From the blog

Home Cooking to Heal your Autoimmune Disorder: a Tailored Approach

Home Cooking to Heal your Autoimmune Disorder: a Tailored Approach

If you or a loved one has been recently diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, you have no doubt endured months or years of suffering and confusion. Wickedly difficult to pinpoint, this class of disease includes diverse presentations and a huge range of symptoms that may affect almost any part of the body. Yet the underlying dynamic remains the same: the immune system cannot distinguish between pathogens and the body’s own, healthy tissue, and therefore attacks the latter. Once armed with this knowledge, you’ll want to know how to manage your condition. No one-size-fits-all method exists, but the daily act of preparing your meals can be empower you to gain further insight and maybe even form the heart of your healing.

Can Diet really make a Difference? 

In a word: yes. Diet is a tremendously powerful factor in both the causation and potential healing of autoimmune disorders. We now know that genetic predisposition is present in this picture, but it cannot account for disease development on its own. We also know that dietary exposure to toxins can trigger a cascade of reactions in the body that culminate in autoimmune reactions and chronic inflammation. By selecting foods that don’t trigger chain reactions like this, you will gain a sense of control in your day-to-day health. You can also select foods that actively soothe your symptoms, reduce inflammation, and support a healthy and balanced immune response.

Which Foods are Harmful?

For those with conditions that directly affect the digestive system, like Crohn’s or IBD, a thoroughly tailored approach is needed, including a strict elimination diet and a focus on healing the lining of the gut.  

For other cases, some broad and basic rules can be applied from the start.

Avoid additives, for example, and bio-synthetic compounds used in ‘fake food’ products that are engineered to appear as natural food. The food industry is sadly awash with such mimicry practices, as they exploit conditions in the supply chain to make products quickly and cheaply for the sake of increased financial gain. The solution? Scrutinise the ingredients list of every food product you buy. Clusters of numbers (and sometimes letters) indicate additives that are likely to baffle your body and may lead to an autoimmune reaction, so do avoid these products with care. 

Fakeness aside, processed foods are harmful because they lack fibre, nutrients, and naturally occurring prebiotic and probiotic elements. Their density of sugars, sodium and saturated fats all amount to a burden for the body to process, without the presence of nutrients and fibre to power and facilitate this process. Basic biochemical functions can be a struggle when we live on such foods – and for those with autoimmune disease, such a diet will hamper all other efforts to heal.

Finally, beware of less obvious culprits, like the fats that you use. Processed vegetable oils (including sunflower, safflower and peanut oils) are popular due to their long shelf life – yet their high omega six fatty acid content is well known to cause inflammation. Other fats to be avoided are all forms of trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils. Instead of frying in such denatured fat products, choose to steam or parboil your food and dress it with raw unfiltered fats such as extra virgin olive or avocado oil. Your body will thank you in the end. 

Which foods are helpful?

By contrast, whole foods provide the body with nutrients and fibre. Their natural molecular structures have not been tampered with and therefore supply materials for a smooth and well-paced sequence of metabolic processes – unlocking energy, and using nutrients and fibre along the way. 

The exact selection and preparation of suitable whole foods depends on many factors, though. For those with compromised digestion, for example, raw food may be far too challenging, and simple cooking methods like steaming will reduce the chance of potential immune reactions. Others may find that specific foods, for what ever reason, trigger upsetting symptoms. This is why keeping a food diary is essential in finding the right foods for you. Below are some general and safe suggestions, but your individual research matters above all else. 

Turmeric is now universally prized for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant powers, and can be found in both powder and raw, root forms – for use as a spice or taken deliberately as a medicinal tea.

Pseudo-grains, such as buckwheat and quinoa, often provide the very culinary solution that those with gluten intolerance and compromised digestion are looking for.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in a range of fish as well as chia and flax seeds and walnuts: these are the ‘good fats’ that reduce inflammation and promote intracellular signalling.

Lean proteins like chicken breast or sirloin steak will, in general, ensure that your body receives the essential amino acids it cannot produce itself. For vegetarians, lentils and nuts do the job, although amino acid supplementation may be helpful when protein levels are low.  

Leafy greens, as ever, impress us a powerhouse of nutrients. Their antioxidant content protects healthy tissues from inflammation, and their richness in magnesium supports healthy immune response.

A panoply of veggies 🙂 at the centre of your meals will be your ultimate goal, to provide your body with a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals. Each time you confirm that a certain vegetable doesn’t trigger your symptoms, add it to your safe ingredients list for future shopping trips. Local farmers markets are a wonderful source of clean, organic produce and a great way to support your local economy.

How shall I move forward?

By reading labels and avoiding fake and processed foods and oils, you will automatically banish a range of triggering foods from your diet. From here, draw the substance of your meals from lean proteins, pseudo grains, and fresh, chemical-free vegetables of all colours and shapes. Cook with simple, gentle methods like steaming and boiling. Add to this some omega-three fatty acid sources and proven anti-inflammatory foods, and you will have the basis of a home-cooking approach to healing autoimmune disease.

Do keep a food diary, and take careful note of possible triggers when your symptoms flare up. As you gain insight into what works for your body, you’ll also gain confidence with planning and preparing your meals.  – Here’s a chance to get creative! You might choose a few, safe ingredients and use them as the core of a range of experiments. Or you might like to make home-made sauces and dressings, or batch-cook foods and freeze them for later use. You might even attempt to recreate a healthy version of that old ‘favourite’ meal that you now know has been hurting you. You can leave it behind for good.

Conclusion

Each person’s experience with an autoimmune disease will be unique. So, too, is the process of healing unique. Yes, there are general rules to note, and dangers lurking in our industrial food system. But there is no substitute for self-care and attention to detail. Your particular body has protested against particular things it has been exposed to, and is asking for change. Listen with care. Feed yourself well. With a little attention and imagination, you’ll soon discover your own path through the challenge, and find a way to embrace and take control of this positive change.

For coaching support to embrace change, a discovery session is an amazing first step! 

Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice

By Jessica Sabatini