Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote: Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es. “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”

It is never more true these days in our health conscious society. From the last grain of a quinoa mixed vegetable salad to a sliver of a 85% organic dark chocolate bar, what we eat on a daily basis affects our body positively or negatively.

People who suffer from various manifestations of lupus have to be cautious about the types of foods they ingest. Currently, a specific diet for lupus patients does not exist; however, lupus is a systemic disease, so maintaining good nutritional habits will help the body remain as healthy as possible.

Weight fluctuations, hypertension and renal disease

Frequently, people with lupus experience weight loss or gain due to changes in appetite, unhealthy dietary habits, or decreased energy and mobility. Weight gain can be caused by many factors, including reduced activity levels, overeating, steroid use or increased stress. Therefore, it is very important to abide by a diet low in cholesterol and saturated fats. Steroid medications, such as prednisone, can also cause significant weight gain and redistribution of fat stores in the body. A low sodium diet is essential for people suffering from high blood pressure (higher than 120/80 mmHg for people with lupus) and renal disease.

Some other key dietary modifications include changes for those who consume red meat such as beef and pork. Substituting it with fish which is high in omega-3 fatty acids and very healthy. Good alternatives include: 

  • salmon
  • mackerel
  • tuna
  • sardines

Consuming whole grain breads, raw vegetables, fruits, cereals and lean sources of protein such as chicken are valuable. Raw vegetables are good as “snacks” since they are low in sugar and calories; they pair well with light dips such as hummus as opposed to ranch.

If a lupus patient is experiencing fluid retention that causes edema (swelling), the amount of salt and sodium containing foods should be lowered; in particular, processed foods, such as potato chips, white bread, pasta, cookies, canned and frozen foods, should be avoided. Substitute the following food enhancing flavors:

  • lemon/lime
  • herbs
  • black pepper
  • curry powder
  • turmeric

Lower inflammation

A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids may also help to mitigate inflammation. Fish, nuts, and flaxseeds are excellent sources of omega-3s and can be easily incorporated into everyday meals.

Although there is no scientific evidence to prove it, some people with lupus find that they experience inflammation from nightshade vegetables. These include:

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

Keeping a food diary could help to eliminate the vegetables that cause symptoms to flare up.


Osteoporosis patients are recommended to take calcium and vitamin D supplements in addition to regular bone medications. Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium, which is particularly essential for those on long-term corticosteroids. Additionally, foods rich in calcium, such as milk, ice cream/frozen yogurt, cottage cheese, pudding, almonds, broccoli, fortified cereal, oranges, yogurt, hard cheese, soybeans, tofu, navy beans and spinach are encouraged.

Vegetarian or vegan diets

Vegetarian or vegan diets are permitted but a multivitamin that includes vitamin B12, a vitamin only found in animal products,  is essential. Make sure to combine different sources of plant protein in order to absorb all the necessary amino acids the body needs. Rice and beans, corn and wheat are good pairs. Typically, animal proteins, dairy, and eggs are complete proteins, but vegetable proteins can be low in one or more amino acids, which makes them inadequate as sole sources of protein.

Beware of these two foods

Alfalfa and garlic are two foods that should be eliminated from a dietary regimen. Alfalfa sprouts contain an amino acid called L-canavanine that can send the immune system into overdrive.  Furthermore, it has been found that people who have eaten alfalfa have reacted with muscle pain and fatigue while physicians have noted laboratory blood work changes.

Another culprit is garlic. It contains allicin, ajoene, and thiosulfinates, which can cause an overactive immune system by enhancing the activity of white blood cells, particularly macrophages. Unfortunately, the enhancement of immune response is counterproductive in people with autoimmune disease such as lupus, because the immune system is already overactive to begin with. As a result, people with lupus should avoid cooking with garlic.

You are what you eat

It is up to the patient to be proactive with what she/he can and cannot eat. Seeking the aid of a dietician is also advantageous. In essence, it is advisable to eat a diet that is low in fat, sugar and has plenty of fruits and vegetables. Obtain some of the protein content from fish and eat lots of beans and legumes, because they are high in fiber, vitamin B, and iron. In the same way unhealthy foods can adversely affect one’s health and chances for disease, healthy foods can help lower the chances of lupus and flare ups. Prevention can be better than a cure.

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