Healthy Living

Dietary Needs for Lupus Patients

Dietary Needs for Lupus Patients

Commonly Shared Health Needs for Lupus Patients

The commonly cited trinity of health advice for the general population (1) eat balanced foods, (2) sleep eight hours every night, and (3) exercise regularly, pertains not only to the average individual but also to patients with Lupus. Dietary suggestions follow the normal trend. For example, advice from Lupus News Today counsels, “Things like red meat, processed meat, bacon, dairy, and others are packed with saturated fats. Trans fats are in sugar-packed sweet foods like cookies and cakes. Limiting or cutting these out of your diet completely will help you lower your risk of heart problems” (Duarte). Sounds familiar? Suggested diets limited in sugars and fats are relevant to almost every person. However, with the specific health problems lupus brings on, special dietary considerations help with meal planning.

The Risk (and Prevention) of Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is another example of when the body attacks itself- this time by destroying more bone than is necessary for healthy replacement. Bone decay, whether it is labeled as osteoporosis or not, can be a considerable problem with lupus patients. Moreover, both osteoporosis and lupus are predominately female diseases, which increases a female’s chance of having one or maybe both problems, especially if she has lupus. Lupus aggravates bone loss directly and indirectly: the disease can damage the bones in itself, but also secondary results from the disease such as the intake of certain medications and declining physical activity, further hinders bone health and may result in osteoporosis.

With these things in mind, experts recommend extra vitamin D and calcium in diets for lupus patients and gentle exercises such as yoga or swimming which is easy on the joints but strengthening to the body. Sources of vitamin D and calcium include the more obvious dairy products like milk and yogurt, but some of these contain high amounts of fat, a component that needs careful regulation of consumption. Luckily, there are other ways to obtain much-needed nutrients, and some foods on the list include orange juice, spinach, kale, broccoli, and other dark, leafy green foods. Vitamin D and calcium supplements are also available as an extra dietary aid upon consultation with a doctor. 

Foods to Avoid

In addition to watching out for foods with high sugar and fat content, lupus patients should also be mindful of alfalfa and garlic because they are known to cause flare-ups by stimulating the immune system and causing inflammation. Most experts recommend avoiding these two foods completely. In addition, certain medications, especially those related to the immune system, are known to cause trouble, so patients should consult their doctor before taking any medicine of any sort, even for the common cold.

Omega-3s and Good Prostaglandins

Conversely, Omega-3s help reduce inflammation and promote good skin and heart health. They encourage the production of good prostaglandins, which are hormones regulating inflammation, and discourage the “bad” ones which cause swelling.

NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can be taken to block the bad prostaglandins, relieving pain and swelling, but they do not encourage the good prostaglandins to form and often include side-effects from other parts of the body such as the stomach. While Omega-3 is not as medically potent as NSAIDs, this natural solution does not carry such a big risk for the side effects associated with medicine, and it has a different plan of action: instead of blocking the bad prostaglandins, Omega-3s prevent the bad from forming by fueling the good which takes over. In addition, pregnant women cannot take NSAIDs, and other people, such as those with stomach or kidney problems, are cautioned not to take them. Alcohol is a bad combination with the medicine, and smoking of any sort- even without the medicine- is an extremely dangerous activity which should be avoided by anyone, but especially people with lupus.

Foods rich in Omega-3 include fish and nuts such as almonds.

The Difference Between Omega-3 and Omega-6

Today’s culture speaks a lot about these two fatty acids as being important components of healthy diets. Their differences and similarities? As Dr. Weil says, “Both are unsaturated fatty acids which differ in their chemical structure” (Weil). Both Omega-3 and Omega-6 are unsaturated fats, which means the hydrogens have one or more double bonds, and that makes them healthier than saturated fats. The difference between Omega-3 and Omega-6? The answer lies in how the chemicals are arranged, and strangely enough, this determines their function: Omega-3s tend to reduce inflammation while Omega-6 does the opposite, but both are beneficial if they balance each other. Omega-6 is found primarily in vegetable oil, a common ingredient in fried food, and also in meats and dairy. Needless to say, society’s eating trends deviate more to the Omega-6 side of the equation and extra care is needed to ensure enough Omega-3 is consumed to offset the resulting over-inflammation, especially for lupus patients.

A “Normal Diet” with Care

In general, lupus patients share the dietary needs of their other neighbors who are choosing a healthier lifestyle. Besides alfalfa, garlic, and certain medication, there aren’t a lot of known restricted foods, leaving the patient free for the most part to choose what he or she wants to eat. However, knowing the particular problems Lupus brings, it is more imperative than normal to eat a diet consisting of low fats and sugar, and at least the recommended amount of vitamin D, calcium, and Omega-3s.

Food Substitute Ideas

Butter = margarine, sometimes coconut oil or applesauce depending on the recipe

Salty snack (potato chips, etc.) = baked potato, oven-baked chips, homemade chips, peanut butter, reduced butter popcorn, pretzels, pickles 

Rich food (high carb or heavy foods) =  avocado, butternut squash, sweet potato

Calcium (without the high fats or calories) = low-fat yogurt without aspartame, low-fat Greek yogurt without aspartame, kale, spinach, orange juice, leafy greens, low-fat cheese, skim milk

Dessert = Greek yogurt, frozen yogurt instead of ice cream, smoothie, fruit, fruit cobbler, oatmeal cookies, reduced sugar peanut butter cookies (1 cup peanut butter, 1 large egg, and ¾ cup sugar. Blend and then bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 11 minutes)


“Anti-Inflammatory Diet.” The Diet Channel,

“Diet.” Johns Hopkins Lupus Center. Johns Hopkins Lupus Center,

“Treating Lupus with NSAIDs.” Johns Hopkins Lupus Center. Johns Hopkins Lupus Center,

“What People With Lupus Need to Know About Osteoporosis.” National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Apr. 2016,

Duarte, Marta. “How Diet and Nutrition Can Help Lupus Patients.” Lupus News Today, 31 July 2017,

Lawrenson, Doug. “Difference Between Omega 3 and Omega 6.” Muscle & Strength, 22 Feb. 2012,

Weil, Andrew. “Omega-6 Foods - Omega-6 Benefits | Dr. Weil.”, 21 Feb. 2017,