What Not to Eat When You Have a Meniere’s Diagnosis

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You or someone you know has a diagnosis of Meniere’s Disease. Now what? In talking with some who have found out they have this condition their initial response was, “huh? I never heard of that.” That is a common comment and understandable when you realize that Meniere’s is a rare chronic illness that affects only .2% of the population. And truthfully that number may not be correct because the symptoms of Meniere’s are remarkably similar to other maladies that have gone undiagnosed.

So, What Exactly Is Meniere’s Disease?

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This condition consists of an inner ear fluid imbalance that affects hearing and balance. It’s the fluid in the inner ear that helps get signals about your place and space to the brain. For someone with Meniere’s that fluid builds up and creates inaccurate messages. This results in various problems including:

Vertigo: Dizzy spells that last at least 20 minutes but can extend over a full day or more.

Nausea: This results from the vertigo.

Tinnitus: Hearing a ringing sound in one ear (this may sound like hissing, a musical note, the rush of a wave, static, crickets or roaring)

Ear Stuffiness: This is like when you feel you have to pop your ears on a plane or get water in your ear when swimming.

Hearing Loss: Temporary during a vertigo episode, but may become permanent in one or both ears.

Blurred Vision: Not as common a symptom as the rest but it can happen during a vertigo episode.

Imbalance: Vertigo makes it difficult to stand or walk without falling.

It’s important to know a person may have vertigo with one or several of the other symptoms during an attack. Vertigo manifests often without warning although some people say they feel an “aura” just beforehand. The aura consists of perceptual disturbances like smelling something that isn’t there or becoming very confused. As a person’s condition continues the symptoms typically get worse, especially hearing loss.

Self Help for Meniere’s:

Your physician can offer you a variety of options for your Meniere’s disease. There are medications that help with motion sickness and nausea, for example. You can also consider a hearing aid for your impacted ear. There are other therapies your caregiver may review for your consideration too. A lot of these options are hit and miss. Some may help, others not so much so. Unfortunately, you have to decide what you want to try and then wait to see what happens.

One thing, however, that is in your control is your diet. There are things in our daily menu that make Meniere’s better or worse. Learning about these items might help you stave off frequent episodes or minimally decrease their severity.

Basic Dietary Treatment for Meniere’s

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In choosing foods to avoid, a dietician thinks about balance, tinnitus, and nausea. The idea is eliminating foods and beverages that exasperate those symptoms and then replace them with “good” alternatives for your overall well-being. This process consists of five basic steps.

1. Avoid foods high in sodium and/or carbohydrates. Salt intake increases your body’s water weight retention that increases inner ear fluid pressure. This can create an environment for a Meniere’s attack. Canned and processed food has a lot of salt. In terms of carbohydrates (bread, pasta), these can also increase water retention. This is why people who follow low-carb diets lose weight quickly at first. Those pounds are water released from the body. In either case, you can add Potassium-rich foods into your diet instead. This will act as a diuretic, and can even offset a meal in which you accidentally ate too much salt. Other natural diuretics include dandelion tea (do not consume before bed), Hibiscus, ginger, nettle, beets, asparagus, and celery.

2. Balance out your meals throughout the day and try to maintain the continuity throughout the week. This means eating consistent proportions at the same time every day. Do not skip meals.

3. Stay hydrated using water or other liquids so long as they don’t have a lot of sugar in them.

4. Avoid caffeine. It’s a stimulant that can exasperate Meniere’s symptoms. Likewise, limit your consumption of alcohol to one glass a day. More than this may trigger a migraine or dizziness.

5. Avoiding MSG. This step is one that has controversy around it. Dieticians may recommend MSG in place of salt. So just watch how your body responds to it (eat Chinese!).

Avoid Sugar and Salt

In researching what not to eat when you have Meniere’s Disease, salt and sugar seem to top the list on every trusted resource for this condition. Sugar affects the way you produce insulin. Insulin retains sodium.

