Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, thyroid disorders, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis are painful, disruptive, and often devastating. At their core, they have one thing in common: an out-of-control immune response linked with systemic inflammation.
Luckily, the right diet can help. In general, avoid caffeine, alcohol, sugar, grains, dairy, and red meat, and instead focus on fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and fish. And try these six foods to make living with autoimmune disorders easier (and tastier):
Traditionally fermented sauerkraut is loaded with probiotics, which help balance the gut microbiome and improve the intestine’s barrier function, critical in protecting against autoimmune disorders. Studies show that people with rheumatoid arthritis who took probiotics showed a significant reduction in stiffness, swelling, pain, and inflammation. Other good dairy-free probiotic sources include kombucha, kimchi, fermented vegetables, pickled ginger, and kefir.
Try this: Purée sauerkraut with mustard, horseradish, and brown sugar for a zesty sandwich spread; grill chicken or turkey sausage, slice on the diagonal, and serve on a bed of sauerkraut; mix sauerkraut with grated carrots, daikon radish, and shredded spinach for an easy side.
One 3-oz. serving has more than a full day’s recommended value of vitamin D, which is linked with reduced risk of rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, and similar autoimmune diseases. Other good sources of vitamin D include salmon, mackerel, sardines, whitefish, and tuna. And while mushrooms are very high in vitamin D, it’s in a form that’s not readily available to the human body.
Try this: Marinate halibut steaks in olive oil and garlic, then grill until done and garnish with lemons, capers, and parsley; layer halibut filets with rosemary and shallots, wrap in parchment or foil, and bake until done; poach halibut in white wine, cut into strips, and serve on a salad of arugula, thinly sliced fennel, orange segments, and black olives.
3. Wild Alaskan Salmon
It’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation, modulate immune activity, and protect against autoimmune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, and multiple sclerosis. Tuna, sardines, mackerel, and other fatty fish are also good sources of omega-3 fats.
Try this: Simmer seaweed noodles in a broth with ginger and garlic, and top with bok choy, scallions, and crumbled cooked salmon; combine salmon, leeks, zucchini, garlic, and onions in a food processor, pulse to mix, form into patties, and sauté in olive oil; toss canned salmon with avocado cubes, chopped kale,
shredded carrots, and a simple vinaigrette.
4. Green Tea
It’s high in a compound called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which has been shown to improve symptoms and reduce the pathology in autoimmune diseases. Dysregulation of T cell function is a critical factor in the development of autoimmune inflammatory diseases, and green tea has a dramatic effect on T cells, especially their differentiation, in a way that can favorably impact autoimmunity.
Try this: Brew green tea with mint tea and slices of ginger, sweeten with honey, and serve warm; mix strong-brewed green tea, bananas, and coconut milk, and freeze in an ice cream maker; purée matcha green tea powder with avocados and green peas for a bean-free hummus.
This bright-orange curry spice contains curcumin, a powerful healing compound that’s been shown to alleviate multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel disease by regulating inflammatory substances in the body. Curcumin is hard for the body to absorb, but combining it with black pepper and heating it can make it easier for the body to use.
Try this: Cook butternut squash cubes with coconut milk, turmeric, black pepper, and curry paste, and purée for an easy, creamy soup; simmer coconut or almond milk with turmeric and black pepper, and sweeten with honey for dairy-free golden milk; toss cauliflower florets in turmeric, black pepper, salt, garlic, and olive oil, and roast until tender.
Like other sulfur-rich foods (cauliflower, kale, radishes, cabbage, onions, and garlic), broccoli contains a powerful antioxidant called glutathione, which can help alleviate autoimmune diseases. It’s key in taming chronic inflammation and protecting against oxidative stress, and studies show that glutathione status may be diminished by as much as 50 percent in people with autoimmune disorders.
Try this: Toss broccoli spears in olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes, and grill until tender; cook broccoli, cauliflower, and leeks in broth, and purée until smooth for a creamy, dairy-free soup; grate or shred broccoli stems, red cabbage, celery, green apples, and onions, add golden raisins, and dress with mayonnaise, honey, and apple cider vinegar for an easy slaw.