Eating healthy when you have lupus
Healthy eating can make a big difference in your lupus symptoms and your overall health. It can also help prevent or manage other health conditions you may have, like high blood pressure or diabetes. There’s no special “lupus diet” you need to follow — just work on building a balanced diet with healthy foods you enjoy.
Eat a variety of healthy foods
Eating a variety of healthy foods can give your body the nutrition it needs to manage your symptoms. Follow these tips:
- Eat lots of fruits and vegetables — try to make half your plate fruits and veggies
- Choose whole grains — like whole-wheat bread and pasta, oatmeal, and brown rice
- Get a mix of healthy proteins — like lean meats, poultry, seafood, beans, nuts, and eggs
- Go for foods with healthy fats — like olive oil, avocados, nuts, and fish
If you have lupus nephritis (a kidney disease caused by lupus), you may need to limit certain foods.
If you need help making healthy food choices, talk with your doctor — they can refer you to a registered dietician (a doctor who specializes in nutrition).
Can I be vegetarian or vegan if I have lupus?
Yes — it’s fine for people with lupus to eat a vegetarian or vegan diet. Just make sure to eat a variety of healthy plant-based foods. If you don’t eat any animal foods, you’ll need to take a vitamin B12 supplement — vitamin B12 is only found in animal foods.
Are there any specific foods I need to avoid?
According to Johns Hopkins Lupus Center experts, they believe that a chemical found in alfalfa may trigger lupus symptoms. So you may want to avoid eating alfalfa sprouts or taking supplements with alfalfa.
Get key nutrients for bone and heart health
Lupus raises your risk for heart disease and osteoporosis (a bone disease that makes bones more likely to break). The good news is that eating healthy can help lower your risk.
For bone health, eat foods with lots of calcium, including:
- Leafy greens — like spinach and kale
- Dairy foods — like milk, yogurt, and soy milk
- Whole-grain cereals fortified with calcium
For heart health, eat foods with Omega-3 fatty acids, including:
- Fatty fish — like salmon, mackerel, and sardines
- Nuts and seeds — like walnuts and flax seeds
Do I need to take supplements?
Some people with lupus need supplements to get enough of certain nutrients, like vitamin D. But supplements can interact with your lupus medicines, so it’s important to always talk with your doctor before you start taking any supplements.
Limit sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars
Cutting down on these 3 things can lower your risk for serious health problems like high blood pressure and diabetes — or help you manage these conditions. And small changes in your eating habits can make a big difference!
Cut down on sodium
Eating too much sodium (salt) can raise your risk for high blood pressure, which can cause heart attack and stroke. You could have high blood pressure and not know it — so it’s important to limit sodium to keep your blood pressure in a healthy range. Try these tips:
- Cook more meals at home — packaged foods and restaurant meals are often high in sodium
- Check the Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods, and choose options with less sodium
- Flavor your food with herbs and spices instead of salt
Switch to healthier fats
Eating too much saturated fat (the kind of fat in animal foods like fatty meats and dairy) can raise your risk for heart disease and diabetes. And replacing saturated fat with healthier unsaturated fats can lower your risk. Try these tips:
- Cook with olive oil instead of butter
- Have fish or chicken as a protein instead of fatty meats like ribs or sausage
- Choose lower-fat dairy, like skim or nonfat milk and yogurt
Skip added sugars
Avoiding added sugars can also help prevent or manage conditions like heart disease and diabetes. There’s a lot of added sugars in packaged foods and drinks like cookies and soda — but honey, sugar, and syrups that you add to foods and drinks at home count, too. Try these tips:
- Drink water instead of sugary soda — try adding herbs or fresh fruit to sparkling water for extra flavor
- Eat fruit for dessert instead of sugary treats like cake or ice cream
- Try drinking your coffee and tea without sugar — or add just 1 teaspoon
Do I need to limit alcohol?
If you drink alcohol, it’s important to drink only in moderation — that means one drink or less in a day. Alcohol can also interact with some lupus medicines, including blood thinners. Ask your doctor if you need to avoid alcohol with your medicines.
Our health educators are available to answer your questions and give you the help you need.