety of whole foods in order to get all these essential nutrients naturally through dietary sources. Processed food that include the procedures of refining, enriching, hydrogenating, preserving and irradiating can destroy certain percentage of the nutrient content of foods.
Functions Of Carbohydrates
It primary role is to supply the energy that our body needs to work or function every day. It is generally classified as simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates also known as simple sugars consist mainly of single sugar molecules, which are found mainly in sugar and fruits.
Complex carbohydrates are found in vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, which are made up of long, complex chains of sugars. In fact, it is harder to break down than simple sugars which usually have to be digested in the stomach and intestine, before they are broken down into simple sugars for the body to absorb.
Fiber is a complex carbohydrate that your body cannot digest and absorb for energy. But it helps the intestines to function efficiently and helps in the absorption of sugars into the bloodstream. Besides, it binds bile acids, cholesterol, carcinogens and other harmful substances. This means that fiber is effective in removing certain toxins from our body.
In addition, fiber-rich diets also promote a feeling of fullness by adding bulk to meals, without adding calories. High fiber cereals, brown rice, bran, dried prunes, nuts, seeds, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale are good sources of fiber.
Functions Of Fats
Many people have the misconception that fats are not good for our body system. Yes, in fact to a certain extent, having too much fats or having high-fat diets can easily lead to illnesses like heart disease, some cancers and diabetes.
However, some dietary fat is still necessary to provide insulation and help the cells in our body to send signals to communicate with other cells. In fact, it is the body’s most concentrated source of energy (with nine calories per gram) and acts as a protective shield for our bones as well as internal organs.
Typically, fat is stored and functions as a “backup” source of energy for the body when the intake of other nutrients such as carbohydrates is running low. A typical American diet includes too much total fat so that the excess fat is stored in the adipose (fat) tissues of the body.
As such, high consumption of the wrong type of fats can cause blood vessels to become clogged, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Last but not least, a major problem which is obesity.
Therefore, it is advisable to limit the consumption of red meat to about once every ten days, and only opt for lean-cut meat. Besides, you should opt for non-fat dairy products, eliminating saturated oils and fats, including butter, margarine, lard and vegetable oils.
In the situation when oils cannot be avoided, use only small amount of poly-unsaturated oils such as corn oil, safflower oil, olive oil, peanut oil or canola oil which are mono-unsaturated. Some of the good fats such as omega-6 fatty acids are found mostly in foods like pistachio nuts, wheat germ, primrose oil and borage oil. Besides that, omega-3 oils are found in food like flaxseed oil, walnuts, salmon and mackerel, whereas omega-9 oils (an essential fatty acids) are found in food such as extra olive oil.
2 Types Of Fats
Generally, there are 3 types of triglycerides found in our body and diet which are saturated, poly-unsaturated and mono-unsaturated.
Saturated fats are in solid form at room temperature and are found mainly in animal products such as butter, lard, whole milk, cream, sour cream, cheese and fatty meats. A diet high in saturated fat will lead to a rise in cholesterol levels. As such, this is considered to be “bad” fats.
Poly-unsaturated fats are in liquid form at room temperature and they are usually found in corn, soybean, safflower and sunflower oils. Although these fats have shown to reduce total blood cholesterol, they may also lower the level of “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.
Though polyunsaturated fats are healthier than saturated fats, they are not as healthy as monounsaturated fats, which lower the “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol without affecting HDL cholesterol. Foods like olive, peanut, almonds, cashew nuts, pistachios and canola oils have high amounts of mono-unsaturates.
It is a fatty substance that is especially essential in the creation, maintenance and repairing of cell membranes throughout the body system. Besides, it is also used in the formation of hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, progesterone and cortisol.
Within the brain and spinal cord, cholesterol serves as part of the insulation that covers nerve cells and keeps nerve signals going to the right location. In fact, most of the cholesterol in the human body is produced by its own cells, particularly the cells of the liver.
However, in reality, most of our diets are usually overloaded with fat and calories which leads to over-excess which our body can absorb and use. Therefore, with excessive dietary cholesterol in the blood, it creates major health problems like heart disease and stroke when the arteries get clogged and hardened.
There are 2 different types of cholesterol namely high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and low-density (LDL) cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is often called “good” cholesterol because it is believed to protect the body by transporting fats or lipids through the body.
LDL cholesterol, is often referred as “bad” cholesterol since it tends to deposit fats in the body, increasing the risk of atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases.
Functions Of Proteins
This is essential in the repair of body cells as well as overall growth and development. All proteins are made up of structural units known as amino acids. Though there are more than 20 amino acids that have been identified, only 9 of them are considered essential which only can obtain from dietary sources. Complete proteins are proteins that contain all of the 9 essential amino acids in sufficient amounts for adequate growth, development and cellular repair.
To a certain extent, amino acids are converted to glucose and may increase blood glucose levels. Our body tends to spare protein as a source of energy because of the nutrient’s importance in growth and development as well as its role in the production of hormones, antibodies, enzymes and body tissues.
