How and why your food choices impact autoimmunity diseases

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You are what you eat. It’s (generally) that simple. Food is the fuel to your body. If you give it bad fuel, it won’t function well. If you continue to give it bad fuel over a long period, it will eventually break down.

Now, we’re not saying you need to only live on “superfoods” and eat nothing but carrots and broccoli in order to never get sick and live to 100. The food you eat, however, does impact your mental and physical health and plays a critical role in the wide range of autoimmune diseases. These can include chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and Crohn’s disease. Proper nutrition helps in managing symptoms and improving overall quality of life. 

We asked the Association for Dietetics in South Africa to explain how nutrition impacts autoimmunity and what to do to balance your nutrition properly. 

 

  • Inflammation, nutrition and autoimmunity – how are they linked?

When the body is in a chronic inflammatory state, this can be an underlying trigger for the development of an autoimmune condition. Refined sugars, processed foods, additives, and omega-6 rich fats are all inflammatory foods. 

Obesity is also well known to be a pro-inflammatory condition.  Weight management, insulin control and exercise are important to manage inflammation. 

The goal is to opt for foods with anti-inflammatory properties – basically foods your grandma would have eaten. Choose: 

  • Omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, pilchards, tuna and mackerel 
  • Phytochemicals, present in fruits and vegetables, that combat oxidative damage, caused both by a poor diet and our environment, and protect against tissue damage. 
  • Stay away from processed food and eat less sugar
  • Spend time in the sun to get a good dose of vitamin D and do some exercise

  

  • Gut microbiome, nutrition and autoimmunity – how do they affect each other?

The gut microbiome – the community of bacteria and other micro-organisms living in the digestive tract – can help to alleviate autoimmune conditions, while an imbalanced microflora community may contribute to the development of autoimmunity or worsen the disease.

Eat with your gut in mind and choose: 

  • A diet rich in fibre, from fruits, vegetables and whole grains, can promote the growth of beneficial bacteria and enhance gut barrier function 
  • Fermented foods like yoghurt, kimchi and sauerkraut provide probiotics that support a diverse microbial ecosystem 
  • Prebiotics, which nourish beneficial gut bacteria, are found naturally in foods such as garlic, onions, and asparagus.
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