Many people suffer from autoimmune disease, going an average or 3-5 years before getting a diagnosis and then to be put on pharmaceuticals that hamper their immune system. No one tells them that if they stay away from foods that are GRAS ( an FDA term for items that are generally regarded as safe for human consumption) Many of these foods are highly advertised & a staple in most households. What can you eat? What’s harmful? Let’s clear this up for you.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease as well as inflammatory disease. Most disease is a result of inflammation. Food additives & over processing over the last 35 years or so has made our bodies intolerant to these substances, hence our bodies fighting back on itself. Understanding this basic principal will make the rest easier. Treat food like medicine, you will need less medicine overall. Let’s just face it: we are cautious or at least aware of how much medicine we take, we wouldn't consider taking something subpar, so why eat subpar?
In this article I’m going to cover how to reduce or eliminate your inflammation, while showing you what not to eat as well as all the amazing things you can still have. I promise you will not starve & you will have a new appreciation
for real food.
Read labels, if you can't pronounce it, or it’s not a food obvious food, don’t eat it. Artificial things added like soy, alcohol based sugars, processed sugars, dyes, msg,(monosodium gluconate) maltodextrin, fructose, sucralose, aspartame, food starch : all cause major inflammation, hormone & endocrine disruption in the body.
Being gluten free is a plus, but if you don’t have scarring from Celiac Disease, you can have low gluten in your diet. Understand this: all wheat products made & grown in the US contain 50% plus gluten levels. Our bodies were only meant to have 10-12%. That’s a huge difference in percentages. Excessive gluten is just one form of inflammatory items we unknowingly ingest.
Be cautious with running down the gluten free isle to simply purchase something that the gluten was removed & replaced with a gluten free option. Many are overprocessed, contain high sugars, oils & soy.
** gluten free bread or sourdough is more often a readily available option especially when going out to eat. Sourdough is naturally gluten free because the fermentation process kills off the wheat gluten. If you have a local bakery, they often make a few varieties.
**Pasta lovers, it’s going to be just fine. Promise. I can't say this enough, read labels. Pasta made in Mexico or Italy have the original levels of gluten ( those counties happen to export to the US & like many other countries have done away with many of the GMO (esp. Wheat gmo) crops. READ THE BACK LABEL!! Small Print Matters!! Don’t just grab a brand because it says heart healthy or Italy’s favorite on the front label. Make sure it says on the back that it’s a product of Italy or Mexico. You’ll notice the difference when you eat a small bowl, you won’t feel so bloated & full.
Lectins & Carotenoids
These normally consist of a category called nightshades. Eggplant, peppers (esp red) & tomatoes are the most common. Our bodies desperately need these, however, with RA you need to limit the intake to smaller amounts. For example, tomato sauce for pasta, you can have a small amount on your serving, don’t drown it. You can add things like extra garlic, onions, zucchini & yellow squash to help “beef it up”.
The reds, deep purple, & yellows have the highest amount. So with regards to bell peppers, they have very little, so it’s safe to have. Red bell peppers literally have the highest in carotenoids (22mg) Egg yolks have 3mg. It’s not to say you can’t eat any of these, just be aware that they can be reactive specifically to RA, so when yo do have them, learn to listen to your body, keep the portions small & infrequent.
Oils & Fat
In a world where many tote the “fat free” . I have one word: Stop, think chemical storm. Our brains are 75% fat, without healthy fats in our diet, we cannot think clearly, hence an actual term called brain fog. The thing with fat is you want to ingest something that's minimally processed or refined. Over processing of healthy oils removes what's healthy & It can cause overtaxing of the liver & later the gallbladder. You often hear people having gallbladder issues that have long had issues with autoimmune disease. It’s because the main filter in the body, the liver is overworked & now the body has inflammation. When going out to eat, do not eat fried foods! Ever!! They cook with a mix of vegetable & corn oils. These once heated, produce a carcinogenic substance. So even if they offer your fav fried zucchini, pass on it. At this point, the once healthy zucchini has now been dipped in a high gluten mix, dipped into an oil that is now carcinogenic. That’s just for starters, they often use foaming agents; rather common in fast food french fries.
**The oils that are healthiest to cook with are 1st expeller expressed, unprocessed or virgin. These are the words you want to see. Avocado & coconut oils are fantastic for cooking as they have a high flash point ( meaning they can literally stand the heat without turning into something unhealthy) Olive oil should be reserved for warm or cool foods. ( if you want to keep that freshly cooked pasta from sticking, a bit of olive oil is perfect. You can certainly have butter & eggs. Please do away with any margarine type mix. Real butter will harden in the fridge & it’s safe to leave soft in a covered container on the counter to have it soft & spread ready ( at
least a small amount, if you're afraid to leave a full stick out too long & have it become rancid)
Fats should make up 5% of your diet, so don’t go overboard.
Dairy & Soy
Milk unfortunately is highly inflammatory for those with autoimmune issues. You can have alternatives like almond or rice milk. Initially, keep dairy to a minimum when first trying to reduce inflammation. So no milk, small amounts of cheese, real cheese. Make sure the label says cheese, not cheese food. So no cheetos & velveeta, meltable yellow cheese slices. Opt for real like cheddar, provolone, butter kase, muenster. There are many out there that are real & not processed cheese food. If you choose to have the occasional yogurt, make sure it’s just that. No added food or cornstarch. These actually prevent the healthy cultures acidophilus & lactobacillus (often simply referred to active cultures) These help create a healthy gut bacteria. When the yogurt is made thin & watery, an inexpensive solution to thicken it is binders like food starch or cornstarch. They actually prevent & slow the absorption of the active cultures within the gut. That’s why some brands tote they can restore a healthy gut in 2 weeks with their product. It actually takes that long when you mix binders in it. Without binders, the healthy active cultures begin to work easily within a few days, not weeks.
