What is Sjogren’s syndrome and what’s the best approach for a Sjogren’s syndrome diet? The immune system is a marvelous thing. It identifies a foreign invader and mobilizes an army of white blood cells to combat the intruder. However, the immune system can turn on the organism it is designed to protect. An autoimmune disorder is the result of this mistaken identity. It is vital to see a qualified physician for proper diagnosis, treatment, and disease management.
What Is Sjogren’s Syndrome?
Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease. It is more common in women between the ages of 40 to 60 years, although it can also affect other people regardless of gender or age. An autoimmune disorder causes the immune system to attack the body itself, mistaking it as a threat. In particular, Sjogren’s syndrome causes the immune system to attack the salivary glands and the glands that produce tears. It affects the body’s ability to produce moisture.
This autoimmune condition can also affect the skin, nose, throat, joints, lungs, digestive organs, kidneys, nerves, and blood vessels. Sjogren’s syndrome is also linked to other autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. It also increases the risk of contracting non-Hodgkin lymphoma, lung problems, or vision issues.
The symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome include dry mouth and dry eyes. However, an affected individual may also experience other symptoms such as dry skin, dry throat, joint pain, dry nasal passages, vaginal dryness, swelling, and difficulty swallowing. Medications that target inflammation improve a patient’s quality of life, yet a Sjogren’s syndrome diet plays a significant role in the treatment and management of the disease.
Top 14 Foods Foods for a Sjogren’s Syndrome Diet
When the immune system attacks real or imagined threats, inflammation is a result. This sequence brings about pain, swelling, and redness in the affected area. Any part of the body can be a target: skin, joints, muscles, nerves, and internal organs.
Medications like Plaquenil and methotrexate have a positive effect on immune system response. However, a Sjogren’s syndrome diet, by stressing foods that reduce inflammation, is on the front lines in the battle against this (and any) autoimmune disease. These foods are vital soldiers in the campaign to quiet a haywire immune system.
1. Healthy Fats
While many fatty foodstuffs, including margarine and canola and corn oils, are off-limits because they can set off inflammation, there are healthy fats that should be part of a Sjogren’s syndrome diet. Olive oil (especially the extra virgin type) is high in omega 3 fatty acids. Other helpful foods are salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, avocados, nuts, and some kinds of seeds.
The brighter the color, the more important nutrients veggies contain. Carrots, green beans, sweet potatoes, and winter squash are delicious sources of protective vitamin A and vitamin C. Produce is better eaten raw and unpeeled, as valuable nutrients are lost to cooking and peeling.
The same goes for fruit. Try blueberries, apples, honeydew melon, and papaya by themselves or added to yogurt for a tasty, inflammation-blasting addition to your daily fare.
People with Sjogren’s syndrome can have more than dry eyes and mouth. The digestive system also may feel the effects of too little moisture. Fiber can help the intestines move. Flax seeds and quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) work wonders.
Liquids are an all-important part of a Sjogren’s syndrome diet. Drinks of all kinds (preferably without added sugar) should be a part of the food regimen. Juice, seltzer, and herbal teas add variety. Coconut water is an increasingly popular beverage with an added benefit: it is high in energy-boosting potassium that can jump-start a worn-out Sjogren patient’s day.
6. Moist Foods
Foods containing healthy amounts of moisture like sauces, mayonnaise, and yogurt can keep dryness at bay. Soup and stew have a double advantage: they not only add much-needed liquid to the diet but contain vegetables and other helpful ingredients.
7. Organic Meat
Red meat can increase inflammation, but there is one exception. Cows and bison that eat grass rather than livestock feed are good sources of anti-inflammatory fats. Free-range chicken and eggs are also beneficial additions to a Sjogren’s syndrome diet… Be sure to prepare them in a Sjogren’s-friendly manner. Steaming and cooking in a liquid is much better than broiling or frying.
The sky is the limit for this important part of a Sjogren’s syndrome diet. Think beyond meat, poultry, and eggs. Lentils, chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans), peas, and nut butter are all good sources of protein.
9. Whole Grains
Buckwheat, wild and brown rice, quinoa, millet, and amaranth are chock-full of important nutrients. In addition, since they are cooked in water, these grains are high in liquid—a boon for people living with dry eyes, mouths, and nasal passages.
