One of the biggest quandaries for people with chronic Lyme disease may be what to eat. So many foods cause allergic reactions, and doctors, nutritionists and diet books promote all kinds of diets, from the ketogenic diet, to the Paleo diet, to many others. You may find that your body reacts to all kinds of foods that you previously tolerated prior to Lyme, or you may find it challenging to come up with meal plans that work for you.
My experience and belief is that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all diet for everyone, and any healthcare practitioner or diet book that promotes one kind of diet for people with Lyme may not be helpful. This is because no two people have the same metabolic chemistry or set of coinfections and co-conditions, and therefore will respond differently to foods.
So What Can People with Lyme Disease Eat, Anyway?
True, there are a couple of categories of food that are generally deemed to be safe and healthy for most everyone, such as non-starchy veggies and perhaps some sprouted and fermented foods, but the agreement seems to stop there. I interview doctors for a living, and I’ve found that even the most well-regarded and experienced don’t always agree upon the same type of diet for people with Lyme or any other chronic health condition.
And if you’ve read enough diet books or medical articles, or talked to enough healthcare practitioners, you may be left wondering, what can you eat? For instance, some experts will say that red meat is a no-no because it causes acidity in the body and is hard on the liver, while others will shun fish, because most fish contains high levels of mercury. Others advise against consuming dairy products because they are mucus forming and allergenic for most people with Lyme, as are many, if not most, grains and foods containing gluten. Then, there are processed and artificially flavored foods, which are an obvious no-no. Fruit feeds Candida, as do legumes and grains, so what does that leave you? Green veggies and chicken…three times a day? Well, unfortunately for some people— yes. But if you have ever wondered in frustration what you can eat — know that you are not alone.
As I have navigated my own health challenges over the years, I’ve been frustrated by the array of dietary recommendations out there and conflicting opinions about diets and food. The fact that much of the food supply is contaminated doesn’t help the average Lyme patient to find foods that will work for him or her.
What I have ultimately discovered is that while there are general categories of foods, and guidelines that will work for many people with Lyme disease, everyone needs a somewhat different diet, according to their unique chemistry. I came to this conclusion after interviewing many dozens of Lyme-literate doctors. The late William Donald Kelley, DDS, a famous dentist who reportedly helped thousands of people to recover from specific diseases in the 1960s created a system called metabolic typing, which is based on the idea that diet should be individualized and tailored to the person’s metabolic type, or situation, which includes their biochemistry, health condition, physical characteristics and other factors.
Dr. William Lee Cowden, MD and I describe Dr. Kelley’s diet in our 2014 book, Foods that Fit a Unique You, which is also based on the idea that we are all unique and have different dietary requirements. But Dr. Cowden and I agreed that in addition to metabolic factors, it was important to look at other issues in the body, including allergies, how the body’s pH responds to different foods, and how foods are combined. Ironically, when you are eating foods that are right for your metabolic type, your pH should come into balance, regardless of whether the foods you consume are categorized as “acidic” or “alkalinizing.”
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This is because, for instance, Borrelia can make the body excessively alkaline, because it produces a neurotoxin called ammonia, which is alkalizing. This means that healthy acidic foods, such as red meat, can sometimes help to balance the pH in people with Lyme. Dr. David Jernigan, DC, describes this phenomenon in my book New Paradigms in Lyme Disease Treatment: 10 Top Doctors Reveal Healing Strategies that Work. In it, he contends that excessively alkaline diets are sometimes not beneficial for those with Lyme, until they get to a certain stage in their healing process.
Now, excessive acidity in the body is never a good thing, just as being too alkaline isn’t a good thing. But my point is that depending upon where you are in your healing journey, you may find that your needs differ from others or from conventional wisdom, or even change over time. Going back to the example of red meat, your doctor may tell you that red meat is bad for you because it’s acidic, but if you are anemic or have weak adrenals, you may find that including some red meat in your diet will actually help you to feel better.
Portions and food combining matter, too. If you eat too much or consume certain foods together (such as starchy foods with protein) this may challenge your digestion. The body expends a lot of its energy to digest food; energy that your body may need to heal, so you may find that eating frequent, small meals is more beneficial for your body than consuming a few larger ones.
In Foods that Fit a Unique You, Dr. Cowden and I describe an easy, at-home test you can take that can help you to determine what foods are best for you. It’s called the Coca pulse test. For this, you simply calculate your pulse rate before you eat, and then again afterward. According to Dr. Cowden, if your pulse is elevated by more than 15 beats per minute immediately after you finish a meal, chances are, you were allergic to, or your body did not respond well to something you ate.
Another way to determine your body’s response to food is to measure your pH after you eat. The heavier the food you eat, the longer you’ll want to wait after your meal to test your pH. For instance, fruit passes through the body relatively quickly, so Dr. Cowden advocates testing the pH several hours following fruit consumption, but up to 8 hours after animal protein consumption. It’s best to test yourself after eating only one food at a time, so you know which foods your body reacts to. You can also test your pH first thing in the morning, to see how you are doing overall with your diet. Now, your pH is also affected by stress, so you’ll want to keep that in mind when doing pH testing. For more information on pH testing, see Foods that Fit a Unique You.
Finally, pay attention to how you feel after you eat. Are you tired, bloated, energetic, sad or happy? Not all food allergy reactions manifest immediately after you eat, but as a general rule, if you feel more energetic and happy after a meal, that’s a good thing. You aren’t supposed to be tired after you eat. If you are, it could mean that you ate something you were allergic to, or you ate too much.
In New Paradigms in Lyme Disease Treatment, the ten doctors that I interviewed shared with me their dietary recommendations for those with Lyme. Most agreed that the diet has to be individualized but also agreed that certain categories of foods, such as low-glycemic fruits, nuts, seeds, veggies, and some types of animal protein such as chicken and turkey, are generally beneficial for a majority. So, you may want to start here when creating a diet plan for yourself, and then tailor it to your specific needs, according to a few of the food-testing tips described here. This, along with taking a metabolic typing quiz, can be an easy, inexpensive way to figure out what foods will help you to feel your best. For more information on metabolic typing, I recommend consulting The Metabolic Institute website.
This article was first published on ProHealth.com on August 30, 2016 and was updated on January 5, 2021.
Connie Strasheim is the author of multiple wellness books, including three on Lyme disease. She is also a medical copywriter, editor and healing prayer minister. Her passion is to help people with complex chronic illnesses find freedom from disease and soul-spirit sickness using whole body medicine and prayer, and she collaborates with some of the world’s best integrative doctors to do this. In addition to Lyme disease, Connie’s books focus on cancer, nutrition, detoxification and spiritual healing. You can learn more about her work at: ConnieStrasheim.