The Worst Foods for Autoimmune Disease

The Worst Foods for Autoimmune Disease

If you have an autoimmune disease, you are likely intimately aware of the frustrating symptoms accompanying your condition. Symptoms can flare up seemingly out of nowhere. But you may be surprised that your food can make these flares occur more frequently. This article will discuss the worst foods for autoimmune disease and what to eat instead. 

Key Takeaways: 

  • Autoimmune disease occurs due to an abnormal immune system response. 
  • The worst foods for autoimmune disease include foods high in sugar, red meat, dairy, gluten, and nightshade vegetables. 
  • The autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet is an elimination diet that helps identify foods that trigger an immune response. 

What is an Autoimmune Disease?

Nothing says betrayal more than when your immune system attacks your cells, which is what happens when you have an autoimmune disease. 

When you are diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, your body attacks itself by mistake because the immune cells cannot tell the difference between a foreign invader and a healthy somatic cell. 

As a result, it causes mild to considerable damage to specific tissues and organs, such as the joints, epidermis, red blood cells, endocrine glands, muscles, and connective tissues. 

While the primary cause of the condition is still unknown, genetic and environmental factors may trigger an autoimmune disease. In fact, research has strengthened the idea that most autoimmune diseases are multifactorial. 

Most Common Autoimmune Diseases 

Autoimmune diseases are not a singular condition but a set of symptoms derived from an abnormal immune system response. Here are some of the most common autoimmune diseases: 

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Celiac disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Multiple sclerosis 
  • Grave’s disease 
  • Hashimoto’s disease 
  • Vitiligo
  • Psoriasis
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome 
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus

Common Symptoms of Autoimmune Diseases 

Similarly, symptoms of autoimmune disorders share similar characteristics—one of the most common being inflammation. 

Inflammation is caused when your immune system responds to a foreign invader. Unfortunately, with autoimmune conditions, your body perceives parts of itself (like the thyroid gland) as foreign invaders, resulting in long-term chronic inflammation. 

This inflammation can cause a variety of side effects. These can include joint pain and stiffness, weakness, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, bloating & stomach discomfort, leaky gut syndrome, and more. 

A variety of factors, like food, chemicals, stress, etc., can trigger periodic flare-ups of inflammatory symptoms. Food, in particular, plays a huge role in the health of our immune system. 


Worst Foods for Autoimmune Disease 

In a 2014 study, it was established that diet could potentially aggravate autoimmune diseases, given that some food can modulate autoimmune responses. Moreover, recent reports linked the “Western Diet” composed of foods rich in fats, salt, and sugar, to the rapid increase of autoimmune diseases worldwide. Don’t underestimate the impact that food can have on your health. 

Here are the worst foods for autoimmune disease: 

Foods High in Sugar

It is common knowledge that eating sugary foods can lead to a significant metabolic imbalance that then leads to obesity and diabetes. But research has also found that it affects autoimmune disease. 

A 2019 study highlighted how high sugar intake increases the production of TH17 (an inflammatory cell) in the nervous system of mice that have autoimmune encephalomyelitis. TH17 causes an imbalance in the immune system, and if you’re a patient of Peak Health, you know how important modulating (balancing) the immune response can be to decreasing inflammation and restoration of proper immune function. 

These results suggest the potential role of a low-sugar diet in treating or managing an autoimmune disease.  


Cow milk can also activate inflammation. In Celiac disease, lactose intolerance is a common co-occurrence. Moreover, ongoing studies have pointed out the potential association of cow milk and other dairy products with other autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes. 

Some individuals with autoimmune diseases will find that they can tolerate raw organic versions of certain types of dairy, and it doesn’t increase their inflammation. Others need to avoid dairy at all costs. And then many times, one may need to eliminate dairy for a while and work on healing their gut and improving their immune function before they can resume dairy in limited amounts. 

Industrial Seed Oils

Seed oils are cheap and easy to produce in mass quantity. Introduced to the Western diet in the early 1900s, they have quickly become a major ingredient in most packaged foods. These seeds are highly processed with a petroleum-based solvent and bleached with chemicals to eliminate a very unfavorable odor. 

More chemicals are then added to improve the color and texture of the oil before it’s packaged for food usage. A hefty donation was made by the creator of these oils to the American Heart Association in an effort to promote these oils as ‘heart healthy.’ 

There are various problems when mixing human health with industrial seed oils. These oils are unstable and can oxidize (or become rancid) easily. They can also easily cause an increase in Omega 6 fatty acids in your body and create an imbalance between Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. 

Not to mention, they are derived from GMO crops which we know can affect the gut lining in an inflammatory way. They off-gas toxic byproducts. And finally, they are mismatched with humans, evolutionarily speaking.


Gluten is another substance associated with inflammation and food intolerance. Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and other types of grain. 

Gluten is identified as a threat to the body that causes an inflammatory immune response along the intestinal lining. Frequent exposure to gluten leads to damage in the lining of the small intestine, which affects nutrient absorption. There are a variety of reasons this may occur. It is not very clear why gluten tends to bother so many individuals, and there are some theories that it may be more the issue of the GMOs that gluten crops are exposed to and the high chemical processing that wheat goes through these days. 

For those with autoimmune digestive diseases like Celiac disease and Crohn’s disease, a gluten-free diet may minimize the symptoms of their health condition. And even those who do not have one of these diagnoses but have another autoimmune diagnosis or chronic health problem often find that eliminating gluten from their diet calms their symptoms and improves their quality of life.

Nightshade Vegetables 

Potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and other nightshade vegetables can be difficult for patients with autoimmune diseases. These vegetables contain compounds such as toxic glycoalkaloids that cause the immune system to overreact and cause inflammation. These foods may be more of a problem when the intestines are already inflamed, and one is experiencing ‘leaky gut’.  

Many patients experiencing sensitivity to nightshades see an improvement with these foods when they heal their underlying digestive issues. It’s important to work with a skilled functional medicine provider to determine if avoiding nightshade vegetables may improve your autoimmune condition. 

Anti-inflammatory Diet Basics 

Now that you are aware of the worst foods for autoimmune disease, let’s talk about what to eat instead. 

The first step is to start with the autoimmune protocol diet. The autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet is an elimination diet that helps identify foods that trigger an immune response and triggers symptoms in people with autoimmune disorders. The goal of the AIP diet is to discover which foods cause pain, inflammation, fatigue, joint pain, and other symptoms of autoimmune diseases. 

This is a very important step, as all individuals are different. Your food sensitivities may not fall into the exact same box as another individual with autoimmune disease. For example. Some folks who eliminate dairy see improvement, while others can tolerate well-sourced organic and grass-fed cheeses. There is an element of trial and error and experimenting with your body to determine what it wants and what allows it to function optimally.

After making lifestyle changes to identify what foods to avoid for your autoimmune condition, focus on an anti-inflammatory diet. Some of the best anti-inflammatory foods to eat are foods high in omega-3 fatty acids. These include salmon, leafy greens, and extra virgin olive oil. 

Work with Peak Health Institute

Interested in learning more about how to put your autoimmune disease in remission and begin eating an anti-inflammatory diet yourself? Reach out to us at Peak Health Institute. We are passionate about helping you understand which things are contributing to the inflammation and improper immune response causing your autoimmune disease. 

We will help you assess the state of your gut and any environmental toxins you’ve been exposed to, heal from any underlying infections, and determine which healthy lifestyle tools are most healing for your individual body.  We use a functional medicine approach to get to the root cause of your autoimmune disease to bring you back to optimal health.