If you have hidradenitis suppurativa (HS), an inflammatory condition that causes painful lumps on the skin, you might be searching for sources of relief anywhere you can find them — including your kitchen. After all, foods can impact many diseases, so it’s totally understandable if you want to try making changes to your diet to see if it helps your HS.
Here’s the thing, though: Experts haven’t figured out the *best* way to eat for HS (yet!), but they have uncovered some clues about what kind of eating patterns may be helpful. Anti-inflammatory foods, for example, could reduce HS flares in some folks.
That’s great and all, but how do you turn research into dinner? We’ve got you covered with a roundup of meals chock-full of ingredients that might make a difference in your HS flares.
Here’s what you need to know about the connection between diet and HS, along with a list of HS-friendly recipes to make for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Researchers have been studying the way food affects HS, but they have yet to draw any firm conclusions.
What we do know is that HS is an inflammatory condition, so following an anti-inflammatory diet (such as the Mediterranean diet) could potentially help counteract some of that chronic inflammation. In fact, research reviewed by the American Academy of Dermatology Association showed that following a Mediterranean diet helped some people with HS experience fewer flares.
A Mediterranean diet includes sources of fats such as olive oil, olives, fish, avocados, nuts, and seeds. Whole grains, beans, and a variety of fruits and vegetables are also a big part of this eating pattern.
Fiber might also be helpful for people with HS. Research from 2021 found a link between an imbalance in gut bacteria (dysbiosis) and worsening HS. Fiber — specifically the kind from fruits and veggies — can help promote the growth of good gut bacteria and ward off dysbiosis. That, in turn, may help keep those pesky HS lumps at bay.
It’s important to find an eating pattern that feels good for your body and your mind. Responding to hunger and fullness cues can help you to feed your body the right amount. Having a good relationship with food is another important piece of good health.
A note about the Autoimmune Protocol Diet
If you’ve been consulting Dr. Google for answers about HS-friendly foods, you may have come across the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet. This cuts out several foods for a bit before gradually reintroducing them to see how they affect the symptoms of a chronic disease.
It has not been studied in people with HS so it’s not proven to help with HS symptoms. Small studies suggest it could improve symptoms in people with other autoimmune conditions, so it’s possible that it could benefit people with HS. But without solid research, experts can’t say for sure.
Still, keep in mind that the AIP diet is very restrictive, and that can be hard on both your physical and emotional well-being. If you decide to try it, spend time mapping out how you’ll make it work. You may also want to get in touch with a dietitian who specializes in the AIP diet.
What about yeast?
There might also be a connection between brewer’s yeast and HS. This ingredient is found in foods like:
- fermented spreads (like Vegemite)
- certain salad dressings and vinegars
- some types of canned and dried soups and stock cubes
- some baked foods (like breads, cakes, and pizza)
- select gravies and dips
In a small study from 2013, researchers found that people with HS had a reduction in skin lesions when they cut brewer’s yeast from their diet over the course of 12 months. The participants also experienced an immediate HS flare when they consumed brewer’s yeast either accidentally or voluntarily (say, in that irresistible pale ale at happy hour).
When interpreting that study, though, the keyword to consider is small — the study only had 12 participants, each of whom were found to have a specific immunological reaction to brewer’s yeast and wheat. And even though a slightly larger 2020 study showed similar results, more research is needed to determine whether yeast-free diets should be recommended for all people with HS.
Diet, HS, and metabolic syndrome
Diet can also be a roundabout way for a person to address HS by improving other conditions they have.
Metabolic syndrome, a cluster of signs like high blood sugar and blood pressure levels, is estimated to affect about half of people with HS.
A high fiber, low glycemic diet can help manage metabolic syndrome. And some research shows the glycemic index is directly helpful for HS, too — a win-win!
