If you’re like me, it can be incredibly frustrating to figure out the best diet for fibromyalgia, and you probably get annoyed at food lists that disparage the very foods you like the most. But there’s a reason why “Top 10 Foods” lists abound. The helpful ones are geared to propel you forward and reduce your fibromyalgia symptoms. They’re to serve as tool to give you quick and useful information on your healing journey.
The following list is assembled specifically for the fibromyalgia community in the interest of providing healing, nutritional information. You see, we all want to feel better, have less inflammation and pain, and more vitality and energy.
To understand the link between inflammation and our increased symptoms, we need look no further than what’s on our plates. Often, what we eat relates directly to how we feel. To clear away some of the nutritional information clutter, here’s a list of 10 foods you probably assume are fibro-friendly — but they’re not:
Not All Foods are Healthy to Include in a Fibromyalgia Diet Plan
1. Whole Wheat
Wait, how could whole wheat not be a healthy part of a fibromyalgia diet plan? This item really seems to trip up a lot of people. We’ve all heard that wheat and gluten can be problematic. But isn’t whole wheat healthier than processed wheat? The answer to that is, yes. However, it’s still wheat.
Because wheat and gluten contribute to whole body inflammation for the fibromyalgia community, it’s something to avoid. Wheat is linked to digestive upset, leaky gut, cognitive dysfunction, joint pain, nutrient malabsorption, and many other fibromyalgia symptoms.
Although many feel they are not affected by wheat or gluten, further investigation and adaptation can reveal a causative connection between symptoms and continuous consumption of products containing wheat and gluten.
2. Whole Grains
Don’t commercials say whole grains are better for us? Just as with whole wheat, whole grains, in general, can be problematic. The belief that states “if it says ‘whole grains,’ it’s healthy” is inaccurate. If a processed grain increases your symptoms, then the same will hold true for the whole grain.
What grains cause digestive trouble for you? For most of us, the two most prevalent and significant culprits are wheat and corn (more on this below). And, when we start to read labels, we find out that wheat and corn are in everything!
The main goal is to determine which grains work for you (if any) and which ones leave you feeling a bit fuzzy. Note: You can’t always tell how bad a particular food makes you feel until you remove it from your diet, and then add it back in. For me, even whole grain brown rice and gluten-free oats are inflammatory foods. I’ve not found any grain that makes me feel good, so I skip ‘em. The key is to experiment with your own diet and see what works best.
3. Peanut Butter
Yes, nuts, in general, are healthy. In fact, they can be super healthy. But, as with all things, there are usually exceptions. Because of the way peanuts are grown, stored, and processed, they no longer fit into the “healthy” category. In fact, they’re often on lists that define the top inflammation-causing foods.
The great thing is that eliminating peanut butter from your diet is an easy fix — switch to almond or cashew butter! Always look for the healthiest products (or make your own) and try to find brands with no added oils or sugars. Of course, just do your best and make the healthiest choice that you can within your resources.
When agave first became popular about a decade ago, it seemed like a good idea. After all, it’s a sugar made from a plant that has a lower glycemic impact on the body than table sugar.
But, there’s more to it than that. Agave contains even more fructose than high fructose corn syrup. Are you surprised? As it turns out, agave isn’t a good choice for anyone concerned with whole body inflammation. Of course, artificial sweeteners are on the avoid list, too.
So, what is good? Raw, local organic honey is a good alternative sweetener for the whole food benefits that it contains as well as Grade B maple syrup. Whole leaf stevia is also a good alternative and can be found in hundreds of varieties and forms (liquids and powders).
Dairy is another food group – like grains – that quickly elevates blood sugar levels in the body. Any food that contains sugar or turns rapidly into sugar, feeds the issues that create whole body inflammation. Sugars feed yeast, candida, etc. and contribute to leaky gut, IBS, and other digestive disorders that can derail your fibromyalgia treatment plans.
Additionally, processed dairy can contain antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, herbicides and more. And, doesn’t it make sense, that if grains – especially corn and wheat – promote poor digestive health, and that dairy cows consume mainly grains, then the resulting product (dairy) is problematic, too?
It’s not simply a matter of being aware of what we eat. We also need to be aware of what the food we eat, ate. (No, not a typo — gotta think about that one, right?)
Plus, let’s not forget the topic of calcium. The advertising world would like you to believe that your body needs additional calcium that can only be obtained through dairy consumption. Fortunately, we can skip the sugar and the additives found in processed dairy and still get the nutrients we need. There are far better sources of dietary calcium, including dark, leafy greens.
Dietary calcium coming from fabulous veggies and greens rather than dairy demonstrates a higher absorption rate. Vegetable sources of calcium therefore, are more readily available to the body.
6. Cereal and Breakfast Foods
Just in case you haven’t caught on yet, grains may not be your best choice when it comes to foods to help you heal. So, why would you want to begin your day with foods that cause you trouble?
Before the mid-century mark, cereals and grains were not typical breakfast fare. There’s a direct correlation between the increase of grain consumption (refined carbohydrates) and the increase of diabetes, obesity, and other health-related challenges.
