What to Know About Prednisone and Your Diet

Medically Reviewed by Mahammad Juber, MD on August 10, 2022
4 min read

Prednisone is commonly prescribed to treat several conditions. One of the things that you should be aware of is prednisone and your food intake. We look at the type of foods you can eat along with prednisone, what foods to avoid, and the side effects of this medicine.

Prednisone is a medicine that's usually prescribed by a doctor to treat health conditions that might affect your lungs, skin, eyes, kidneys, blood, thyroid, stomach, or intestines.

Prednisone belongs to a group of drugs called corticosteroids (commonly referred to as steroids). The other drugs in this group include prednisolone, hydrocortisone, and methylprednisolone.

Prednisone can be prescribed in different forms, such as pills, injections, and inhalers. Some of the common conditions doctors prescribe prednisone for include: 

  • Kidney conditions
  • Lupus
  • Asthma
  • Rashes
  • Certain types of arthritis

Prednisone reduces the activity of your body’s immune system by slowing its response to diseases or injuries. It can also reduce immune-related symptoms, like inflammation and swelling.

Some of the side effects of prednisone include:

  • Extreme mood swings
  • Headaches
  • Acne
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Weight gain
  • Swelling in the arms, legs, and face
  • Slower healing of wounds and cuts
  • Irregular appetite
  • Unusual collection of fat in certain parts of the body
  • Irregular or absent menstruation
  • Difficulty getting sleep or staying asleep

If you’re prescribed prednisone, it’s important to understand some of its nutritional side effects as well. Because it’s a steroid, it tends to interfere with how certain nutrients are absorbed into and utilized by your system.

Some of these nutrients, such as calcium, sodium, proteins, and vitamin C and D, are essential for the regular functioning of your body. Prednisone can also cause a considerable increase in your appetite that could lead to a sudden spike in your weight.

On the other hand, steroids can cause irritation when you take them on an empty stomach, which is why this should be avoided. If you’re taking prednisone to manage a chronic condition, you should consider eating low-calorie foods to prevent sudden weight gain.

The side effects of prednisone can be minimized by following these dietary guidelines.

Prednisone can cause your body to retain fluids and sodium, which can lead to a spike in your blood pressure and cause swelling in certain areas of your body. Although you can add some salt to your dishes, avoid adding too much when you’re taking prednisone.

This also means reducing your intake of foods that contain high amounts of salt, such as canned foods, pickles, potato chips, crackers, and bacon. If you have a colostomy (an opening for the colon, or large intestine, through the abdomen) or ileostomy (when the small intestine is diverted through an opening in the abdomen), check with your doctor about how much sodium you should be getting in your diet.

Prednisone also inhibits the absorption of calcium in your body. Getting more vitamin D in your diet can help your body absorb more calcium, but this alone isn't enough to make sure that your body gets enough calcium. Check with your doctor to see if you should take vitamin D supplements.

Also, increase your intake of low-fat foods that have high calcium levels. Some of these include corn, sardines, almonds, broccoli, milk, yogurt, cheese, tofu, cooked soybeans, boiled white beans, and salmon. Make sure you meet your daily calcium needs depending on your age:

  • 0–6 months: 210 mg per day
  • 7–12 months: 270 mg per day
  • 1–3 years: 500 mg per day
  • 4–8 years: 800 mg per day
  • 9–13 years: 1,300 mg per day
  • 14–18 years: 1,300 mg per day
  • 19–30 years: 1,000 mg per day

Prednisone also leads to the breakdown and loss of proteins in your body. If you're taking prednisone, this means you’ll need to eat more protein than normal to meet your body’s daily protein needs.

Conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis lead to considerable loss of body protein on top of the effects of prednisone. If you have one of these conditions, you'll have to account for this dual effect on protein breakdown in your diet.

In some cases, prednisone may cause a spike in cholesterol levels. If you're taking prednisone, you'll need to monitor your cholesterol regularly. If your tests indicate that your cholesterol levels are higher than normal, you’ll have to reduce your intake of fatty and oily foods.

One way to do this is to eat fewer foods with added fat, such as margarine, butter, and some sauces and gravies. If you eat dairy regularly, choose products that have a lower fat content — 2% fat or less is ideal.

Prednisone is also known to increase blood sugar levels. Limiting your sugar intake is essential to lower the impact of prednisone on your blood sugar, especially if you have a condition like diabetes. Check with your doctor if you need to manage your blood sugar to learn the best ways to do it.

Although prednisone is an important drug that’s effective for several conditions, it’s important to know what to eat when you’re taking it. Your doctor may ask you to follow a low-salt, high-potassium, or high-calcium diet. They may also recommend taking calcium, vitamin D, or potassium supplements.

Some of the foods that may be recommended to you when you’re prescribed prednisone are:

  • Baked potatoes
  • Grapefruit
  • Lima beans
  • Milk
  • Cantaloupes
  • Bananas
  • Apricots
  • Dried fruit, like dates, prunes, and raisins
  • Spinach

These foods are high in potassium, which can help minimize your fluid retention.

On the other hand, some of the foods to avoid when you’re taking prednisone are those that contain saturated fat and cholesterol. Instead of higher-fat meats, choose lean meats, poultry, and fish. Because prednisone may also increase blood sugar levels, you should avoid foods with simple carbohydrates and concentrated sweets, such as cakes, pies, cookies, jams, honey, and candy.