40 Foods to Avoid During a Shingles Attack!

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Understanding Shingles and Dietary Impact

Shingles, a reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, manifests as painful blisters and can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. Key to managing its symptoms is understanding how diet plays a role. 

While no specific food triggers shingles, certain dietary choices can exacerbate symptoms or potentially delay recovery. Recognizing and avoiding these foods is crucial for anyone undergoing a shingles attack.

The dietary approach to managing shingles revolves around two main strategies: minimizing foods that can weaken the immune system and incorporating those that bolster it. The immune system is instrumental in combating the virus, and specific nutrients can aid in its function. In contrast, certain foods can promote inflammation or impair immune response, thus potentially worsening the condition.

As a Registered Dietitian with almost a decade of experience working with older adults, I’m here to help you in the event that you experience shingles.  Here are the foods to avoid during a shingles attack.

Understanding Shingles: Brief Explanation and Symptoms

Shingles is caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus responsible for chickenpox. Its most notable symptom is a painful rash, usually appearing as a single stripe of blisters that wraps around either the left or right side of the torso. 

Some individuals may experience fever, headache, and fatigue as well. The condition is more common in older adults and those with weakened immune systems.

The significance of diet in the context of shingles lies in its potential to either support or hinder the body’s immune response. Certain foods can exacerbate inflammation and discomfort.  While others can assist in managing symptoms and accelerating recovery. 

A well-balanced diet, rich in immune-boosting nutrients, plays a pivotal role in the body’s ability to fight the virus.

Foods to Avoid During a Shingles Attack

Certain foods can exacerbate shingles symptoms or impede recovery. Primary among these are foods high in arginine, a compound that supports the replication of the varicella-zoster virus. 

Arginine Rich Foods to Avoid

Common arginine-rich foods include nuts, seeds, chocolate, and gelatin. Minimizing their intake during a shingles outbreak can be beneficial.

  • Nuts (like almonds, walnuts, and peanuts)
  • Seeds (such as pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds)
  • Chocolate
  • Gelatin
  • Whole grains (like wheat germ and bran)
  • Oats and oatmeal
  • Soy products (tofu, soybeans)
  • Spinach
  • Turkey and chicken (especially the skin)
  • Seafood (shrimp, lobster, and crab)

Saturated Fat Foods to Avoid

Equally important is avoiding foods high in saturated fats, as they are linked to systemic inflammation, potentially worsening shingles symptoms. Such foods include butter, fatty pork, sausages, bacon, and other processed meats. 

  • Fatty cuts of beef, pork, and lamb
  • Dark chicken meat and poultry skin
  • High-fat dairy products (like cream, butter, and full-fat cheese)
  • Processed meats (such as sausages, hot dogs, and bacon)
  • Lard and shortening
  • Coconut oil and palm oil
  • Fried foods (like french fries and fried chicken)
  • Commercially baked goods (including cookies, cakes, and pastries)
  • Ice cream and other full-fat frozen desserts
  • Creamy sauces and gravies

Refined Foods to Avoid

Refined and processed foods, particularly those high in sugar and white flour, should also be limited. They offer little nutritional value and can weaken the immune system’s response.

  • White bread
  • White rice
  • Pastries and cakes
  • Sugary cereals
  • White pasta
  • Crackers made with white flour
  • Sugary drinks (like sodas and sweetened juices)
  • Candy and sweets
  • Processed snack foods (like chips and pretzels)
  • Instant noodles

Alcohol consumption during a shingles attack is advised against, especially when taking antiviral medications, as it may reduce their effectiveness and lead to additional side effects. Soy products, due to their high arginine content, should be consumed in moderation. 

Fruit and Vegetables to Avoid

Certain vegetables and fruits like tomatoes, blackberries, grapes, and blueberries have an unfavorable lysine to arginine ratio and might not be ideal during an outbreak.

  • Citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, grapefruits)
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers (bell peppers, chili peppers)
  • Eggplants
  • Potatoes (especially green or sprouted)
  • Berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries)
  • Pineapples
  • Dried fruits (due to concentrated sugars and potential preservatives)
  • Canned fruits (often contain added sugars or syrups)
  • Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage, can be high in histamines)

Recommended Diet for Shingles

When managing shingles, focusing on a diet that boosts the immune system is key. This includes foods rich in essential vitamins and nutrients that support immune function. 

Foods high in vitamins A, C, E, B12, D, and zinc are particularly beneficial. These vitamins and minerals help keep the neurological system functioning correctly, reduce fatigue, and protect the body against the effects of postherpetic neuralgia, a complication of shingles.

