What Foods to Avoid During a Shingles Outbreak

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A large container of dry oats tipped over on a wooden counter. (Image: Remains/iStock/Getty Images)

The painful, blistering skin rash commonly known as shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same one that brings on chickenpox in childhood. Also known as herpes zoster, shingles occurs most often in people over 50, reports MedlinePlus, but anyone who has had chickenpox is potentially at risk. While some dietary changes and alternative treatments may help, if you suspect you have shingles, you should see a doctor immediately. An outbreak on your face can cause lasting damage to vision and hearing.

Foods with Arginine

Foods high in the amino acid arginine tend to promote the growth of the shingles virus, reports WholeHealth Chicago, an integrative medicine center. Especially problematic are foods that are high in arginine and low in lysine, an amino acid that helps balance arginine in the body. During an outbreak, avoid nuts and seeds, soy foods, chocolate, oats, wheat germ, coconut, carob, whole-wheat and white flour, and gelatin, according to homeopathic practitioner Gabrielle Traub.

Processed Foods

Because herpes zoster is a viral condition, building a strong immune system through dietary intake of vitamins A, B-6, C, E and folate, plus the minerals iron and zinc, may help, according to a study published in the “International Journal of Epidemiology” in April 2006. In particular, you increase your risk of developing shingles if your diet is low in fruits and vegetables, according to the study’s authors. Avoid foods that are low in vitamins and minerals, such as sugary foods and beverages and other refined carbohydrates, and increase your intake of whole, unprocessed foods.

Foods to Include

During a shingles outbreak, it's a good idea to add foods to your diet that have a higher ratio of lysine to arginine, says Traub. These include fish, poultry, beef, lamb, brewer’s yeast, and most fruits and vegetables except peas. In addition, extra vitamin C in your diet can help boost your immunity and shorten an outbreak. Be sure to incorporate plenty of citrus fruits, pineapple, mango, leafy greens and tomatoes into your meals, both to prevent shingles outbreaks and to help lessen their severity.

Sample Menu

You don't have to deprive yourself during a shingles outbreak; simply create a menu that minimizes arginine-rich foods. For foods with more lysine than arginine, try plain, low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese with fresh pineapple for your morning meal. A good lunch option would be a salad of leafy greens topped with tuna or grilled chicken breast and chopped veggies. For your dinner, broil salmon or cod and serve with steamed vegetables. A meatless meal could be a bowl of black bean soup with sliced avocado. For snacks, try dried fruit such as figs or apricots, celery sticks stuffed with goat cheese, or a smoothie made with low-fat milk, mango and whey protein.

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