Soy is a pant bio-identical of estrogen. In this country, it’s generally highly modified, a cheaply produced oil to add to foods that are processed. So many are ingesting this without knowing it. Read labels. It’s that simple. No soy. It throws off our hormonal system. Our bodies are like dominoes, you can't throw a system out of balance and expect the rest of the body to run normally. In my practice I’ve seen people with thyroid issues, unable to sleep, in pain, unable to regulate their body temperatures; all caused by an overdose in soy unknowingly placed in their diet. Soy itself isn’t directly inflammatory, but because it can throw entire systems in our bodies off, it also takes away the ability for our bodies to deal with inflammation when it comes along.
Foods that are simply off your list
Refined sugars, energy drinks, sports drinks,sodas, artificial sweeteners & processed sweeteners. (agave nectar is natural, but too processed & high on the glycemic index) Corn syrup, fructose syrups. Just say no. It literally causes carb & sugar addictions in our bodies, not to mention that it’s so processed our bodies cannot process it. It only overloads our liver, gallbladder & pancreas. If you’re a person that says I drink diet or only have a few sodas a week, guess what? When you ingest 1 soda, artificial drink, diet drinks: it takes 72 hours to get that out of your system. So if you're having s few a week, you’re never getting it out of your system, only building it to toxic levels & pouring inflammation into your system. Beer is another, too high in yeast. Try a hard cider instead. The fruity alcohol based drinks are out, too high in sugar & artificial dyes.
Foods that specifically help reduce inflammation
Ginger, curumin, turmeric, lemon, lime, celery, asparagus, sweet potatoes, cherries, pineapple, berries: strawberries, raspberries, blackberries ,blueberries, bone broth, salmon, avocado, beets, apples, broccoli, green tea ( make sure you buy a brand like Tazo, Stash, Traditional Medicine) Many popular brands are very high in pesticides ( completely makes havoc for RA)
Mushrooms (raw is best), grapes, Extra virgin olive oil, unrefined coconut oil, eggs. Dark green leafy veggies like spinach, kale & collards. You can actually have coffee, but like anything, just because it’s anti inflammatory, that doesn’t mean to drink a pot of it. Moderation & balance is key in any diet. Beans & Nuts
Drinking infused waters ( make them at home, you don’t want an artificial flavored water) with lemon, lime or ginger helps clear the liver, gall bladder & kidneys. When these are clear the inflammation begins to reduce in your system. Are you drinking enough? Take your body weight, divide it in 1/2 , that’s how many ounces, minimal you should drink a day. Mineral water or spring water generally has added minerals to it. For those with RA, it can cause an excess. Use distilled water & infuse it with one of the above or get an organic green tea, or herbal caffeine free tea. Should you choose to drink green tea, limit it as you would coffee, as it has caffeine.
Sweeteners that are safe
Sugar in the raw, honey that states unfiltered & raw, (otherwise it’s just high glycemic sugar) real maple syrup, monk fruit. Stevia is ok in the powdered form, be cautious: some brands have xylitol, an alcohol based sugar added. Any form of an alcohol based sugar is not good for the body, ever. Sugars added should be limited in your diet as too much sugar is aggravating to RA.
So have the occasional dessert, but with limits, moderation.
Overall you are going to want to have lots of veggies, fruits, protein (eggs, beans,fish, chicken, beef (in that proportional order) some bread/pasta. Lots of water, infuse a glass with ½ a lemon. All these will go a long way in quickly reducing & controlling inflammation in your body.
Be creative, mix up your recipes. If you want to make a gravy, thicken it with an all purpose gluten free flour, exchange crisco for butter or coconut oil when baking.
Don't forget about breathing & exercise
We are a society of shallow breathers. This means we only tend to use the top portion of our lungs. It’s a use it or lose it thing with the lungs. Start your day with deep breathing through the nose & out through the nose. Make sure you take the breath deep enough that it gets to the belly, then you know you're reaching the bottom of the lungs. Proper oxygenation into the system increases the circulation & helps reduce inflammation. Try this sitting down & do 6-9 deep breaths in the morning and before bed. You can breathe deeply whenever you think about it throughout the day. Slowly becoming cognitive of your breathing will change you to a healthier habit.
Exercises like stretching, riding a bike, walking goes a long way to moving the body into a more flexible state. Flexibility helps reduce pain in the joints by loosening & strengthening ligaments & muscles, thus providing more space for the joints to move without being jammed together by an over tight body.
All of this is a lifestyle change. How well will this work? I’m here to tell you that it saved me. It’s up to you the individual to read labels, toss artificial processed junk from your diet, eat real food, learn to breathe & move. Yes, it’s a bit of work & an adjustment; but it sure beats sitting there in pain with little to no control over it.
About the author:
As the owner of Terra Blanca Wellness Spa in New Mexico, Jana Parrelli is also the Ayurvedic & Alternative Nutrition Health Coach. She has used her experiences with health issues to add to her education to help people find a better path to wellness.