Fibromyalgia Nutrition Basics and Foundational Diets

Fibromyalgia Nutrition Basics and Foundational Diets

salad300Confused about what to eat?  You are not alone!  Today, more than ever before you really need to understand more about food and nutrition.  Wading through a plethora of information and trying to figure out the truth can be a confusing process, which can be made even more complex when you suffer with fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.  I understand how it feels to be overwhelmed in the world of health and nutrition because, like you, I’ve been there too.  No matter what your condition or health challenges may be we are all in need of healthy food and balanced nutrition to nourish our cells and to enable us to lead optimum healthful lives.

Some people feel best if they eat a high protein and low carbohydrate diet, while others feel best on a high fiber, high complex carbohydrate diet.  Some people find they feel best on a vegan diet, or macrobiotic diet, while others do well on the Zone diet, a raw food diet, or a low oxalates diet.  For many people who suffer with fibromyalgia syndrome, they have food allergies and sensitivities, which means that no matter what their overall diet choices consist of, they must also consider a ‘no gluten and no casein’ diet.

With this in mind, the first rule of good nutrition is to pay attention to your own body and how you feel.  This concept is called “biochemical individuality”. Just as each of us have a different face and body type, each of us also have unique biochemical needs which are represented by the foods and supplements which make us feel best.  Your nutritionist or nutritionally oriented health professional can help you sort out what will work best for you.

With fibromyalgia, there are definite biochemical and metabolic changes taking place within the body, which make it good sense to eat in a balanced way, paying particular attention to keeping stable blood sugar levels and avoiding reactive hypoglycemia (i.e. low blood sugar).  A low carbohydrate, high protein, high fiber diet can provide a good foundation.  We need a certain amount of protein each day as it helps to increase energy, decrease cravings, stabilize blood sugar levels, restore metabolism, balance hormones, lose weight, and nourish vital organs and tissues.  Beware of any fad protein diets, such as Atkins, and other low carbohydrate diets as these can be too extreme and upset the natural balance and rhythm of things.  By the same token, some people with fibromyalgia do not tolerate protein as well as others, so it is important to experiment and pay attention to your unique biochemical individuality.

Apart from a few nutrition basics, which I’ll certainly share more with you on this, I find it useful to divide diets into two categories; Foundational diets (those you start off with and which provide the foundation of your eating regime), and Layering diets (diets to layer onto, to refine, and to customize).  Any diet can be a foundational diet.  I choose the following because they are often the most popular, effective, and straightforward to start with.  However, any diet can be implemented at any time, and in any order or combination.

Here is a brief overview of Foundational diet options you may want to consider as starting points.  They are each discussed at length and put into practice during The Eat to Beat Fibromyalgia Challenge , A 7- Step Plan for Rebuilding Your Health & Recovering Your Strength & Energy. Learn more here.

Foundational Diets

1.         A gluten-free diet — this is a diet completely free of ingredients derived from gluten-containing cereals: wheat (including kamut and spelt), barley, rye, and triticale, as well as the use of gluten as a food additive in the form of a flavoring, stabilizing or thickening agent.  This diet is a good starting point, though it must be followed strictly to obtain the most benefits and optimum results.  Gluten-free is highly recommended in the treatment of celiac disease, non-celiac gluten intolerance, dermatitis, eczema, skin rashes, migraines, irritable bowel, leaky gut, and auto-immune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and yes, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndromes.

2.         Dairy or casein-free diet — Casein is the predominant phosphoprotein that accounts for nearly 80% of proteins in cow’s milk and cheese.   Casein has a molecular structure that is quite similar to that of gluten.  Thus, some gluten-free diets are combined with casein-free diets and referred to as a gluten-free, casein-free diet.  Casein is often listed on the ingredients label of food products as sodium caseinate, calcium caseinate or milk protein.  These are often found in energy bars, drinks, and packaged goods.  Symptoms associated with milk allergy can affect the skin, causing rashes or hives; the digestive tract, causing bloating and diarrhea, and the respiratory system, causing runny nose and asthma.

3.         Specific Carbohydrate Diet — Also called SCD, is a nutritional regimen created by Dr. Sidney V. Haas and popularized by Elaine Gottschall, which restricts the use of complex carbohydrates (disaccharides and polysaccharides) and eliminates refined sugar, gluten and starch from the diet.  Only monosaccharide’s (glucose, fructose and galactose) such as fruits, honey, and most non-starchy vegetables are allowed, i.e. green leafy vegetables.  SCD excludes all sugars (except monosaccharide’s) and starches, including but not limited to rice, pastas, breads, potatoes, certain beans, rice milk, and cornstarch.  It is promoted as a way of reducing symptoms of irritable bowel, yeast overgrowth, bacterial imbalance, gut inflammation, chronic fatigue, PCOS, and chronic diarrhea.

4.         Body Ecology Diet — Also called B.E.D., this diet is typically helpful for enhancing your immune system and clearing up the symptoms of Candida albicans, an overgrowth of yeast,  and combines the principles of anti-yeast diets including no sugar, acid/alkaline balancing, fermented foods, and more.  This diet is very comprehensive and works well for those suffering from Candidiasis, chronic fatigue syndrome, immune deficiencies, and if you have known or suspected food allergies, frequent digestive problems, skin rashes, PMS, muscle and joint pains, always seem tired, nervous, or depressed, or your memory seems poor, or if you have taken birth control pills, have a history of drug use, including extensive use of antibiotics or drugs of any kind.

Here is a brief overview of Layering diet options for you to consider.   As with the Foundational diets above, they are each also discussed in depth and put into practice during The Eat to Beat Fibromyalgia Challenge , A 7- Step Plan for Rebuilding Your Health & Recovering Your Strength & Energy.

