by Dr. Bill Rawls
Digestive issues, chronic pain, and fatigue are common fibromyalgia symptoms. Learn the best diet and which foods to eat and avoid to ease fibro symptoms.
Question: What is the best diet for fibromyalgia?
I’m going to try to give you some brief tips about diet for fibromyalgia and what kind of diet is the best thing to help recovery. We know that eating the wrong foods certainly works against recovery from any kind of chronic illness. Eating the right foods can make a huge difference.
The first thing we want to do is get away from the foods that are getting us into trouble anyway — this grain-based diet, chiefly from wheat and corn, with all these processed food products that are loaded with carbohydrates and are so destructive, not only to our intestinal system, but to our entire body. We have to get away from that.
We have to move back toward a natural diet for humans, but in the process, you also have to respect the fact that most people with fibromyalgia — or any kind of chronic illness — have disrupted gut function. We’ve got to address that. We’ve got to address it with foods that don’t affect the gut, that help healing of the gut. It’s not only foods, but it can also be natural supplements that help with that.
First on the list, in my opinion, for any diet no matter what you choose, my golden rule is: Eat more vegetables than anything else. Vegetables provide the kind of fiber that we need. They’re very filling, so we are less apt to eat the bad foods that we don’t really need. Learning how to make vegetables taste good is really important.
Early on in fibromyalgia, gut function is really an issue, so I suggest that people cook all of their food, including the vegetables. Certain kinds of vegetables, like the nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplants), are a problem because they’re very, very high in proteins called lectins. Grains and beans are very high in lectins. Because that gut is tender, we want to avoid things that can disrupt the gut, so we want low-lectin foods.
Also, a lot of people can’t digest the strong cruciferous vegetables that we consider to be healthy. Kale and things like that are really wonderfully healthy foods, but a lot of people don’t tolerate them early on in fibromyalgia. You want to concentrate on a fairly small selection of vegetables, mainly cooked vegetables.
Fruits are good, but early on, just eat temperate fruits, like blueberries and apples. Some people need to have even those cooked. Cooking breaks down the fiber. Cooking neutralizes toxins and kills bacteria and just makes the food easier to digest. You don’t want to cook it to death, though. You want it so it’s steaming, or a light sauté is the best way.
The second rule that I really think is important is to minimize eating foods with a label. That will help you minimize processed foods. My personal goal is 90% of my foods don’t have a label with more than three ingredients, which means most of my foods I’m buying and preparing fresh. Now, I don’t make mayonnaise from scratch, but I’m really particular about what kinds of ingredients go into it. I try to minimize anything with more than three ingredients on the label.
Good protein sources: You can eat good protein sources that are vegan or completely vegetarian, but they are harder on our system because our GI tract doesn’t tolerate vegetable protein as well as it does animal protein. Your best proteins are fish (salmon is very easy to get) and eggs. Some people have egg sensitivities. So those are kind of golden rules.
Good sources of fat are avocados and olive oil. You want to stay away from refined oils. A lot of this has to do with the fact that if you’ve got any kind of gut dysfunction — if you’ve got leaky gut, you’ve disrupted the bacteria, you’ve disrupted the normal barriers in the gut — then the things that you eat all the time, the foreign proteins, are flooding your system. That includes some substances called oxalates that are in many, many vegetables.
Normally, if you’ve got a healthy gut, vegetables and fruits with oxalates are not a problem. But with fibromyalgia, if you’ve got gut dysfunction, you really need to minimize those foods.
We actually have a special gut program. We complement that with supplements, including slippery elm to protect the gut, and berberine, which is an herb that balances the gut microbiome, all in a program that helps people through three different stages.
Phase 1 is just the bare essentials to get people something that they can eat regularly that’s not going to hurt their GI tract and is going to promote healing.
Phase 2 addresses food sensitivities, which are really common. That’s a factor in fibromyalgia I struggled with myself. When I did testing 10 years ago, I was sensitive to 75% of the foods I was eating, which is not uncommon at all. I often didn’t know whether it was the fibromyalgia or the food sensitivities that were causing my pain and discomfort. That becomes a real issue for people with fibromyalgia. Phase 2 helps you look for those sensitivities and eliminate foods that are causing problems, at least temporarily. Sometimes you can come back to them.
Phase 3 is really figuring out a diet that is going to fit you for the rest of your life — a good, healthy diet that you can live with and enjoy.