Food Sensitivities & Arthritis

It’s amazing how many people with the various types of autoimmune arthritis have allergies and food sensitivities. Kinda makes you wonder if there’s a connection.

Unfortunately, some people assume that food allergies are a figment of the imagination. I recall years ago telling my daughter’s rheum that she was allergic to dairy, soy, and eggs. That doctor asked no follow-up questions, yet the letter back to our family physician put quote marks around “food allergies” as if we were making things up. Had the rheumatologist bothered to ask (or at least expressed skepticism), we could have clarified that an allergist said that she had food allergies.

One school of thought has studied which foods are most likely to cause reactions in people with autoimmune diseases, then put together an eating plan that eliminates all those foods that might be causing problems. After a suitable period of time not eating foods that tend to be problematic, those foods can then be re-introduced one at a time – paying careful attention to whether or not the reintroduction causes a reaction.

This seems like a reasonable approach. For myself, I know that if I ingest milk, within one day I have tiny red bumps all over my upper arms. It takes six weeks of no-milk for those bumps to go away. So when people talk of eliminating a food for a month, I tend to squint at them and question what they hope to accomplish in only one month.

I know a few people who have tried this particular elimination diet, but they didn’t make it sound especially attractive – lots of restrictions and no real meals. As it turns out, I suspect that they didn’t really comprehend all that it entailed. They understood the “eliminate” portion, but not the “eat healthy” part. The goal is to focus on nutrient-rich foods and work on eating a well-balanced diet while avoiding potential allergens. I’m finding lots of delicious recipes (and a few strange ones).

Focus on eating:
• Meats
• Seafood
• Leafy greens (lettuce, spinach, kale, etc)
• Cruciferous veggies (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, etc)
• Colorful veggies (carrots, yams, beets, squashes, asparagus, etc.) (avoid nightshades)
• Herbs
• Healthful fats (olives, avocados, coconut, olive/avocado/coconut oil)
• Berries & fruits (limit fructose to 10-20g daily)

I don’t know about you, but I think that looks like lots of pretty nutritious foods!

According to this theory, certain food groups are most likely to cause people to react, and it amazes me how many of these foods I’ve known for years to be a problem.  Categories of foods to be avoided for a period of time under this plan, are:

• Dairy (I already know that I have problems with milk & cheddar cheese)
• Eggs (I can eat duck eggs but not chicken eggs)
• Grains (I know I have problems with some grains)
• Legumes (I’m allergic to soy, and don’t eat peanuts or peas)
• Nightshades (I refuse to eat eggplant; potatoes make me ill; paprika makes my mouth feel like it’s on fire)
• Nuts
• Seeds
• Refined/processed sugars
• Refined/processed fats/oils (I know that some fats cause me to flare)
• Alcohol
• Sugar substitutes

Based on what I know about how my body reacts to some of these foods, I’ve decided that it might be worth taking the time to do the full-blown elimination diet while focusing on nutrient-dense meals. I’ll also be incorporating what I’ve learned helping my mom get her diabetes under control (considering the glycemic load of foods, balancing protein:carb ratios). Since I know that it takes a full six weeks to get rid of the rash that milk gives me, I’m planning to try this eating plan for at least two months, then start re-introducing foods.

Reports are that many people with autoimmune diseases are able to identify food sensitivities and then adjust their diets accordingly, and are able to put their disease into remission.

I tend to be skeptical. Unlike much in the CAM world, though, nobody’s getting rich fleecing sick people with this elimination diet. The information is available freely on the internet. We’re going to eat anyway – this just has us make healthier choices. I don’t know if I’ll get remission, but I’m certainly willing to adjust my diet if it means that I’ll feel better.

Some people go cold-turkey, jumping in all at once. I think that’s a good idea – in theory. In practice, I just haven’t managed to write up all the menus yet. I’ve tried, but life keeps encroaching on my time! What seems to be working is easing my way into it, finding and trying recipes when I can.

I’ve managed to write menus for three weeks’ worth of breakfasts. My goal is 18g protein with 39g carb, and the glycemic load 10-15; I’m rarely exact, but usually close. The wonderful thing from a time-management perspective is that many of these can be prepared in advance and stuck in the freezer. So if a recipe serves 8, I can eat it once and put seven servings in the freezer – so I actually have many more than 3 weeks’ worth of menus. 😊

The key to success seems to be careful planning.  If you walk into the kitchen hungry and wonder what to fix, it’s easy to default to the familiar — which might not be what’s best.  Planning in advance so that there are no decisions to be made at mealtime seems to make a huge difference (at least for me).

In case you’re interested in some new (sometimes strange) breakfast recipes, I’ve included links below.   Many of these can be made ahead, frozen, and reheated at a later date.

