If you’re like me, you probably get frustrated at food lists that disparage the very foods you like best. But there’s a reason why “Top 10 Foods” lists abound. The helpful ones are geared to propel you forward on your healing journey. They’re to serve as tool to give you quick and useful information.
This list is assembled specifically for the fibromyalgia community in the interest of providing healing nutritional information.
We want less inflammation and pain.
We want 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. 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 THINK are fibro-friendly – but they’re not:
1. WHOLE WHEAT: Wait, how could whole wheat NOT be healthy?
This item really seems to trip up a lot of people. We’ve all heard that wheat/gluten can be problematic. If you’re not sure about how that relates to you as a fibromite, you can review this ProHealth article – “How Gluten Issues are Connected to Fibromyalgia.”
But isn’t whole wheat healthier than processed wheat? The answer to that is, yes. However, it’s still wheat. Because wheat/gluten contributes 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.(1)
Although many feel they are not affected by wheat/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!
contributing to an inflammatory state.
In fact, whole wheat bread can elevate blood sugar levels more than sucrose.(2) Does that surprise you? Ironically, I wouldn’t even consider adding sugar to this Top 10 list because no one thinks of sugar as healthy. Yet, many people continue to consume foods that contain an abundance of sugar (packaged foods) and foods that turn rapidly into sugar. Either way, the detrimental effects lead directly to whole body inflammation.
The main goal is to determine which grains work for you (if any) and which ones leave you feeling a bit fuzzy. (HINT: 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 inflammation-causing. 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: All nuts are healthy!
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.(3) In fact, they’re often on lists that define the top inflammation-causing foods.
The great thing is — this is such 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.
4. AGAVE: Even my doctor says to switch!
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? So were a lot of doctors including Dr. Oz. He eventually printed a retraction on his suggestion to use agave syrup.(4)
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).
5. DAIRY: I can’t get calcium into my diet without it!
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.
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?)(5)
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)
6. CEREAL and BREAKFAST FOODS: I wanna start my day like an Olympian!
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.(7)
7. GLUTEN-FREE FOODS: So, if it says “gluten-free,” then it’s good for me!
Whoa, Bessie. Sometimes, A + B does not add up to C. I wish it weren’t the case, but 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 of which you can’t pronounce? Many gluten-free products substitute starchy flours such as potato flour and tapioca flour. Or they may contain nut flours and/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.(8)
Steering away from processed foods and toward natural, whole, nutrient-dense, and fiber-rich foods is always a safe way to go.
8. FAT FREE Foods: Anything that says fat-free can help me lose weight!
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. In fact, “The brain is made up of fats and cholesterol, mainly saturated fat. A diet low in saturated fats deprives the brain of the building blocks in needs for proper repair and function.” (9)
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.).
And, to read more about the relationship between dietary fat and weight, you may wish to read this ProHealth article regarding my own experience called “Why Being Fat Fearful Launched My Weight Loss Journey.”
9. SOY/TOFU: But soy is a Japanese wonder food!
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/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.(10)
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.(11) 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. Unfortunately, the average American is not eating their soy with large amounts of fish, sea vegetables, and green tea.
10. CORN: But it’s a vegetable!
No, despite what most of us were taught in school, corn is not a vegetable. Corn is actually a grain. Why is this worth mentioning?
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.(12)
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.(13) If four out of the six ingredients are sugar (and the first four at that), you can be assured that this empty nutrient “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.
Of course, you didn’t think I could stop at just ten foods, did you? Here’s another bonus item that definitely belongs on this important list.
EVERYTHING IN A HEALTHFOOD STORE: Of course it’s healthy or it wouldn’t be here!
Just because a food is stocked on your favorite health food store’s shelves, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Some smaller mom and pop stores are more discerning than others, but health food and health specialty stores in general aren’t immune to selling packaged junk foods.
I’ve seen foods touted as “healthy” in chain stores such as Whole Foods that make me cringe. The added insult is you pay a premium for such empty nutrient nonsense.
So, while you may feel you’re back to square one – having to read food labels – you’re usually at least a little bit ahead of the game here. The ingredients found in health food store products are typically of a higher quality than what’s used by standard mass food manufacturers. Health food stores are still a great place to start.
read labels and become your own food detective.
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.
- Ji, Sayer. “20+ Natural Fibromyalgia Solutions Including the Gluten Free Diet.” GreenMedInfo. 2/14/14.
- Davis, William. “Wheat: The Unhealthy Whole Grain Book Excerpt: Wheat Belly.” Life Extension Magazine. October 2011.
- Gonzalez, Miguel. “Peanuts Cause Inflammation.” Ask Dr. Gonzalez. 1/7/13.
- Oz, Mehmet. “Agave: Why We Were Wrong.” The Oz Blog. 2/27/14.
- Parsons, Mikell Susanne. “You are what you eat, ate!” Natural Path Health Center. 10/18/12.
- Pugliese, Gerald. “Choose Vegetable Calcium Over Animal Calcium.” Disease Proof. 5/4/06.
- 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
- Myers, Amy. “5 Reasons To Avoid The Gluten-Free Aisle.” MindBodyGreen. 11/7/13.
- Katie. “Why You NEED Saturated Fat.” Wellness Mama. Retrieved 6/30/14.
- Kelly, Margie. “Top 7 Genetically Modified Crops.” Huffington Post. 10/30/12.
- Greenz.jp. “Saying No To Genetically Modified Foods in Japan.” Treehugger. 10/3/08.
- Cook, Michelle. “25 Ingredients in McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets.” Care2. 9/13/13.
- Crumm, Morgan. “I Bet you Thought that was Honey: Honey the Third Ingredient in KFC’s ‘Honey Sauce.’” Chow. 2/1/11.
Sue Ingebretson (www.RebuildingWellness.com) is an author, speaker, certified holistic health care practitioner and the director of program development for the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Center at California State University, Fullerton. She is also a Patient Advocate/Fibromyalgia Expert for the Alliance Health website and a Fibromyalgia editor for the ProHealth website community.
Her #1 Amazon best-selling chronic illness book, FibroWHYalgia, details her own journey from chronic illness to chronic wellness. She is also the creator of the FibroFrog™– a therapeutic stress-relieving tool which provides powerful healing benefits with fun and whimsy.
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