As such, the body uses mostly carbohydrates and fats for energy, and relies more on protein as the other energy sources are depleted. However, too much protein is unhealthy as it tends to put strain on the kidneys. Good sources of protein include milk products, poultry, seafood, pork, eggs, and peanut butter. Smaller amounts of the nutrient are contained in nuts, vegetables, grains and whole-grain bread.
Functions Of Vitamins, Minerals And Natural Food Supplements
Vitamins are essential to life since they help regulate metabolism and assist the bio-chemical processes that release energy from digested food. Vitamins are organic (carbon-containing) substances that occur naturally in plants and animals. Since our bodies cannot manufacture vitamins, we must obtain most of these nutrients from the foods we eat or from vitamin supplements.
Mineral are important as they help to compose body fluids, form blood and bone, maintain healthy nerve function and regulate muscle tone. Whereas vitamins are organic substances, minerals are inorganic substances, meaning that they are not bound to carbon. Minerals originate in soil and water and they are absorbed by the plants that are eaten by the animals that make up the human diet.
Both vitamins and minerals can function as coenzymes in the body. This means that they “help” the enzymes that promote all of the body’s biochemical processes including nerve transmission, muscle contraction, blood formation, protein metabolism and energy production. In addition, they help build strong bones and teeth and are necessary for the manufacture of hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying component of blood.
Antioxidants are micro-nutrients that may help protect against a variety of disease including heart disease and cancer. Some well-known antioxidants include vitamins C and E and the mineral selenium. These nutrients protect the body cells from damage that can be caused by factors such as cigarette smoke, toxic chemicals and environmental pollution.
If for some reason, you think that you are not getting enough from dietary sources alone, you might consider consulting a dietitian who can advise you on appropriate nutritional supplements.
Avoid Non-Foods That Trigger Lupus Flare-Ups
Now you know what are the essential nutrients or vitamins which you need in order to maintain a balanced and healthy diet. But that is not all, you will also need to know what are the “bad foods” that you must avoid so that flare-ups can be prevented.
#1 Non-Food: Artificial Additives
Generally, people who are not taking care of their diet are not aware that there are 5000 or more artificial additives which are used to maintain freshness or preserve the attractive look or taste of food. Some additives have not even gone through sufficient studies to determine if they are safe for consumption.
For example, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and aspartame are used without warnings but have been known to cause various problems like gastrointestinal upset, bloating and diarrhea. In fact, additives are usually found in processed can or frozen foods.
Therefore, avoid these foods as much as possible. On top of that, if you are buying prepared items, opt for those that have been made without additives. Besides, avoid eating smoked foods like bacon or lunchmeats since these may contain some of the most harmful processing chemicals.
#2 Non-Food: Pesticides And Other Harmful Substances
Just like additives, the pesticides used to control weeds and pests are found abundant in our diet. These chemicals are found in meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, fruits, coffee and in fact, virtually all of our foods.
So how to avoid eating all these harmful chemicals? For fruits and vegetables, do make a habit to wash, scrub or peel. Alternatively, you can also clean with non-toxic rinsing preparations available in health food stores. If possible, buy organically grown foods and avoid imported ones.
Animals which are raised for human consumption are often fed with steroids and hormones to induce growth. To reduce their effect, buy meats that are certified drug-free and eat less meat, egg and dairy products. However, if your diet is high in fiber and antioxidants, it can help eliminate pesticides and other harmful substances from your body.
#3 Non-Food: Alcohol
If you consume alcohol excessively, it can lead to some of the problems associated with any illness. This is because alcohol is contraindicated with many medications especially the ones taken by many people for pain relieve like aspirin, NSAIDs and narcotics.
#4 Non-Food: Caffeine
Just like alcohol, caffeine found in coffee, tea, cola, chocolate and other food can affect people with lupus. If you wish to drink coffee, make sure it is de-caffeinated. So what drinks should you opt for in place of your favourite coffee, tea or caffeinated beverages?
Well, the ideal choices are skim or soymilk, mineral water, unsweetened fruit juices and vegetable juices. Besides eliminating harmful caffeine, most of these drinks take a further step toward improving your health by supplying valuable nutrients.
#5 Non-Food: Tobacco
Smoking or inhaling second-hand smoke can cause great damage to our immune system. For people with lupus, smoking can increase the effects of the disease on the heart and blood vessels. Besides, chewing tobacco and snuff have been found to be just as harmful as cigars and cigarettes.
Now you should understand why diet and nutrition is such an essential component of a treatment program even though it does not cure lupus. However, before you adopt any changes or modifications to your diet, it is advisable to consult your doctor or a qualified nutritionist who can offer sound guidance.
A good nutritionist will be able to understand your body’s biochemistry and recommend ways to balance it through the use of vitamins, minerals as well as other dietary supplements. Do make sure if the changes will affect your current lupus treatment in one way or another. Besides, nutrition is not meant to be an alternative treatment but rather it helps to build the healthy fundamentals that work for your body system.