Incorporating complex carbohydrates like barley, brown rice, and sweet potatoes into your diet can help reduce inflammation. 

Protein-rich foods, especially those containing omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, flaxseed, and almonds, also have anti-inflammatory properties and support immune health. 

Green beans, known for their chlorophyll content, are another excellent choice for their anti-inflammatory effects.

Vegetables play a crucial role in a shingles-friendly diet. Lettuce, particularly romaine, is alkalizing and helps cleanse the liver and lymphatic system, both affected by shingles. Asparagus, with its compounds that may inhibit shingles development, is another great option.

Yogurt, rich in the amino acid L-lysine and probiotics, is also recommended. These components have been shown to reduce the virus’s ability and support the body’s healing process.

Managing Shingles with Diet Post Attack

If you have shingles but aren’t actively going through a shingles attack, it’s important to maintain a balanced healthy diet.  But you can incorporate some of the foods that you avoid during a shingles attack.  

The role of diet in a post shingles attack shingles treatment is integral. A well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet not only supports the immune system but also aids in managing and potentially reducing the severity of shingles symptoms. The key is to focus on foods that enhance immune strength and avoid those that could weaken it.

Foods rich in vitamins A, B6, E, and zinc, along with folate, iron, and selenium, are particularly beneficial. These nutrients bolster the body’s natural defenses against infections like shingles. For instance, vitamin A, found in carrots and sweet potatoes, is crucial for immune function. Similarly, vitamin C, abundant in citrus fruits and tomatoes, plays a vital role in immune health.

It’s also important to consider lifestyle adaptations that complement dietary changes. Stress reduction, gentle exercise, and adequate hydration contribute significantly to the management of shingles. These practices, in conjunction with a nutritious diet, can enhance the body’s ability to cope with the virus and aid in a quicker recovery.

Final Thoughts

Managing shingles effectively involves a careful approach to diet. Avoiding foods high in arginine and saturated fats, along with refined and processed foods, can help reduce the severity of symptoms and support recovery. 

Instead, focus on a diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that strengthen the immune system, such as vitamins A, C, E, B12, D, and zinc. Foods like leafy greens, omega-3 rich fish, and yogurt are particularly beneficial.

While these dietary guidelines can aid in managing shingles, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult a healthcare provider for a tailored treatment plan, especially considering the complexities of shingles and its potential complications. 

Diet is just one aspect of a comprehensive approach to managing this condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Eat Tomatoes During a Shingles Attack?

Tomatoes might not be the best choice during a shingles outbreak due to their high arginine content, which can feed the shingles virus. It’s advisable to limit or avoid tomatoes to potentially reduce the severity of symptoms.

Is Yogurt Beneficial for Shingles?

Yes, yogurt can be beneficial for those with shingles. It contains probiotics and lysine, which can help the body heal. Yogurt’s probiotic content supports gut health, while lysine is known to counteract the virus’s growth.

How Can I Keep My Spirits Up While Recovering?

Maintaining a positive mindset is crucial during recovery from shingles. Engaging in enjoyable activities, staying connected with loved ones, and ensuring adequate rest and hydration can all contribute to a more positive recovery experience. If needed, seeking support from a therapist or support group can also be helpful.

Michelle saari dietitian
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Michelle Saari is a Registered Dietitian based in Canada. She has a Master's Degree in Human Nutritional Sciences and is a passionate advocate for spreading easy to understand, reliable, and trustworthy nutrition information. She is currently a full time online entrepreneur with two nutrition focused websites.

2 thoughts on “40 Foods to Avoid During a Shingles Attack!”

  1. A little confusing. First the article says not to eat nuts or seeds, lists almonds in the foods to avoid, but further down under Recommended Diet for Shingles, it includes almonds and flaxseed.
    Can you please clarify.
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Robin,

      Thank you for the comment and sorry for the confusion!

      During an active shingles attack, foods that are rich in Arginine should be avoided, Almonds are a food that while healthy in a normal diet, are rich in Arginine.

      So if someone is going through an active shingles attack, they should not be eating almonds.

      But once a shingles attack has cleared up and they are back to ‘status quo’ for their health, they can resume eating small amount of these foods as they can be a part of a healthy and balanced diet.

      All that to say, most people will only have 1 shingles attack. So they don’t need to avoid the foods on the avoid list for their entire lives, only during active flare ups!

      I hope that answers your question and clears it up for you!

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