10. Nuts and Seeds
Almonds, pistachios, walnuts, and cashews are good sources of protein, calcium, and other necessary nutrients. And along with sesame, chia, and other seeds, they provide an all-important fiber boost.
11. Herbs and Spices
Don’t forget the seasoning. These flavor enhancers are an important addition to a Sjogren’s syndrome diet. Ginger, garlic, and turmeric are anti-inflammatory. Carob powder, parsley (a source of vitamin C), and dill add to the flavor of many foods. For an extra bonus, use ginger on salmon, chicken, and winter squash for a delicious and healthful dish.
12. Easily-Digested Foods
A Sjogren’s syndrome diet should consist of foods that go down easily. Since the digestive system from top to bottom may be irritated by a lack of moisture, this fare can make sure people can eat properly without discomfort. Soft vegetables, low-acid fruit, tender cuts of meat and chicken (not broiled or fried), and grains are definitely on the menu.
13. Gluten-Free Foods
Sjogren’s syndrome and gluten sensitivity go hand-in-hand. According to studies, as many as 14.7% of people with the disorder have celiac disease. And nearly half of Sjogren’s patients cannot tolerate gluten. With numbers like these, it makes sense to eliminate this protein—found in wheat, rye, and other grains—from the diet. Instead, fill up on rice, vegetables, fruit, legumes, eggs, fish, chicken, and turkey. (One patient also saw a marked improvement when she stopped eating dairy.)
Leafy Greens (and Reds)
The Sjogren’s syndrome diet would not be complete without these nutritional powerhouses. Kale, spinach, red and green leaf lettuce, broccoli, romaine lettuce, and their cousins are outstanding sources of vitamins A, C, and K. Several leafy vegetables boast beneficial levels of folate, calcium, and folate. Even though some—like collards and mustard greens—are cooked, many can be eaten raw. There’s only one drawback: Swiss chard and spinach contain oxalates, which can cause kidney stones. Cooking reduces this risk.
14. Alternate Milk
Many people with Sjogren’s have difficulty with dairy, but this does not mean they have to give up their morning cereal or latte. Milk made from rice, almonds, cashews, and coconut is a tasty substitute. These alternative milk products either naturally contain or are fortified with essential nutrients.
Foods to Avoid in Sjogren’s Syndrome Diet
After knowing what foods to include in a Sjogren’s syndrome diet, people with this condition should also be aware of what foods to avoid. The following list enumerates foods that can exacerbate or contribute to the problem.
1. Trans Fats
Greasy foods are high in hydrogenated or trans fats, which are to be avoided on a Sjogren’s syndrome diet. Trans fats can cause inflammation due to excess arachidonic acid. Regular consumption of trans fats can also lead to heart disease.
2. Processed Foods
Processed foods include cakes, candies, pastries, and baked goods. These treats cause blood sugar levels to rise due to high amounts of carbohydrates. It makes the pancreas work harder to produce enough insulin.
3. Sweet and Spicy
Sjogren’s syndrome tends to cause a dry mouth. By eating sweet or spicy food, the dryness and irritation can become worse. This lack of saliva can contribute to the formation of cavities, as saliva protects teeth from such a problem.
Foods such as peanuts, eggs, and dairy can cause allergies in sensitive people. For this reason, those with Sjogren’s syndrome should avoid these foods. Other foods to avoid include alcohol, caffeine, carbonated beverages, wheat products, tough meats, and gluten. All these foods can exacerbate dryness, irritation, and inflammation.
Final Thoughts on Sjogren’s Syndrome Diet
The Sjögren’s syndrome diet reduces or eliminates foods that may trigger inflammation. Instead, it introduces foods rich in vitamins and minerals to create an anti-inflammatory effect. While it will not cure the disease, the Sjögren’s syndrome diet may help treat symptoms such as dry mouth and dry eyes.
When combined with other treatment methods, it can provide a better quality of life and optimal health. With the inclusion of these healthy and delectable food choices as part of a Sjogren’s syndrome diet, eating for optimum well-being is easy and pleasurable. Bon appetit!
Images taken from depositphotos.com.