While there’s no perfect way to eat when you have HS, a diet rich in foods that support healthy gut bacteria and lower inflammation could help you manage the condition. Here are some HS-friendly foods to consider including in your diet:
- Legumes. The legume family includes beans, peas, and lentils. These foods are full of fiber that gut bacteria loves! Plus, they are very low on the glycemic index, which measures the impact of carbohydrates on blood sugar levels.
- Nuts and seeds. They pack tons of anti-inflammatory fats and fiber into tiny packages. Add them to different foods for some flavor and crunch.
- Fish. Fish are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce inflammation in the body.
- Vegetables. Grandma was on to something with these fiber- and nutrient-dense ingredients! If you have digestive troubles, you may find cooked veggies easier on your tummy than raw.
- Low glycemic grains. High fiber, low glycemic grains can lower inflammation and feed those friendly gut bacteria. They include buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, oats, popcorn, barley, teff, and brown rice.
Even though research on diet and HS is ongoing, you might be tempted to experiment with HS-friendly foods to see if they work any magic on your symptoms. Here are some easy-to-make recipes to inspire your kitchen adventures.
- Overnight oats. Oats are one of those low glycemic grains that have anti-inflammatory properties. And overnight oats in particular can make your mornings soooo much easier. Simply throw the ingredients together in a few minutes the night before, let it hang out in the fridge, and voila! — an HS-friendly breakfast is ready for you the moment you roll out of bed.
- Peanut butter smoothie bowl. Smoothie bowls can be a great way to sneak extra fruits, veggies, seeds, and nut butters into the first meal of the day. This one uses chia seeds and peanut butter for a tantalizing texture.
- Baked carrot cake oatmeal. Oats are back for breakfast again, but this time with the added bonus of veggies. If you aren’t the biggest fan of oatmeal, this creative baked twist might just change your mind.
- Chickpea salad sandwich. This recipe is like a tuna or chicken salad, but made with chickpeas, which are super low on the glycemic index to help keep your blood sugar stable. Smash it between a couple of pieces of toast and enjoy!
- Buddha bowl. This flavors and textures of this meal make for a party in your mouth. As a bonus, you get a big dose of fiber from the green vegetables, sweet potato, and chickpeas. (Um, have we mentioned the benefits of fiber yet?)
- Lentil soup. Lentil soup is one of those classic meals that can do no wrong. Not only is it simple and delicious, it’s also full of nutrient-dense lentils — which just so happen to be a little less toot-inducing than other types of legumes.
- Teff tabbouleh salad. Ever tried teff? It’s a staple in Ethiopia and Eritrea. It’s also a great source of fiber, protein, and iron.
- Pan-roasted salmon with soy-ginger glaze. Fish, especially fatty types like salmon, are rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. And when it’s glazed in soy and ginger, you know you’ll want seconds.
- IMediterranean bowl. The Mediterranean way of eating can help reduce inflammation, which is a major part of HS. This meal is a fun way to give it a whirl.
- Lentil tacos. This recipe gives Taco Tuesday an HS-friendly makeover with a nice low glycemic meal all tucked into a cute little (messy) package.
- Energy balls. These no-bake balls make oats and flax ultra-snackable. FYI, no-bake is code for “you can eat them as you make them.”
- Roasted chickpeas. If you’d like to get the benefits of chickpeas but just can’t deal with their mealy texture, give this recipe a try. Roasting the chickpeas transforms them into crunchy bites, while still keeping their fiber and protein content intact.
- Apple carrot muffins. This tasty muffin gets a boost of healthy fats and fiber from the almond flour.
Diet helps many types of chronic illnesses, but whether or not it can play a role in managing HS is still up in the air. However, some early research suggests that cutting brewer’s yeast, eating fiber-rich foods, and following an anti-inflammatory eating plan (like the Mediterranean diet) could help reduce HS symptoms in some people.
In food talk, all of this means olive oil, fish, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, oats, and legumes. These simple ingredients can be turned into some pretty marvelous things at just about every meal — and they may help you manage HS.
Keep your eyes peeled for more research on diet and HS.