Following a Healthy Diet with Lupus
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2023
While there is no special lupus diet, a well-balanced diet rich in nutrients helps support your body and keeps you healthier. In general, this means that you should eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains.
You may need to adjust your eating habits more to stay as healthy as possible if you also have high blood pressure, kidney disease, or heart disease. The goal is to limit the inflammation caused by less healthy foods so that your diet does not contribute to flares.
Foods to avoid
Doctors recommend that you avoid a few foods known to cause lupus flares in some people. These foods include:
Many people love this flavorful herb but it seems to rev up the immune system thanks to three chemicals, allicin, ajoene, and thiosulfinates. In a healthy person with a cold, doctors believe garlic boosts the immune system. In people with lupus, garlic seems to make the immune system even more active, causing flares.
Some research shows that alfalfa sprouts contain a chemical called L-canavanine which stimulates the immune system. Alfalfa sprouts are not widely consumed but may appear on salad bars and sandwiches.1-3
This supplement is popular as an alternative medicine to boost the immune system. In people with lupus, this immune system stimulation causes flares.2
Some people find that nightshade vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant, trigger symptoms, while others do not.3
Saturated fats are known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and cause inflammation. These fats are found in beef, fried foods, and most fast food and packaged snack foods.1,3
Anyone with high blood pressure should limit their salt intake. Salt is listed as sodium on food labels.1
If you take the immunosuppressant methotrexate (Otrexup, Xatmep, Trexall, and Rasuvo) you will need to limit alcohol use. If you take steroids and acetaminophen, warfarin and other common lupus drugs, you should drink very little or no alcohol to avoid damaging your liver and stomach.1
Foods to enjoy
There are a few foods and beverages to avoid, and many yummy options left to enjoy when you have lupus.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3s are found in oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, walnuts and flaxseed, and can boost mood and improve heart health. At least two servings of fatty fish per week are recommended.3
Colorful fruits and vegetables
Steroids can cause weight gain, and increase blood cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood sugar levels. Eating at least five servings a day of fruits and vegetables of as many different colors as possible can help fight these medication side effects. Doctors suggest snacking on raw vegetables, without dressings or dips, nuts, and cut-up fruit. Spinach, collard greens, peas, berries, oranges, and bananas contain antioxidants and polyphenols, which seem to counter inflammation.1,3
Calcium and vitamin D
Many people with lupus need extra calcium and vitamin D in their diet to avoid osteoporosis. Calcium is found in dairy products, almonds, soybeans, navy beans, sardines, oysters, and spinach. The body generates vitamin D if exposed to sun, but since people with lupus need to avoid sunlight, vitamin D supplements may be recommended.1
Doctors at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine no longer recommend calcium or omega-3 fatty acid supplements saying that research did not show a benefit. Getting these nutrients through food remains the best way to stay as healthy as possible with lupus.4
If you need help establishing healthier eating habits, your doctor can refer you to a registered dietitian for nutrition counseling. One study found that people with lupus who worked with a dietitian for 6 months were more likely to lose weight, decrease their consumption of foods high in fat, salt, and calories, and increase the amount of fruit, vegetables, fiber, and fish they ate.5