Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN: The Role of Anti-Inflammatory Nutrition in Managing Autoimmune, Rheumatic Diseases

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Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN, explained the benefits of an anti-inflammatory nutrition plan for patients living with rheumatic and autoimmune conditions, as well as what rheumatologists need to know.

Seattle-based registered dietitian nutritionist, Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN, owner of ChampagneNutrition and author of Anti-Inflammatory Diet Meal Prep, in conjunction with the Arthritis Foundation, discussed the role of proper nutrition to strategically control and overcome the symptoms and challenges of managing arthritis.

Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN: Anti-Inflammatory Nutrition for Autoimmune, Rheumatic Diseases

Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN

Credit: GingerHultinNutrition.com

What initially inspired you to study nutrition and anti-inflammatory nutrition plans for patients with rheumatic and autoimmune disease?

As a clinical dietitian and integrative dietitian, I graduated from Bastyr University in the Pacific Northwest, which is an integrative holistic program. This program inspired me to focus on getting to the root of disease, rather than just treating the symptoms. When working with patients who have rheumatic disease, autoimmune disease, cancer, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease, there is often a history of chronic inflammation that needs to be addressed.

After years of clinical work, I wrote the book Anti-Inflammatory Diet Meal Prep for my clients who suffer from inflammation and inflammatory conditions. Many of the people I work with do not feel well, and I believe that eating an anti-inflammatory diet should be accessible and easy, even if you are dealing with health issues.

Key Highlights

  • Chronic inflammation needs to be addressed to get to the root of diseases, including rheumatic and autoimmune diseases, cancer, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease.
  • An anti-inflammatory diet helps to calm the system down, support the immune system, and ensure that nutritional needs are met, particularly for patients experiencing fatigue and pain.
  • Fruits, vegetables (including nightshades), whole grains (including gluten-containing grains), plant-based proteins (including beans and soy), herbs, spices, and tea are all considered anti-inflammatory.
  • Ultra-processed foods that contain artificial flavorings, sweeteners, and colors, excess added sugar, saturated fat, and salt should be reduced.
  • Alcohol can be very inflammatory, and patients should reduce their alcohol consumption, especially if they are on medications that can interact with alcohol.
  • Rheumatologists should refer their patients to a registered dietitian to ensure optimal patient care.

What are some of the benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet for this patient population?

Many of my clients are experiencing fatigue and pain, which are the biggest obstacles to their wellbeing. The anti-inflammatory diet helps to calm their system down, support their immune system, and ensure that they are meeting their nutritional needs. It's important to note that there is not just one anti-inflammatory diet like the vegan or Mediterranean diets, as anti-inflammatory is a bit subjective. The anti-inflammatory diet that I have developed is evidence-based. Some people view anti-inflammatory diets as being restrictive, but I believe that there is more benefit to a liberalized anti-inflammatory diet.

What are some of the best anti-inflammatory foods for patients with rheumatic disease? Which foods should they avoid?

I strongly believe, and there is robust evidence to support, that all fruits, all vegetables, including nightshades, all whole grains, including gluten-containing grains unless you have an issue with them, and plant-based proteins, including ones that have lectins, such as beans and soy, as well as herbs, spices, and tea are all clearly anti-inflammatory, as repeatedly shown in research.

My avoid list is not extensive. I typically advise my clients to have less ultra-processed foods that are far from their natural source and contain artificial flavorings, sweeteners, colors, and so on. Excess added sugar, saturated fat, and salt all create issues, and there are clear guidelines on those, so I help my clients get back on track with those.

Unfortunately, alcohol can be very inflammatory, and the research clearly shows this. So, I spend a lot of time helping my clients reduce their alcohol consumption, especially since many of them are on medications that can interact with alcohol. However, in my practice, the focus is primarily on adding in nutritious foods.

Are these suggestions disease specific?

To be honest, not really. It's fascinating to receive messages from people across the country who have tried my book and experienced incredible benefits, such as reduced pain, weight loss, increased energy, and improved overall well-being. It's interesting that people with various conditions, such as Hashimoto's, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, cancer, or those who just want to feel better, all benefit from my book. Since inflammation is a systemic root of many issues, addressing it can help people with various conditions feel better.

What do rheumatologists need to know about nutrition regarding disease management?

In my opinion, the fact that doctors do not have extensive nutrition education is not necessarily a negative thing. Doctors have a wealth of knowledge and are responsible for managing complex medical issues and medications. However, it is essential that rheumatologists refer their patients to a registered dietitian as soon as possible. Dietitians have specialized education and training in nutrition, and we have the expertise and time to implement the doctor's recommendations. For example, if a doctor wants a patient to go gluten-free or increase their calcium intake, a dietitian can help them achieve those goals while also meeting their nutritional needs and addressing any symptoms they may have. I believe that doctors should introduce their patients to a registered dietitian as soon as possible to ensure optimal patient care.

Is there anything else our audience should know?

Edit for clarity: Many people don't realize the significant impact that nutrition can have on their health. I often see patients who have been suffering for a long time and have reached a breaking point before seeking my help. However, my goal is to be more accessible to individuals who are newly diagnosed with a condition such as cancer or an autoimmune disease, and to ensure that nutrition is included in their treatment plan from the start. It's also important to note that meeting with a dietitian once or twice is not usually sufficient to make long-lasting changes. That's why I typically offer six-month packages and work with patients over the course of several years to navigate the challenges that arise in their lives. Building a relationship with a dietitian, much like with a therapist, is crucial for achieving and maintaining optimal health.

For more information, visit GingerHultinNutrition.com.

Resources regarding a variety of nutrition and anti-inflammatory diet information can be found on Arthritis.org.

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