What foods can cause fibromyalgia to flare up?
The symptoms of fibromyalgia vary considerably from one person to the next. Therefore, the treatments and lifestyle changes used to manage the condition in one person may not have the same effect in another.
Still, when it comes to diet, there are a few general things we can try to help improve symptoms.
Many people with fibromyalgia find it hard to deal with wheat (and/or gluten), which takes quite a lot of energy to digest. Some popular wheat-based foods include toast and cereal.
Research has shown that gliadin (a protein in gluten) can cause leaky gut in non-coeliacs, as well as coeliacs.1 The researchers think that a modern, high-gluten wheat diet may have become unsuitable for all humans, not just those with gluten sensitivity. It's definitely the case that many people feel more energised and have better general digestion when avoiding wheat-based foods.
- You could start by only having wheat at one meal per day, rather than at all three. If this improves things, you can make bigger changes by swapping bread for oatcakes, rice cakes or corn cakes.
- Look out for wheat-free cereals such as corn flakes, millet flakes or rice puffs. These are available in sugar-free versions in many supermarkets and most health stores.
- Wheat-free pastas made from spelt, rice, corn and other non-wheat grains can also be found in health stores and some supermarkets.
You'd be amazed at the negative effect refined sugars (such as fizzy drinks, chocolate bars, cakes and sweeties) can have on your energy levels once the initial buzz has worn off. Your body has to use up valuable stores of magnesium and B vitamins to process refined sugars, making you vulnerable to higher pain perception and low mood.
Magnesium is extremely important for the proper functioning of the nervous system and, since fibromyalgia features central nervous system sensitisation, this is likely to be worse when less magnesium is available.
What's more, the crash in energy levels once your body has dealt with the sugar can be very debilitating, leaving you reaching for more sugar to get you through. Sugar highs and lows are bad for your concentration and make you prone to irritability.
- If you absolutely can't do without a fizzy drink, make your own with pure fruit juice and some carbonated water. To avoid diluting your digestive enzymes, leave half an hour between your meal and any drinks.
- To reduce your intake of refined sugars further, look for raw chocolate or sugar-free versions sweetened with stevia or coconut nectar.
- Remember, when you eat foods high in salt, you tend to start craving sweet foods. After a while you tip back towards salty flavours again. If you are familiar with an evening spent see-sawing between crisps and chocolate then try keeping salt levels low to avoid triggering this situation.
Processing dairy products is quite demanding on the digestive system, and can leave you feeling bloated and sluggish. Many people are intolerant to these products without realising it, and feel nauseous and acidic after eating them.
They can also create a great deal of mucus, leaving you congested and unable to breathe clearly. As shallow breathing affects energy, pain perception and sleep quality, it's something to avoid.
Cheese usually contains high levels of salt, which is why it is used so widely as a flavouring ingredient. High salt intake is bad for your blood pressure and makes you retain fluid, whilst its effect on your kidneys can make you feel tired.
- Swap cow's milk products for goat's or sheep's milk products. These are lighter on the digestive system and often contain less salt than their counterparts. They may also be lower in fat, whilst still being tasty.
- Remember, ready-meals often contain high quantities of dairy products, such as cheese and cream. Read ingredient lists carefully and choose those without dairy, or at least those with dairy products low on the list.
- When cooking, opt for dairy-free alternatives like soy milk, soy cream and coconut cream. These are all great, affordable alternatives!
What foods and drinks are good for fibromyalgia?
For any fibromyalgia sufferer, it is really important to ensure that your diet includes plenty of nutrients from fresh ingredients. This helps to keep the nervous system well-nourished and robust. In turn, this can assist with the stress and sleep issues that haunt so many of those with fibromyalgia. Being better nourished is also likely to improve energy levels.
So, what exactly should you focus on?
Fruit and vegetables
Consider having stewed apples or pears with spices such as cinnamon. These contain magnesium, are very easy to digest and give you energy quite quickly. Cinnamon also helps keep your blood sugar stable which is excellent for your energy levels.
Nibbling on dried fruits such as dates, figs or raisins instead of sugary snacks is also a good option. These fruits contain the all-important magnesium and also give you a steady energy supply instead of the up-and-downs of refined sugar.
Other magnesium-rich foods include: almonds, avocados, hazelnuts, brown rice, cashews, celery, millet, oats, and dark green vegetables.
This is naturally anti-inflammatory so could help manage stiffness and muscle pain which are symptomatic of fibromyalgia. For vegans and vegetarians, flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts are a suitable alternative.
Check out our blog, '10 foods that can help to fight inflammation' for more options.
Swap your fizzy drinks for plain water or green tea. Green tea is very supportive for the metabolism and is likely to make you feel energised. It is also much lower in caffeine (which is inflammatory) than coffee and breakfast teas.
Staying hydrated is good for energy levels and healthy muscles and joints. Failing to get enough water can also contribute to headaches and mental fog. We should aim for 1.5 litres a day so make sure you keep a water bottle handy!
Originally published on 21 December 2015 (updated on 21 November 2019)