Top 10 Autoimmune Trigger Foods

“One man’s food is another man’s poison.”

– Attributed to Roman Poet, Lucretius 

One of the most powerful defenses you have against both infections and autoimmunity is your fork. What you chose to eat every day can help protect and defend you from dangerous invaders like the coronavirus, or, it can make you more vulnerable to infections and autoimmunity.

When you eat foods that inflame your gut, cause it to be leaky, and disrupt the balance of your microbiome, you may be, unknowingly, harming your immune system and perpetuating the autoimmune attack. To safeguard your health, you need a fully functioning immune system; not one that is burdened by fighting your foods!

So how do you know which foods are best for you? The best way I’ve found through research and my personal experience of reversing MS is to use a simple equation: A Paleo food plan minus standard American diet (SAD) foods minus your personal food triggers (suspect foods) equal your optimal foods.

“Paleo – SAD foods – autoimmune trigger foods = your optimal foods.”

If you haven’t yet landed on your optimal foods, I want to help you shortcut the usual 30-day elimination diet phase, so you can quickly lower inflammation and unburden your immune system. When your immune system is free to do its job to defend and protect you, it is the single best internal weapon you have against infections and autoimmunity.

For help figuring out your optimal foods, which is the exact process I followed with food to beat the MS, download the FREE Eat to Beat Autoimmune Optimal Food Guide.

Consider these ten autoimmune trigger foods as a means to shortcut your way to unlocking the full power your immune system.

The Top 10 Autoimmune Trigger Foods


A 2002 review in the New England Journal of Medicine, arguably the most well-respected scientific journal, lists 55 diseases that can be caused by eating gluten, including osteoporosis, inflammatory bowel disease, anemia, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and many other autoimmune diseases.1


Sugar in all its forms (glucose, fructose, and sucrose) weakens the ability of white blood cells to destroy biological agents. This weakening begins within a half hour of eating sugar and lasts for 5 hours. After 2 hours, immune function is reduced by 50%.2


Drinking cow’s milk has been associated with an increased risk for numerous autoimmune diseases including multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and Type 1 diabetes.3 If you have trouble with cow dairy, replace butter with ghee — clarified butter, which is delicious and casein free!


There are a number of problems with grains. They often contain gluten; they are often genetically modified; they are frequently sprayed with glyphosate (herbicide) prior to harvesting; they can be tough to digest; they are high in carbohydrates, which can elevate blood sugar and insulin; and they can “cross-react” with gluten — meaning they cause an immune response in people sensitive to gluten. Cross-reactive grains include: rye, barley, spelt & kamut®, oats, millet, corn, and rice.4

Cross-Reactive Foods

People sensitive to gluten (which may be a third of the population) must also consider eliminating “cross-reactive” foods. Cross-reactive foods are foods that the immune system mistakes for gluten. They include milk chocolate, instant coffee, all cereal grains, corn, rice, yeast, millet and milk.5

Processed Foods

The Standard American Diet (“SAD”) is filled with packaged, processed foods loaded with hydrogenated (chemically altered) oils, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, transfats, refined grains and sodium chloride (processed white table salt). SAD foods promote obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and susceptibility to autoimmune disorders.6

White Table Salt

Too much refined and processed salt* may be one of the environmental factors causing an increase in autoimmune diseases. Mice fed a high-salt diet showed a dramatic increase in the number of Th17 cells that cause inflammation and disease in their nervous systems.7 *Note: We are referring to white table salt — which contains sodium chloride among other chemicals, iodine, preservatives & sometimes sugar — not sea salt, which is produced through evaporation of ocean water or saltwater lakes, usually with little processing.


Lectins are a sticky protein plants use to defend themselves from being eaten by insects — or us. Problem with lectins is they are difficult to digest, stick to the lining of your intestines, create imbalanced gut flora and a leaky gut. Foods highest in lectins include beans, legumes (includes lentils, peanuts and peas), grains and nightshade vegetables. Cardiologist and health educator Steven Gundry, MD says, “My research and others suggest that lectins cause most heart disease, arthritis, dementia, diabetes and all autoimmune disease.”8 9


If you are dealing with gut inflammation, leaky gut and autoimmune issues, eggs, especially egg whites, could make symptoms worse. Egg white (protein) can permeate the gut lining and cause the immune system to react even more. Remove all eggs for one month to identify whether they are a trigger for you. 10

