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A Fresh Approach to Eating

Today, we are going to talk about inflammation and its autoimmune disease. I interviewed my registered dietitian friend, E.A. Stewart, who has a beautiful blog at The Spicy RD, and she has shared a sample anti-inflammatory diet meal plan!

Anti inflammatory diet meal plan

Each person with autoimmune conditions needs an individualized plan that includes recipe and menu ideas and other resources, so it’s vital to work with someone familiar with these health conditions.

E.A. shares lots of great information on food and health. On her blog, she shares excellent, delicious ways to prepare and how to keep our immune system healthy. This includes some great stuff on autoimmune disease and diet research.

Interview with the Spicy RD

When I asked E.A. if she would share her expertise and experience in an interview, she was so great to take the time to talk! I hope our conversation helps you gain a lot of insight into how food affects our immune system. She has included one of her favorite recipes and explained how you can get her anti-inflammatory meal plan and shopping list on her website!

Relax. Eat Mindful. Enjoy.
You are what you eat when it comes to preventing autoimmune conditions. Find out more.

Vine Ripe Nutrition:

E.A.-share with us a little about your private nutrition practice and your work with autoimmune conditions:

For the past eight years, I’ve had a private integrative nutrition practice specializing in autoimmune conditions, digestive health, and wellness nutrition. In addition to working one-on-one with clients, both virtually and in my office in San Diego, I have a popular food and nutrition blog, The Spicy RD, where I share easy, nourishing, and delicious gluten-free and low-FODMAP recipes. I love what I do-helping people live their healthiest, happiest, most DELICIOUS lives!

Vine Ripe Nutrition:

Do you feel that there has been an increase in autoimmune conditions over the last ten years or just a greater awareness?

According to research, there does appear to be a rise in the incidence of autoimmune conditions overall, with recent estimates that ~5-10% of Americans are affected, with women being more likely than men to develop an autoimmune disease. Regarding awareness, I think we still have a long way to go. As someone who was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome, one of the most common autoimmune diseases, I’m always surprised that most people, including fellow healthcare practitioners, have never heard of it.

Vine Ripe Nutrition:

What is meant by an autoimmune condition? And what are some of the most common of these?

An autoimmune condition occurs when the immune system attacks healthy cells in the body, which leads to disease. To date, more than 100 autoimmune diseases have been identified. Some of the most common ones include Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), Systemic lupus erythematosus, Type 1 diabetes, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, psoriasis, and Sjogren’s syndrome.

Vine Ripe Nutrition:

Why are women more susceptible to autoimmune conditions?

Approximately 75% of Americans with autoimmune disease are women, and it seems likely that hormones, in particular estrogen, are one of the culprits. While autoimmune diseases can occur at any stage of life, some tend to occur later in life, around the time of menopause, while others might occur post-pregnancy, as was my case, when estrogen levels plummet.

Conversely, higher testosterone levels may protect against some autoimmune diseases. Some autoimmune diseases that have a much higher incidence in women include Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Systemic lupus erythematosus, Sjogren’s syndrome, Primary biliary cirrhosis, Autoimmune hepatitis, and Graves’ disease.

Vine Ripe Nutrition:

Some people are sensitive to gluten when it comes to autoimmune conditions. What contributes to this?

(We might want to add here the fact that people who have celiac disease often have 2-3 autoimmune conditions before they are diagnosed)

There’s still much to learn about the association between gluten and autoimmunity. Certainly, celiac disease and other autoimmune diseases, including Type 1 Diabetes, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, MS, Sjogren’s syndrome, and others, occur more commonly together. However, the potential link between autoimmunity and gluten/wheat sensitivity is unclear.

Research is being done in this area, so stay tuned! In the meantime, a gluten-free diet trial may be a good idea if you suspect gluten may be an issue. Just be sure and get tested for celiac disease first {very important!} because you need to be eating gluten for the blood test to be accurate.

If it comes back negative, you can still try a gluten-free diet, ideally with the help of a dietitian trained in digestive health. I have been following a gluten-free diet for over 8 years now, so please feel free to reach out with any questions!

Vine Ripe Nutrition:

Tell me more about “leaky gut” and its relationship to autoimmune conditions. People are always talking about a healthy gut and our immune system, how can we improve gut health?