Layering Diets

1.         Food Sensitivities — Removing all food sensitivities is a basic yet essential step in the process of cleaning up any diet.  Regardless of which diet you choose, removing food sensitivities is crucial as it often improves digestion, reduces allergies, pain, and fatigue.    This step is often more of a refinement for other diets, rather than a diet by itself.  However, sometimes an individual’s main diet problems may “simply” be food sensitivity related and by removing the offending foods may be the only changes necessary to the diet.  Sometimes, the foods need to be strictly avoided.  Other times, small amounts are tolerated and a rotation diet works well.  Common symptoms of food sensitivities include diarrhea, IBS, constipation, skin rashes, anxiety, depression, fatigue and lethargy, aches and pains, irritability, aggression, restlessness, and insomnia.

2.         Elimination Diet — The diet is a short term “testing diet” that involves eliminating possible problematic foods for one week, including dairy products, wheat, eggs, corn, sugar, chocolate, peanuts, citrus, food colorings, food additives, and preservatives.  Then, one food at a time is introduced into the diet by ingesting two servings, one for breakfast, one for lunch, so that by the end of the day at least a normal amount of the food has been eaten.  Record the results.  If the food is not offending it may be continued through the remainder of the test.  A new food is tested every three days.  Of course, I would recommend never adding any additives and preservatives back into the diet.  It takes about a month (occasionally longer) to complete the elimination and testing phases.

3.         Rotation Diet — A rotation diet is where you rotate foods to avoid eating the same food every day to prevent a food reaction or food sensitivity from being created.  This is often a good idea but it can get complicated.  An ideal rotation diet involves rotating foods every three to four days; however, there are times when diets are very restrictive and this is too difficult.  In those cases, even avoiding the food for one day and doing an “every other day” rotation is better than nothing.  A food rotation diet is often helpful with food sensitivities where foods cannot be avoided because the diet is limited or when there are such a large number of foods involved.

4.         Low Oxalate Diet — Also called LOD.  An oxalate is a highly reactive molecule that is abundant in many plant foods, but in human cells, when it is present in high amounts, it can lead to oxidative damage, igniting the immune system’s inflammatory cascade, and the formation of crystals which seem to be associated with pain and prolonged injury.  Normally, a healthy gut will not absorb too many oxalates from the diet because as they come through the digestive tract where they are metabolized by the good bacteria in the gut or bind to calcium and are excreted in the stool.  However, when the gut is inflamed, has poor digestion, or there is a leaky gut, these oxalates are absorbed and high levels end up in the blood, urine, and tissues — especially damaged tissue.  Once the oxalates are in the tissue, they create inflammation and pain and pose great risk to other cells in the body.

5.         Raw Food Diet — The raw food diet is a diet based on unprocessed and uncooked plant foods, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, sprouts, seeds, nuts, grains, beans, nuts, dried fruit, and seaweed.  It used the principles of enzymes and live, easily digestible foods.  Heating food above 118 degrees F is believed to destroy enzymes in food that can assist in the digestion and absorption of food.  This diet is helpful to balance the pH of the digestive tract, supporting the eradication of yeast and healing the gut.

Raw foods are ‘hydrophilic colloidal”, allowing them to draw liquids and digestive juices to enhance digestion.  The enzymes, digestibility, and nutrient content of the foods increase dramatically with soaking and sprouting — a process used in raw food preparation.  While there are definite sound principles that can be adopted from this diet, I do not typically advocate this diet as a full raw food implementation, as it takes a certain digestive capacity to process some raw foods.  People with fibromyalgia or those who have very compromised digestion, may have a difficult time with raw food implementation, so I generally combine the principles of raw foods and sprouting into other diets.  The raw food diet does not need to be followed strictly so some aspects of it can be used in conjunction with any other diets.  Among its many health benefits are increased energy, better digestion, weight loss, improved skin appearance, reduced risk of heart disease, reduction in body aches and pains.

Just as it is with any diet or nutrition plan for it to be effective and for you to feel better, you must first eliminate from your environment those foods that are toxic or that can cause and contribute to sickness and symptoms.  So what can we do to eat better?

First, clear out all the foods you don’t want to eat to make way for those that you do.  Cleaning out your cabinets, refrigerator and freezer, tossing out any foods that contain hydrogenated vegetable oil, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, or vegetable shortening is essential.  These re-structured “trans” fats are number one on my hit list!  Industry uses them because they are cheap, have a long shelf life and give a buttery texture to foods.  While this enables manufacturers to produce products, which meet their needs, they don’t meet yours.  They’ve been associated with atherosclerosis, some types of cancer, and all inflammatory illnesses, like arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, eczema, chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus, fibromyalgia, and more.  You’ll find them in most crackers, cookies, and packaged foods.

While you’re at it, now get rid of the high sugar foods, highly processed foods including white flour products, and food that contain a lot of food additives including artificial colors and flavors, and preservatives.  The average American consumes 135 pounds of sugar each and 14 pounds of food additives each year.  Sugar tastes good, but is considered an empty calorie because it depletes us of nutrients like chromium and B-complex vitamins, which are necessary for its metabolism but missing from sugar itself.  White flour has lost about 70% of the nutrients of whole wheat flour.  In these categories, less is definitely better.

These rules of thumb will work no matter which basic or foundational diet works best for you.  You can change the way you feel simply by eating better quality foods.  Remember to make changes and restore balance and good health, we only need make changes on step at a time.  Health can be accessed at any age and even for those that have significant physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual challenges, know that health can be achieved if you are committed and willing to be on the path.

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