The major players that are “no-nos” among simple sugars include:

  • Candy including chocolate
  • Galactose (found in dairy foods)
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Honey
  • Jams and jellies
  • Maltose (in Molasses)
  • Soda pop
  • Table sugar

Watch product labels for dextrin, sorghum, dextrose, maltose, turbinado, and xylitol. You can focus instead on edibles with complex sugars. These include:

  • Beets (fresh)
  • Brown rice
  • Cream of rice cereal
  • Lentils and beans
  • Oatmeal
  • Pumpkin and butternut squash
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Whole wheat bread and pasta (100%)
  • Yams

In terms of salt intake, people with Meniere’s Disease should limit themselves to about 1,500 mg of sodium daily. More than that increases your water weight. Here is a list of some foods that have high levels of salt, and alternatives you can swap out for your diet.

Breads & Grains:

Avoid salted rolls, quick breads, pancake mix, pizza, salted crackers, instant potatoes, and stuffing. Alternatives include muffins, rice, pasta, low-sodium crackers, unsalted pretzels, and chips.

Condiments & Fats:

Avoid soy sauce, marinades, bottled salad dressing, salted butter, ketchup, and mustard. Alternatives include vegetable oil, unsalted oil, vinegar and low-sodium salad dressings or sauces.

Dairy:

Avoid buttermilk, processed cheese (or cheese spreads), cheese sauce and cottage cheese. Instead eat yogurt, ice milk, cream cheese, and mozzarella.

Fruit & Vegetables

Canned vegetables and vegetable juices, olives, pickles, packaged mixes like au gratin potatoes, pre-prepared salsa. Alternatives include fresh potatoes or frozen fries, low-sodium vegetable juice, fresh or frozen fruit juice, dried fruit, and plain frozen vegetables.

Eggs, Fish, Meat & Poultry

Avoid smoke, salted, and cured meat. The same holds true for fish and poultry items like ham, hot dogs, sardines, cold cuts, and anchovies. Alternatives include fresh frozen pork, beef, and oil or water-packed poultry and fish.

Individual Ingredients to Avoid When You Have Meniere’s Disease

There are certain ingredients affecting Meniere’s symptoms more than others. It’s a recommendation you stay away from any edibles that trigger migraines. Specifically, those items having tyramine, an amino acid. Example include bananas, brie, cheddar cheese, chicken livers, chocolate, figs, nuts, red wine, smoked meat, and yogurt.

Experts also strongly suggest refraining from alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco. These can all impact fluid regulation in your body including blood flow. This may cause vertigo, headaches, and other typical Meniere’s manifestations.

Finally, as mentioned earlier, some people find that MSG can trigger their Meniere’s symptoms. In the list of what not to eat when you have Meniere’s, if you want to avoid MSG do not consume plant protein extracts, yeast extracts, textured protein, corn oil, malt extract or flavoring, broth or stock, flavorings like beef or chicken, soy or whey protein concentrate.

Summing It All Up: Healthy Living and Meniere’s Disease Control

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At first when you look at all the suggested limitations regarding what not to eat when you have Meniere’s you can feel overwhelmed. Sometimes when you grab a bite, you have no idea it has something in it which can trigger your symptoms. Be patient with yourself. This is not a fast process. Try a few different approaches, mixing and matching ingredients and noting your responses.

Your efforts get more complicated when you plan on eating out. If you are going into an establishment do your homework. Call ahead. Ask if they have any menu items that fit your restrictions. The main thing you want to ask about is salt. Cooks have a love-affair with sodium, so it’s often hard to find a restaurant with low-sodium offerings. Many will accommodate requests if you put in an order ahead of time.

If your friends or family invite you to dine with them, now is a good time to explain the things you shouldn’t eat. No one wants a wonderful evening of delicious food and conversation interrupted with a vertigo attack that takes up a good amount of the evening to resolve. Once people know you are being proactive about your health, they’re usually more than willing to help.

Bring your knowledge into your own kitchen. It may take your body a while to adjust to your new diet, but it’s well worth it. Following the lists of “what not to eat” may decrease the frequency or severity of your Meniere’s symptoms. It will make you much happier and less stressed in the long run. Good eating!

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