A leaky gut, or increased intestinal permeability as the medical community more commonly refers to it, occurs when the layer of cells lining the intestines becomes inflamed or disrupted. This causes increased gut permeability, and proteins and microorganisms may “leak” from the intestines into the bloodstream, causing disease or a host of potential symptoms, including fatigue, gas, bloating, muscle aches, joint pain, skin rashes, and confusion.

Recommendations to improve gut health will be individualized, however an excellent place to start is by following an anti-inflammatory diet, staying away from food additives, which have been linked to increased intestinal permeability, and minimizing alcohol and NSAID use.

Beyond that, work with your healthcare provider to identify any food allergies, intolerances, or sensitivities that you may have, and practice stress management techniques, as stress has been shown to lead to increased intestinal permeability.

Vine Ripe Nutrition:

Where should someone start to get help if they are concerned that they are having an autoimmune condition?

What type of training should their healthcare provider have?

Number 1, don’t “google diagnose”! I’m guilty of having done this when I had my first symptom (my big toe went numb three months after the birth of my daughter), and I convinced myself I had everything horrible imaginable. The anxiety I developed didn’t help my symptoms.

On the flip side, when I finally did go to the doctor, it took over two years and five doctors for me to finally get a diagnosis. And the frustrating thing is that it takes even longer than that for many people to be diagnosed!

If I had to do it all over again, I would start by asking friends and family for a referral to a physician specializing in autoimmune diseases. If someone is interested in exploring a combination of traditional and integrative approaches, I suggest working with a physician trained in functional medicine.

Also finally, look for someone who has a collaborative approach and will partner with other healthcare providers, including, of course, a registered dietitian ☺

Vine Ripe Nutrition:

How can a registered dietitian be a critical healthcare team member regarding autoimmune conditions?

A registered dietitian specializing in autoimmune conditions can significantly assist your healthcare team. As mentioned above, no “one diet fits all” approach to treating autoimmune conditions exists. Look for a dietitian who not only works with a wide variety of dietary approaches but also considers your lifestyle, food preferences, and overall health.

She/he should help you identify the most effective diet for treating your condition and then help you implement that diet with recipes, meal-planning strategies, and healthy cooking tips.

If you are looking for a dietitian with a more integrative approach, you can search the DIFM (Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine) Website. If you can’t find someone, please get in touch with me-I’m happy to help!

Vine Ripe Nutrition:

Why is the Mediterranean Diet or the Mind Diet types of eating plans that can help prevent and manage autoimmune conditions?

Both the Mediterranean Diet and the MIND Diet (a combination of the Mediterranean diet and DASH diet that has been shown to boost brain health and cognitive function and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s by up to 53%) are anti-inflammatory eating plans. While very little research has been done on the best diet for autoimmune disease, as I mentioned earlier, an anti-inflammatory diet is an excellent place to start.

While certain foods, such as highly processed foods, sweets, red meat, and saturated fat, are minimized in the Mediterranean diet, there are still so many delicious foods to eat! These include fruit, vegetables, whole grains, extra virgin oil, beans, nuts, herbs, spices, and more. You can learn more about the Mediterranean diet and the MIND diet here.

Vine Ripe Nutrition:

I would love to know more about your recipe and how it can strengthen our immune system. 

These Crunchy Lentil Tacos are one of my favorite recipes because they’re easy to make and because my family devours them every time I make them! Made with lentils, whole grains, veggies, spices, and healthy fats, they’re a delicious way to experiment with an anti-inflammatory diet.

If anyone is interested in more recipes, you can download a free anti-inflammatory meal plan and shopping list when you sign up for newsletter.. Cheers!

Meatless Monday Tacos
Eating healthy food is a great way to health prevent autoimmune conditions.

Thank you, E.A., for all the great information! I know that sharing your great wealth of information inspires others, and I am so happy that I had a chance to talk with you about autoimmune conditions, which are affecting more people than ever before, especially women.

You have answered many questions about the benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet for people who may have an auto-immune disease. You have also given us some great resources for an autoimmune shopping list and autoimmune diet recipes!

If you want to read more about what we eat, our immune system, and ways to reduce inflammation, check this out! Be sure to check out all the great things E.a. has on autoimmune disease and the anti-inflammatory diet on The Spicy Nutrition Blog! Sign up for her newsletter to get an anti-inflammatory diet meal plan sample!

Tacos with Lentils as Filling
Thank you E.A. Stewart for sharing your taco recipes and pictures with your interview!
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