We’re all different, and fibromyalgia manifests differently in different people. I’m no nutritionist or dietician, and I’m not a doctor. But after fifteen+ years with fibromyalgia, I’ve experimented, learned, tested, and done a lot of research. There isn’t a single, standard diet that you can follow to improve your fibro symptoms. But there are some common problem foods to avoid. Here are my six worst foods for fibromyalgia.
Almost all food is processed in some way: the egg is removed from the chicken coop, washed, and stored before being cracked, whipped and fried. But that’s a mechanical or manual process. It doesn’t change the fact that the egg is still real, whole food when it slides onto your plate and into your tummy. It’s the chemical processing of food, prevalent in Western societies, where heavily refined foods are combined with artificial ingredients, that causes health issues.
I’m talking about meals-in-a-box, sandwich and deli meats, dried soup mixes, anything you take home and pop in the microwave to heat up (unless it’s made by your next door neighbour), most of the options in the snack aisle. These processed foods are laden with bad sugars and bad fats and artificial flavour enhancers. The hedonic, pleasure-driven centre of the brain tells us we want more and more of these harmful foods.
Processed food is quick, easy, and often cheap. Look at this huge bag of cheezie-type snacks we found while shopping in Guaymas with our friends Kirk and Heidi. This massive bag was 150 pesos, which about $9.75CDN and $7.25USD. For that whole bag! Other than a base of corn, the ingredients list was long, complicated, and full of artificial this and that.
A good rule of thumb that will help you steer clear of the worst offenders and toward good, clean eating is to check the ingredients label. More than five ingredients? Don’t buy it and don’t eat it. An ingredient you can’t pronounce? Put it back on the shelf.
Sodium Nitrate and MSG
Two of the most notorious ingredients in processed foods are sodium nitrate and MSG (mono-sodium glutamate), acting as preservatives and flavour enhancers. Both contain salt, and too much salt is a trigger for swelling, fluid retention and pain in those of us with fibromyalgia.
The lure of processed food is pretty strong. So we keep buying, manufacturers keep making, and doctors keep treating. I know when my body is feeling tired and sore (like, always) I often want something, anything, that will give me a bit of pleasure. But the long-term effects are pretty harmful – and often the short-term effects are harmful too.
Aspartame and Artificial Sweeteners
In an effort to trim calories from our diet, demand for foods and beverages sweetened with zero-calorie sugar alternatives has led to a host of foods containing aspartame and other artificial sweeteners. Aspartame, in particular, has fallen out of favour with many of us concerned about the health implications, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, for example, still claims aspartame is safe. But the health-conscious consumer is speaking loud and clear: for example, consumption of diet sodas has been on the decline for the last few years.
Caffeine has some great anti-oxidant properties, but the biggest problem for those of us with fibromyalgia is its impact on our sleep. It’s a stimulant, and even a single cup in the morning can have lasting effects on my ability to fall asleep, and stay asleep, more than 14 hours later. I’ve talked to many people with fibromyalgia who report uber-sensitivity to food, substances, medication and environmental stimulus – – one cup of coffee for a person with fibromyalgia may produce results similar to 4- 6 cups for a person who does not have fibro. I definitely sleep better when I’m not consuming caffeine.
Wheat and/or Gluten
These are actually two different things but they get lumped together so often I’m putting them in the same category. First, gluten. gluten is a combination of two proteins found in cereal grains like wheat, barley and rye. It’s what gives bread dough, for example, its elasticity and keeps it together. It’s also what makes people with Celiac Disease sick.
But some people – like me – can eat other grains containing gluten with no trouble, but not wheat. When I eat wheat I suffer a noticeable spike in fatigue. As I wrote in a recent blog, many people with fibromyalgia have weakened intestinal barriers that allow microbial and dietary substances to pass into the bloodstream instead of being carried through and out of the body. Recent research confirmed elevated antibody reactivity and signs of immune system activation in non-celiac people who reported wheat sensitivity.
Why would this be? What is it in wheat that triggers an immune response? One theory is rooted in North American wheat farming methods. To control weeds, and promote faster drying for safer and quicker harvesting, most North American wheat farmers apply glyphosate – the main ingredient in Monsanto’s RoundUp and other herbicide products – on their crops a couple of weeks before harvest. In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen“. The studies aren’t conclusive, but my question is this: if it’s enough to be considered a probable carcinogen, doesn’t it make sense that those of us uber-sensitive to chemicals would experience reactions when consuming products that have been treated with glyphosate?
Can you see why wheat is on my list of worst foods for fibromyalgia?
Sugar is another substance that tickles the brain’s pleasure and reward centre. And too much of it is a health hazard. When fibromyalgia causes fatigue (when does it not?) it’s understandable to think that a jolt of sugar, a simple carbohydrate, can help us with a quick boost of energy. The problem is that this energy boost is short-lived and can mess with insulin levels. Too much sugar also contributes to weight gain, which can lead to a spike in pain levels.
I’ve learned that my body works better when it has a bit of sugar: a piece of whole fruit does the trick nicely. And when I need some sweetening when I’m cooking or baking (the latter is rare), I use whole, real foods. Including real, raw brown sugar. I’ll also use organic honey, organic agave syrup, or molasses.
These are my top 6 worst foods for fibromyalgia. What’s on your list?