6 Best Foods to Eat if You Have an Autoimmune Disease
December 17th, 2018
The food you eat plays a HUGE role in the development of chronic illness, and by the same token, can be used halt or reverse disease progression. With simple changes to your diet, you can even find relief from autoimmune conditions, including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Hashimoto’s.
In fact, nutrient deficiencies are one of the main underlying causes of autoimmune disease and its progression. For example, if you are on the autoimmune spectrum, you’re also more likely to be deficient in vitamin D and B12, both of which are crucial for immune function and preventing your body from mistakenly attacking its own cells.
I have found in working with thousands of autoimmune patients that ensuring optimal nutrition is the #1 way to reverse chronic conditions and find relief from your symptoms. In this article, I’ll cover how to prevent nutrient deficiencies linked to autoimmune disease by eating the best food sources of essential vitamins and minerals. As you’ll see, eating these foods can also improve your overall health, giving you more energy and helping you to feel better in your body every day.
1. Grass-fed Lamb
Getting enough high-quality animal protein is crucial to build and repair tissues, make hormones, and support healthy muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood.1 It’s why I recommend eating meat to anyone with an autoimmune or thyroid condition, as animal protein contains the essential building blocks for immune function and thyroid hormones, which can be difficult to get from other sources.
Vitamin D stimulates your T cells and teaches your immune system not to attack your body’s own cells. This “sunshine vitamin” also helps you fight off viral and bacterial infections, which can trigger or make autoimmune conditions worse.
Medical experts dispute how much vitamin D you need each day to maintain optimal health. Studies show that 25-100 micrograms or 1000-4000 IU is required per day. However, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) is still set at a mere 10-20 micrograms, or 400-800 IU daily.
While studies show that grass-fed lamb doesn’t necessarily contain more vitamin D than conventional lamb, I recommend eating grass-fed and organic meat whenever possible because conventionally raised animals are fed an unnatural diet of GMO corn and soy.3,4
Lamb is also a good source of the following essential nutrients:
- Amino acids (such as L-Tyrosine and L-Glutamine)
- Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)
- Alpha Linoleic Acid (ALA)
2. Wild-caught Fatty Fish
Fatty fish are an excellent source of Omega-3s. Omega-3s enhance B cell activation and antibody production, which can reduce the inflammatory response and help your immune system fight off pathogens.5
The Omega-3 content of fish varies widely. Cold-water fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines contain high levels of Omega-3s, whereas fish such as tilapia, cod, and bass, as well as shellfish, contain less.6 So, to get the daily recommendation of Omega-3 fatty acids, you’d only need to eat about 5 ounces of salmon, yet 2 pounds of lobster!
Wild-caught fish and farmed fish also have different properties to consider when choosing the best food source of Omega-3s. In one study, though wild-caught varieties of salmon contained slightly lower Omega-3 levels, they also contained less saturated and polyunsaturated fats7. The quality of farmed fish is also dependent on the type of fish pellets they use. Farmers often feed young salmon pellets made from plant and animal sources, then add more fish-oil-enriched pellets later in the fish’s life to fatten them up. This means they spend more time eating a lower quality diet and provide you with fewer nutrients8. Contrast this with wild-caught salmon that eat a natural, healthy diet of insects, plankton, and other fish their entire lives, keeping them lean and packed with antioxidants including free-radical scavenging astaxanthin.9 Not only can you see the effects of this natural diet in the brilliant red color of wild-caught salmon, you can taste it, too!
Avocados are unbelievably nutritious and delicious. They’re full of good fat, fiber, vitamin E, copper and potassium. Furthermore, they’re specifically beneficial for your immune system because they’re so high in B vitamins. One recent study showed that vitamin B6 increases immune response in critically ill patients.10 However, a variety of B-vitamins has been shown to be helpful for an overall boost in immune function.11
Even just one-third of a medium avocado provides a wide range of B vitamins, including:
- 4% of the RDA of thiamin (B1)
- 8% of the RDA of riboflavin (B2)
- 6% of the RDA of niacin (B3)
- 15% of the RDA of pantothenic acid (B5)
- 6% of the RDA of pyridoxine (B6)
- 10% of the RDA of folate12
I often carry an avocado with me in my purse when traveling so I can enjoy an autoimmune-friendly snack that comes in its own handy package!