Week 1:

Week 2:

Week 3:

Traditionally, my family eats pancakes (preferably huckleberry) or waffles on Saturday mornings.  Sunday’s breakfast is prepared Saturday night, with a ham going into the crockpot to slow-cook, and cinnamon rolls prepped and set in the oven to rise overnight, and with the oven on time-bake so that we can wake up Sunday morning to the wonderful aroma of fresh-baked cinnamon rolls and ham (served with applesauce on the side).

Obviously our traditions do not fit into my new way of eating. I’m still making my family their traditional foods. For me, I’ve searched for similar replacements:

Note: because I’m trying to carefully balance proteins:carbs at 18:39 per meal, the serving sizes that I’m using do not always (ever) match up to the recipe creators’ serving sizes — which is what has taken me so long to find menus that work without tons of repetition.  It’s not just “eat this, don’t eat that,” but working on the macro-nutrient quantities, too 🙂


Now that breakfasts seem to be under control, I’ll begin working on supper menus.  Please chime in if you have favorites to add.

13 thoughts on “Food Sensitivities & Arthritis

  1. yes. Arthritis sufferer here who cannot eat gluten, and the more of it I eat, the worse it gets. It improves dramatically as soon as I stop eating it, but it is so hard to avoid all gluten. Thanks for the recipe links!

  2. Good luck. Looks like lots o work. Is that 38 carbs a day or per meal? I shoot for 75 a day and find if I go below that I just don’t have the energy to get through all that has to be done in a day. I certainly feel better without the sugars and breads. I miss the pastas though.

    • I feel like most of the work was in the planning. Now that that’s done, the cooking shouldn’t be too much more work than normal. I found one site that says for $67 they’ll do all the planning, grocery lists, and prep instructions for you to spend only 4 hours a week cooking. I’m afraid those meals wouldn’t be balance, though, and haven’t been willing to pay to find out.

      My 18p:39c goal is per meal. I find that glycemic load is a better indicator of my energy than total carbs – under 10 GL and I don’t have any energy.

      Pasta! Have you tried slicing a zucchini on a mandolin’s julienne blade? It’s fabulous!

  3. Your knowledge of food — from the garden to the table through digestion — is always impressive. I love the way you don’t just make sweeping statements — like remove all starch. This is such a thoughtful and delicious approach to making your life better through what you eat. Hope you and yours are doing well in this busy season. I always look forward to your posts. Hugs.

    • I am amazed at how much there is to learn about food — and how recommendations keep changing based on new research. Gardening We had such a rainy spring that nothing’s in the ground yet. The things I grow best (corn and potatoes) are on the no-no list 😦

      I was in Texas a couple weeks ago and thought of you. Hope you are doing well.

  4. Yes! What I eat makes a huge difference! I am such a foodie that my unconventional approach was the only way I could get a grip on healthy eating. My doctor suggested a very restrictive diet that I couldn’t take even reading to the end of all the instructions. So I did a bunch of reading about anti-inflammatory diets and decided I could give up processed foods. I read labels, which amazes me how so many items labeled “healthy” are really not! I felt better, in general, right away. Then I focussed on particular foods that made me feel noticeably better, like green leafy vegetables. I upped my intake of those. I continually “listen to my body” to give it what it wants and cut out what it doesn’t want!

    • Good points. In general, I try to stay away from things with ingredient labels. Shop the perimeter of the store 🙂 I wish I could get to the point that I only go to the store for things like salt and spices, and grow everything else. Maybe someday.

  5. Not all of the recipes would fit your criteria (watch out for nuts, and large quantities of honey!), but searching for ‘specific carbohydrate diet’ may give you some tasty options. SCD does help my Crohn’s disease, but it’s really difficult to do long term (at least it is for me). It’s been around for a while, so the community(s) have come up with some pretty tasty options.

    • I did modify recipes slightly – particularly serving sizes – to get the right protein:carb ratio. I only checked fructose count on some of them, though. Maybe I should just post my version of these recipes. However, you’re mistaken in saying that there are nuts or tons of honey in any of these recipes. They are all AIP compliant for the most restrictive phase. No nuts. And little honey since I’m also counting carbs.

    • The easiest way is probably with a My Fitness Pal account. I enter my recipes so that the info is accurate for what I’m eating — but you have to have a general idea of what nutrient counts should be because MFP is known for sometimes being wildly inaccurate.

      SELF NUTRITION DATA – I don’t remember the exact website’s name – provides excellent info, but entering recipes into that site is a little more cumbersome. It also tends to be more accurate, and also calculates glycemic load, so I believe it’s worth the hassle. If it’s a recipe I especially like, I enter it into both SELF & MFP and keep working it until they both give me the same nutrient info.

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