By Sabrina Dudley-Johnson
Fibro Forerunner and Disabled LEO Advocate
Louisiana Creole Cuisine, African-American Soul Food and Fibromyalgia
Recently I had a conversation with my twin brother about food, allergies and pain. He is fighting cancer, I’m battling Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and chronic gastritis. We both are dealing with food allergies/intolerance. Through his treatment, there’s been the opportunity to learn about diet and health. However, over the past 24 years since being diagnosed with Fibro, no one has ever discussed food and pain with me. I’ve learned via support groups that many people with Fibromyalgia have food sensitivities and even though they have reported that some foods make their pain and other symptoms worse, allergy tests often come back negative or inconclusive. Despite the explosion in Fibromyalgia research over the last 20 years research on ethnically diverse cuisine and FM is nonexistent. Due to this lack of research, this article on Louisiana Creole cuisine/African-American Soul Food and Fibromyalgia/Chronic Pain is strictly anecdotal based on my personal experience and extrapolated from the limited research on Fibromyalgia and general nutrition.
My family is Louisiana Creole and Pennsylvanian. Many family members are caterers and I am a cake designer. Food has always been considered an art form in my family. Since developing Fibromyalgia and Irritable Bowel Syndrome, I find that it is difficult to indulge in the traditional Louisiana Creole and African-American Soul foods of my childhood.
Let’s look at a typical holiday menu for my family:
A typical holiday menu included far more than I can list here:
Ø Seafood gumbo
Ø White rice
Ø Candied sweet potatoes
Ø Mixed greens with smoked turkey, bacon or hammocks
Ø Corn pudding
Ø Blackeyed peas and neck bones
Ø Rum cake
Ø Sweet potato pie
Traditional Louisiana Creole and Pennsylvania Soul food recipes are extremely flavorful due to the fact they are created using flour, fats, spices, salt and sweeteners. Many of the traditional Louisiana Creole Foods and Soul food, and/or ingredients used in these cuisines can aggravate the pain of Fibromyalgia by causing inflammation in the body. Traditional meats may aggravate IBS and cause excruciating cramping, bloating and other symptoms. Beloved desserts are filled with sugar, yeast, gluten and carbohydrates, all of which increase inflammation and pain. Other favorite staples contain spices and other components that can have adverse effects on pain. I’m not going to break down the specific recipes for each food item from my family’s menu but I will address common ingredients that many believe adversely affect pain.
Foods and/or Ingredients that may make Fibromyalgia worse
This list is not all inclusive, it is merely a summary of those most likely to appear in traditional cooking.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
MSG is a high-sodium flavor enhancer. Read the labels of your favorite packaged convenience food, you might be surprised where MSG is hiding. In his book, ‘Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills’, Dr. Russell L. Blaylock states, “Often MSG and related toxins added to foods (are) disguised. ‘Hydrolyzed vegetable protein,’ ‘vegetable protein,’ ‘natural flavorings,’ and ‘spices’ (are hidden MSG).”[i] MSG can be found in rice mixes, soup mixes, salad dressings, packaged meats, and fast foods. Besides having allergic reactions ranging from mild to severe, MSG can affect the liver, increase pain and cause headaches. [ii]
[i] Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills’, Russell L. Blaylock MD, Health Press, P.O. Box 1388, Santa Fe, NM 87504, 1996 [ii] http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20309924_11,00.html
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and some processed oats. It holds food together. Some people with Fibro may suffer with gluten sensitivity ranging from severe Celiac disease to mild intolerance. It can cause gas, bloating, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, pain, cognitive dysfunction, and fatigue. Symptoms from Gluten can take effect immediately after eating or within a few hours. Symptoms can last an hour or two, or, days.
Blogger Kimberly Snyder reports, “Many people have a sensitivity to gluten in which the body (has) … a (painful) inflammatory response. (Eating) gluten on a regular basis, may (result in) chronic inflammation (and) widespread pain.”
Gluten is found in (not a complete list):
ü baked goods (there go Po’ boys and Beignets)
ü soups (gumbo)
ü pasta and cereal
ü roux (the foundation of many Louisiana Creole dishes)
Fried Foods, processed snack foods, and fast foods are common sources of various fats. Trans and saturated fats, partially hydrogenated oils, and omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation which increases pain.[iii]
Nightshades include white potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers (chilies and bell peppers), paprika, red pepper flakes, and cayenne pepper. Nightshades are a stable of Louisiana Creole cuisine and Soul Food. Nightshades contain a high amount of alkaloids which is associated with inflammation and pain.[iv] People who are nightshade-sensitive, may experience pain and digestive problems.
Processed carbohydrates such as breads, rolls, crackers, white rice, and cereal stimulate inflammation which often increases pain.
Over use of salt has been documented as contributing to fluid retention, shortness of breath, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and stroke. David Hafler, MD of Yale University Medical School, and associates believe that “salt intake might represent an environmental risk factor for the development of autoimmune diseases”.[v] I had to cut down on my sodium intake because of my high blood pressure. This meant saying “no” to the salt shaker, no salt in my cooking, and reading labels. Reducing salt helped to reduce the incidents of swollen legs and feet, which reduced pain associated with swelling. For more on salt and African-Americans, click here to read an informative article by Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coaches like Ms. Necie Edwards of The Fibromyalgia Patient Education and Support Organization.
 http://kimberlysnyder.com/blog/2013/01/10/9-foods-that-can-cause-chronic-pain-and-10-that-can-alleviate-it/  Ibid https://www.facebook.com/fibropatienteducationsupport/?fref=ts [iii] http://healthiculture.com/fibromyalgia/newsletter/ibsfibro/ibs-1.php [iv] Ibid [v] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23467095
So what’s a Fibro Diva to eat?
Pay attention to what you eat and how you feel afterwards. If you notice an increase in the number of symptoms or the level of severity of symptoms, jot it down documenting the food item and your body’s reaction so you can discuss it with your doctor. I experienced a frightening episode of anaphylactic shock after unknowingly eating a meal laden with MSG. This episode sent me into a terrible flare of Fibro pain, stiffness and cognitive fog. I went to an allergist and learned that I am allergic to a multitude of food items. Through trial and error, I found that eliminating ingredients that research is pointing to as triggers of inflammation helped to reduce my pain and other symptoms. Nowadays when I go into a flare, I look at what I’ve eaten, as well as my activities, leading up to the flare.
Moving from a daily diet founded in processed meats to one that is based on green leafy vegetables, fish, fruits, and, legumes (beans and peas) is an important change and can be easy for African-Americans since these are already staples of Louisiana Creole cuisine and Soul Food cooking. Reducing fried foods (Po’ Boys, fried chicken and catfish) might help with overall health and inflammation. Learning to use gluten free alternatives, and, reducing or eliminating nightshades, might help. It has been easy for me to cut down on spices, gluten, and fried foods because I had bariatric surgery in 2013 and can no longer process these food items on a daily basis.
 Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills’, Russell L. Blaylock MD, Health Press, P.O. Box 1388, Santa Fe, NM 87504, 1996
 Ibid https://www.facebook.com/fibropatienteducationsupport/?fref=ts