Garlic is a prebiotic, so it feeds good bacteria in your gut. This can be helpful if you’re suffering from an autoimmune disease because your gut and your immune system are intrinsically linked.13,14 Having plenty of friendly gut bacteria bolsters your immune system, and keeps bad bacteria and yeast in check.
Garlic also contains selenium, which is essential for regulating excessive immune responses and chronic inflammation in people with autoimmune diseases15. Selenium is also a vital mineral for supporting your thyroid. Studies have shown that people with Hashimoto’s who increase their selenium intake can decrease their thyroid antibodies by almost 64%!16 To ensure optimal selenium levels, add garlic, grass-fed beef and poultry, and fatty fish such as salmon to your diet.17
5. Grass-fed Beef
One of the most essential nutrients you need to prevent or reverse autoimmune conditions is zinc. Zinc supports your immune system in various ways, including regulating your lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell), and protecting you against pathogens.18
While following The Myers Way® zinc can be hard to come by, especially if you are not already taking a daily multivitamin. That’s because zinc is primarily found in foods such as whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds–all of which can cause immune flare-ups. One of the best autoimmune-friendly sources of zinc is grass-fed beef. A single serving of beef contains roughly half of your daily requirements for zinc.19
As with lamb, I recommend organic, grass-fed beef over conventionally raised meat to avoid GMOs, added hormones, and antibiotics that conventional livestock are exposed to. Plus, studies show that animals raised on a healthy, natural diet of fresh grass are higher in vital nutrients, including anti-inflammatory Omega-3s.20 The less inflammation you have, the lower you are on the autoimmune spectrum, and the fewer symptoms you experience.
6. Leafy Greens
Eating plenty of greens is a key part of an autoimmune-friendly diet. Leafy greens are rich in magnesium, which is important for healthy immune function. The average American diet contains barely 50% of the conservative RDA for magnesium, and it’s estimated that around three-quarters of the population may be deficient in it.21,22,23 Magnesium deficiency has been shown to increase the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which raise inflammation levels, therefore contributing to autoimmunity.24
The current RDA for magnesium is 420mg.25 Just 1 cup of cooked spinach can provide 157 mg or 39% of the RDA, so it’s fairly easy to get enough if you make leafy greens part of your everyday diet. Other fabulous sources of magnesium include Swiss chard and kale, which provide 36% and 18% of your RDA respectively. My nutrition powerhouse Organic Greens Superfood Juice Powder is a surefire way to get all the benefits greens have to offer, including magnesium, B vitamins, and other essential nutrients, in a convenient powder that is delicious stirred into your smoothie or even just a glass of water with ice! Plus, it’s a cost-effective way to obtain these nutrients from all organic produce, without any of the GMOs that can exacerbate autoimmunity.
I have seen it time and time again after working with autoimmune patients from all over the world that eating foods rich in the essential vitamins and minerals you need for optimal immune function is the first step to reversing your condition. My bestselling book The Autoimmune Solution Cookbook is an excellent resource for learning how to create 100% autoimmune-friendly meals with the 6 foods featured in this article and other nutritional powerhouses. And, as you’ll find out when you read it, The Autoimmune Solution Cookbook is so much more than just a cookbook—it’s a roadmap for preventing and overcoming autoimmune disease. In its pages, I offer you step-by-step guidance for making The Myers Way® a way of life, while creating mouth-watering plates worth showing off!
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Achieving optimal nutrition is key to preventing and reversing autoimmunity and other chronic conditions. Let’s face it though–even the healthiest of eaters sometimes have less than optimal levels of essential vitamins and minerals for a number of reasons:
- Sometimes you just don’t have the time to cook up complete, autoimmune-friendly meals
- Our food isn’t what it used to be nutritionally thanks to soil depletion and environmental toxins
- You may be struggling with leaky gut, SIBO, or another disorder that keeps you from absorbing all of the nutrients you get from food
Besides, you don’t want to just want to meet the minimum RDA needed to prevent deficiency-related issues, you want to exceed it! That’s where supplements come in!
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