The Best Psoriasis-Friendly Foods for Kids
What you eat makes a difference when it comes to this challenging condition.
As a parent, helping your youngsters feel their best is always the goal. And while there is no single diet that can cure your child’s psoriasis, there are foods to avoid and some to embrace that can play a role in managing the condition. Of course, feeding little ones can be challenging enough, even without a chronic condition to feel anxious about. Not to worry: These simple changes in the kitchen can help make your job and their condition less stressful.
Before we dive into the specifics, though, let’s take a look at the big picture of psoriasis. First, even though psoriasis is visible mostly on the skin, it is an autoimmune disease that can result in chronic inflammation throughout the body. Second, this systematic inflammation often leads to other conditions, called comorbidities. Some of these comorbidities could include cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and insulin resistance. For that reason, the underlying goal of psoriasis treatment is twofold: decrease the inflammation as much as possible and reduce the risk of other health problems (comorbidities) that often go hand-in-hand with disease. The good news? Food choices can play a powerful role in both areas.
One thing is for sure: The immune system is complex. Certain players in the immune system are known as cytokines. These molecules allow your cells to talk to each other, while also regulating the body’s response to disease and infections. An overproduction of cytokines can result in unnecessary inflammation. All of this is important to understand when thinking about your child’s diet because there is evidence that certain foods trigger the immune system’s production of proinflammatory cytokines, therefore worsening psoriasis, while other foods may temper inflammation, thereby easing PsO flares. Let’s take a closer look.
In a 2020 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, people with psoriasis were about two times more likely to be diagnosed with celiac disease, characterized by gluten sensitivity. Because of the close association between gluten and psoriasis, avoiding excess gluten in your child’s diet could make a difference in how he feels. This means substituting common gluten-heavy foods such as cookies, crackers, bread, and cereals with gluten-free options such as whole grain oatmeal and brown rice. Talking to your child’s doctor about testing for gluten sensitivity could be a good first step to determine if dietary gluten is worsening your child’s inflammation.
Overly Processed Foods
Processed foods can also contribute to inflammation and should be limited if your child has psoriasis according to Eleanor Baker, R.D., of Elevated Nutrition and Wellness in Jacksonville, FL. “Processed foods like crackers, white bread, pasta, and cookies create significant inflammation in the body due to added sugars, white flour, and low fiber content,” she says. “Consuming these foods spikes the blood sugar and puts a strain on the body.” Instead, choose snacks that are focused around fruits, vegetables, or a protein source like smoked salmon, boiled eggs, or bean dip, she suggests.
Lauren Kemp, a mother of a three-year-old with psoriasis can attest to the adverse impact processed foods have on her daughter’s condition. “Processed foods make her psoriasis worse,” says Kemp. Kemp found that making snacks at home has improved her daughter’s condition. “For example, instead of chicken nuggets that we used to buy at the store, I now make my own in the air fryer using just water, breadcrumbs, and chicken breast chunks,” explains Kemp. “Making more of our own food has helped reduce flares some, but of course we are still learning and figuring out the root of her flares.”
The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating based on the traditional foods that people used to consume in countries like Greece and Italy. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, fish, seafood, and extra virgin olive oil are high in this diet, while dairy products and meat are limited. Researchers have determined that many of the main components of the diet have anti-inflammatory properties, especially extra virgin olive oil. That may be why a 2018 study in JAMA Dermatology found that the Mediterranean diet improved psoriasis severity and even slowed the progression of the disease.
To help your child with pediatric psoriasis, the National Psoriasis Foundation recommends trying a Mediterranean diet with extra virgin oil as the main fat, along with three daily servings of fruits, two daily servings of vegetables, and three servings of fish/seafood, nuts, and legumes.
Easy ways to incorporate more of these anti-inflammatory foods into your child’s diet could include adding breaded and baked fish sticks or salmon cakes for a weekly dinner, roasting veggies in extra virgin olive oil, and making snacks out of carrots and hummus or apples and peanut butter.
Obesity is a major risk factor with psoriasis, but feeding your child high-fiber, nutrient-dense foods can help with a healthy weight. The problem with obesity? Not only does it cause symptoms to worsen, but it can also reduce response to treatment when trying to manage the disease. Researchers have found that obesity is linked to nutrient deficiency, which makes it even more important that children with psoriasis eat a diet that is packed with nutrition.
Where to start? Look for foods that are the most nutrient dense. “Choosing a wholesome snack like hummus and cucumbers is in line with an anti-inflammatory diet,” says Baker. “It is high in nutrients and will support proper digestion, while helping your little one to feel full and maintain a healthy weight.” As for dessert, “banana ‘nice cream’ is nutrient dense and is an easy dessert to make,” she suggests. “Blend two frozen bananas, ¼ cup of cocoa powder, ½ avocado, and a splash of milk.” Dig in!
The bottom line: Limiting or avoiding foods that can worsen whole-body inflammation is a great goal when it comes to your child’s diet. And, introducing them to foods with anti-inflammatory powers will help them feel their best today and could be a foundation for preventing future health conditions that are often associated with psoriasis.
Background: National Psoriasis Foundation. (2021.) “Psoriatic disease affects more than skin and joints.” https://www.psoriasis.org/advance/psoriatic-disease-affects-more-than-skin-and-joints/
Inflammation: Antioxidants. (2021.) “The effect of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capacity of diet on psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis phenotype: Nutrition as therapeutic tool?” https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3921/10/2/157/htm
Gluten (1.): Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2019.) “Association between psoriasis and celiac disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31809817/
Gluten (2.): Celiac Disease Foundation. (2018.) “Gluten-free diet may reduce psoriatic disease severity.” https://celiac.org/about-the-foundation/featured-news/2018/06/glutenfreedietmayreducepsoriaticdiseaseseverity/
Mediterranean Diet and Cardiovascular Disease: Current Opinions in Lipidology. (2014.) “Dietary patterns, Mediterranean diet, and cardiovascular disease.” https://journals.lww.com/co-lipidology/Abstract/2014/02000/Dietary_patterns,_Mediterranean_diet,_and.4.aspx
Mediterranean Diet and Olive Oil: Atherosclerosis. (2007.) “Postprandial anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of extra virgin olive oil.” https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0021915006000402
Mediterranean Diet and Slowing the Disease: JAMA Dermatology. (2018.) “Association between Mediterranean anti-inflammatory dietary profile and severity of psoriasis: Results from the nutrinet-santé cohort.” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30046840/
Nutrient-Dense Foods: National Psoriasis Foundation. (2021). “Dietary modifications.” https://www.psoriasis.org/dietary-modifications/