Tree Nuts

Tree nuts are one of the top allergens and most common food sensitivities. People with autoimmune disorders are more likely to have a sensitivity or allergy to nuts (and seeds) than other people. Remove nuts during the elimination diet to isolate whether or not nuts are a problem for you.11

Eggs?! Nuts?!, you may cry. I get it; some of these foods, like eggs and nuts, are beneficial for some people. But for others, these foods are stealthy triggers that are keeping your immune system activated all the time, preventing your immune system from doing its job fully, and keeping you inflamed, your autoimmune condition flaring, and weakening your defenses against coronavirus.

So, what can you do?

The very best way for you to figure out what if any foods or dietary components are causing you harm is to put on your own lab coat and do an elimination diet, or what I have rebranded as a 30-Day Food Vacation. 

Do a 30-Day Food Vacation to Find YOUR Best Foods

Integrative and Functional Medicine doctors agree: an elimination diet is the “gold standard” when it comes to discovering which foods are causing your immune system to overreact. Studies show elimination diets are extremely effective in reducing or eliminating symptoms.12 Remove gluten, grains, sugar, dairy, eggs, legumes (soy, lentils, beans and peanuts), nuts & seeds, nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers, paprika, salsa, chili peppers, cayenne, chili powder and goji berries), alcohol and coffee for at least 30 days, or until your symptoms disappear. Go slow with reintroducing foods, one at a time, and at least 48 hours apart. Pay close attention to how you feel. Do you have headaches, brain fog, a tummy ache, gas, etc.? Your body will talk to you; you just need to listen.

To unburden your immune system, you must eliminate your personal trigger foods, at least for the time being. For those with gluten sensitivities and any autoimmune concerns – not just celiac disease — gluten needs go for good.

After the elimination diet you can reintroduce other suspect foods one at a time and slowly to see if you react. Remove reactive foods for 6 months. This will give your immune system a chance to settle down and time for you to heal and seal your gut.

For help, I have created some resources for you:

  1. Free: Download Eat to Beat Autoimmune: Your Optimal Food Guide e-book for an overview.
  2. Near Free: Grab a copy of my book: Beat Autoimmune: The 6 Keys to Reverse Your Condition and Reclaim Your Health with a powerful foreword by Functional Medicine pioneer, Mark Hyman, MD.

What steps are you taking right now to strengthen your immune system and beat autoimmune with food?

Take good care!

P.S: Want my help reversing an autoimmune condition?

If you live in the continental U.S. and are ready, willing, and able to invest in your best health, I offer Functional Medicine Total Health Transformation Programs over Zoom in collaboration with a skilled naturopathic doctor (ND). Get on my calendar for a free 30-minute discovery call.

Image Credit: Edu Lauton
1 Stress as a trigger of autoimmune disease, Stojanovich L, et. al., Autoimmun Rev. 2008 Jan;7(3):209-13. doi: 10.1016/j.autrev.2007.11.007. Epub 2007 Nov 29., Reference
2 Cumulative childhood stress and autoimmune diseases in adults, Dube, SR., et. al., Psychosom Med. 2009 Feb;71(2):243-50. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e3181907888. Epub 2009 Feb 2, Reference
3 Inheriting Stress, Inna Gaisler-Salomon, NY Times Sunday Review Reference
4 Emotional wellbeing and its relation to health, Physical disease may well result from emotional distress, Sarah Stewart-Brown, Reference
5 The Coherent Heart; Heart–Brain Interactions, Psychophysiological Coherence, and the Emergence of System-Wide Order, McCraty et al., 1995, Reference
6 The Impact of Psychological Stress on Wound Healing: Methods and Mechanisms, Jean-Philippe Gouin and Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser, 2005 Reference
7 Kristin Neff, Associate Professor, Human Development and Culture Educational Psychology Department University of Texas at Austin and pioneering researcher into self-compassion), Reference




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Palmer is a certified Functional Medicine Health Coach who has helped thousands of people reverse autoimmune conditions based on her own two-decade battle to successfully beat multiple sclerosis (MS). She’s the author of the Amazon #1 bestselling book, Beat Autoimmune, which has a powerful foreword by Functional Medicine pioneer, Mark Hyman, MD.

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