A common question for psoriasis patients often involves what they can do to help with their condition outside of taking medication. One of these topics is commonly diet. Overall, the benefits of a healthy diet cannot be overstated. Ensuring that your diet is complete in allowing you to obtain the recommended micronutrients (vitamins/minerals) while not overdoing it on the macronutrients (carbohydrate/protein/fat) is one of the biggest steps a person can take to ensure their holistic well-being. In looking at psoriasis, eating in a manner that allows mitigating unnecessary inflammation can be helpful as well.
Can diet alterations be helpful in psoriasis?
The short answer is yes. The main goal of any diet should be overall health and wellness, and really to avoid the negative ramifications of a poor diet. Many of the problems with a poor diet lead to inflammation, which can worsen psoriasis. For example, a consequence of obesity or being overweight is that your body is constantly at an elevated level of inflammation. This inflammation can be viewed as your enemy in the context of an inflammatory condition like psoriasis. A well-rounded diet that allows you to maintain a healthy weight is highly advisable, and will help with minimizing overall inflammation, and avoid comorbid conditions (such as high blood pressure, diabetes, hormonal imbalances).
It is not universally recommended for patients to avoid specific foods, rather this is a continuum for each patient. You might notice that eating a particular food affects your psoriasis – in these cases, it is recommended to pay attention to how that food makes you feel and affects things over time, rather than using a one-time example as evidence to cut something out. This kind of safe experimentation may lead to finding that avoidance of certain foods can be helpful – but this is on a person-to-person basis.
Alcohol in moderation is also important. People who consume alcohol are at increased risk for developing psoriasis, but this does not mean that patients should feel the need to abstain completely. As with most things in life, moderation is the key.
What is a “Good” Diet?
When we talk about a diet, it is not the same as the act of dieting for weight loss – rather it refers to the make-up of the food that someone eats (basically just the food they eat). A good diet simply is one that allows you to attain your goal of weight gain, weight loss, or weight maintenance while fulfilling the recommended micronutrient and macronutrient intake. In order for a person to really understand this will require a small time investment to learn some basic tenants of what our bodies require to function at their best. We have included some of the basics below – but this is not the whole picture as you will still need to look into the makeup of foods to ensure you have a well-rounded diet. A rule of thumb here is to not simply eat the same bland meal on repeat (chicken and rice for example), as you will not be able to acquire all of the nutrients from such a limited variety. A much better strategy is to consume a varied diet incorporating many food sources while hitting your daily caloric goals. This means varying your protein, carbohydrate, and fat sources while also consuming 3 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruits per day. A big goal here is sustainability – eating the same bland foods over and over is far less likely to result in a long-term positive change.
The most important single metric is the total daily caloric allowance. This is a combination of a person’s basal metabolic rate (how much energy a person needs to simply exist without moving – picture you laying down 24/7) plus the amount of energy a person expends through their daily activity. Any planned diet should not go below the calories determined by the basal metabolic rate (BMR). The internet offers many excellent BMR calculators for those interested in getting started on having a more planned approach to food intake. This BMR can then be multiplied by an activity multiplier (1.2-2.2; refers to a person’s level of activity) to determine an estimate for the total number of calories per day required for a person to maintain their weight. Once this is obtained, we are able to break down total calories into those provided from protein (4 calories/gram), fats (9 calories/gram), and carbohydrates (4 calories/gram). A good, estimated protein intake is at least 1g/lb of body weight (so 170g for a 170lb person), this increases if someone is also exercising/active. 20-35% of total calories should come from fat. The remaining calories should come from carbohydrates (this will vary based on the number of total calories are allotted). The most useful way to have this information in grams, as this will allow you to assess products using their labels. Another helpful tool can be apps like MyFitnessPal that allow you to track these numbers on the go. It is important to note here that not all people are the same – the estimated total allotted calories are just that, an estimate. This means that the value will be slightly high for some (in which case they will gain weight), and slightly low for others (in which case they will lose weight). Some tweaking will be required, so it is important to track some other metrics (like weight, and body fat estimations) to ensure that a diet is fulfilling the predetermined goal.
Diet alone will not treat or irradicate your psoriasis – but being conscious of how dietary factors can influence your overall health is important. A well-balanced diet can help you feel the best you can, minimize inflammation and improve overarching well-being. Some effort is required on the front-end, but with it being an investment that will pay off over a lifetime – it is most definitely worth the time and effort.