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7. Gluten-Free Foods
There’s a lot of gluten-free junk food out there. Gluten-free products can be healthy, but just because they say “gluten-free” doesn’t mean they are.
Like all label reading, it’s not what’s on the front of the package that counts; always read the nutritional content and fine print. When you pick up a bagged, boxed, or packaged product, are there lots of ingredients listed? Many gluten-free products substitute starchy flours such as potato flour and tapioca flour. Or, they may contain nut flours or bean flours. It’s not that these are necessarily bad, but your body may react to them with increased unpleasant digestive symptoms.
There’s an amazing assortment of gluten-free flours out there to choose from, but it’s still important to see if your body tolerates them well. There’s also a plethora of other ingredients added to packaged gluten-free foods that can cause digestive upset to those of us who are sensitive.
Using gluten-free packaged foods (what I call bridge foods) to help you transition into a gluten-free lifestyle can be helpful for a short time. However, it’s always best to look for foods that are naturally gluten-free, meaning healthy fats, healthy proteins, and veggies. Many packaged gluten-free foods may even be more highly processed than the gluten “filled” products they’re meant to replace.
Steering away from processed foods and moving toward natural, whole, nutrient-dense, and fiber-rich foods is always a safe way to go.
8. Fat-Free Foods
This is an old topic, but it’s still shocking to see how the erroneous philosophy of “fat makes you fat” persists. What’s important to know is that there are healthy fats, and not-so-healthy fats.
The brain is made up of fat and needs fat to function at optimal levels. Healthy fats and oils include avocados and avocado oil, coconut and coconut oil, olive oil, and various nut and seed oils (almond, walnut, flax, etc.). My favorite oils are avocado oil (for higher heat use), coconut oil (for medium heat use) and olive oil, (for low heat use and dressings, etc.).
9. SOY and TOFU
Soy was all the rage just a short time ago, but fortunately, there’s already a lot of information spreading about its not-so-healthful attributes.
First, soy is found in more products than you may imagine. It’s in artificial milks, sauces, salad dressings, bakery products, crackers, body products, and even in chocolate. Because it’s also used as animal feed, it’s likely present in the mass-market meat you consume.
Soy can cause an immune response in the body similar to wheat and gluten. Soy can also act like an estrogen hormone in the body, creating problems for those who are already estrogen dominant. The phytoestrogens in soy have been studied in relationship to breast cancer, too, but the results are not clear.
Also, as an ever-present concern, it’s very difficult to find non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) sources of soy. In the U.S., over 90% of the soy harvested is from GMO crops.
Which leads me to my next point. I’m often asked why soy is healthy for the Japanese, but not for us. That’s a complex question, and here are two basic reasons that just touch on the topic. First, Japanese sources of soy are not from GMO crops. Second, we have to review what the Japanese cultures (those not infiltrated with Western world habits) eat with their soy. Their diets are high in fish, sea vegetables, and green tea. It’s no coincidence that these are often found on lists of super foods that combat inflammation. Most likely, the average American is not eating their soy with large amounts of fish, sea vegetables, and green tea.
Isn’t it a vegetable? No, despite what most of us were taught in school, corn is not a vegetable. Corn is actually a grain.
Corn can be found hiding in almost any packaged and processed food label. For example, when you consume a chicken nugget, did you know you’re also getting it with a heaping side of corn? Corn breading, corn sweeteners and syrups, corn starch and thickeners, corn seasonings, and corn oils top the list of additives used when making processed nuggets.
Even the dipping sauce is corn based with its majority ingredient, corn syrup. Don’t let the “Pure Honey” on the label fool you. Here’s the ingredients list for a typical fast food “honey-based” dipping sauce:
- High fructose corn syrup
- Sugar, honey
- Corn syrup
- Natural flavor
- Caramel color
If four out of the six ingredients are sugar (and the first four at that), you can be assured that this nutrient-empty “food” is little more than flavored and colored sugar.
Do any of the above ten foods affect you? Are they foods that you consume regularly? Take a look at what you consume daily, and you may be surprised at the hidden ingredients in them.
I hope you embrace the significance of sifting through the information and misinformation found surrounding foods that are healthy for the fibromyalgia community. My goal is always to encourage, educate, and inform you of better ways to support your nutritional needs.
This article was first published on ProHealth.com on July 1, 2014 and was updated on June 22, 2019.
Sue Ingebretson is becoming a most sought after symptom-relief expert in the fibromyalgia and chronic illness communities. She’s known for getting to the root of her client’s health challenges and delivering long-term results using a light-hearted approach without quick-fix remedies that only mask symptoms. You can find out more and contact Sue at www.RebuildingWellness.com.
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- Davis, William. “Wheat: The Unhealthy Whole Grain Book Excerpt: Wheat Belly.” Life Extension Magazine. October 2011.
- Gross L., et al. “Increased consumption of refined carbohydrates and the epidemic of type 2 diabetes in the United States: an ecologic assessment.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. May 2004 vol. 79 no. 5 774-779