Eat Clean to Improve How You Feel
Following the “MS Diet” guidelines below will improve your health, boost your energy and help you maintain a healthy body weight whether you have MS or not. These are healthy multiple sclerosis diet guidelines your whole family will benefit from.
1. Become a “Fishy Flexitarian”.
We encourage you to lean towards a vegan diet by eating less animal food (meat, chicken, eggs, dairy, etc.) and more plant-based foods (such as fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, whole soy, etc.) We’ve found it easiest to stick to a “flexitarian” way of eating by consuming animal foods at just one meal a day (for example, on many days we are vegan until 7:00 p.m.) One of the primary reasons we encourage you to reduce your consumption of animal foods is because animal foods contain saturated fat and the type of saturated fat found in animal foods is very pro-inflammatory. Although fish is an animal food, fish is very low in saturated fat and also has important anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats so we encourage the consumption of fish (thus the term “fishy flexitarian”)
Note: Importantly, the animal foods we do eat are of the highest quality and the “cleanest” forms (for example we choose organic whenever possible and always choose grass-fed beef over grain fed or pastured free-range chickens over caged chickens).
The Original MS Diet Developed by Roy Swank, M.D.
The initial diet for multiple sclerosis Ivy’s neurologist suggested she follow was The Multiple Sclerosis Diet Book written by neurologist Roy Swank, M.D. Dr. Swank was the first researcher to discover a correlation between the consumption of fat—specifically animal-based saturated fat—and the incidence of MS. Swank’s research on the relationship between diet and MS dates back to 1948, long before modern disease-modifying drugs were available. Over the course of a nearly fifty-year career, Dr. Swank worked directly with thousands of MS patients and his MS diet (which is very low in animal-based saturated fat) has been proven to reduce the frequency and severity of exacerbations in MS patients. After a period of five years, study patients who followed his multiple sclerosis diet were actually better off functionally than when they were first diagnosed with MS. At twenty years, most of the control group patients were unable to walk, whereas the typical Swank diet patient was fully mobile and experiencing only mild symptoms.
2. Got Phytonutrients?
Phytonutrients (also called phytochemicals) are only found in plant-based foods….but not just fruits and vegetables. You’ll find phytonutrients in nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, legumes, whole soy, etc. Phyonutrients act as antioxidants but they are also very important for helping to decrease inflammation. The best way to get more phytonutrients into your diet is to eat more plant-based food in their whole and natural form. We also suggest making “whole food” green smoothies once daily by blending a super green veggie (such as parsley, kale, spinach, cilantro, etc.) with any fruit (such as frozen pineapple, mango, strawberries, etc.), fresh ginger root (also very anti-inflammatory), water and fresh lemon juice. In addition you can take whole-food based supplements made from freeze-dried fruits and vegetables (such as Juice Plus+ or Green Vibrance) that offer a concentrated source of phytonutrients. Additionally, for your multiple sclerosis diet, it is a good idea to try and eat at least 1 raw green salad each day in addition to a raw fruit with breakfast and vegetables with both lunch and dinner (fruits and vegetables are among the richest sources of phytonutrients.)
3. Spice It Up!
Instead of seasoning your foods with excess amounts of oils try experimenting with spices such as turmeric, cinnamon, cumin and cardamom. Spices not only taste amazing but they are loaded with phytonutrients and they have other health-promoting properties (for example cumin has detoxifying properties, cinnamon lowers blood sugar, and turmeric is good for your MS diet and just about everything!) The list of health promoting properties intrinsic to spices is endless. And it’s not just spices, herbs are also a very healthy way to add flavor to your food.
4. Balance Your Omega-6 / Omega-3 Ratio.
The ideal ratio for your MS diet is about 2 or 4 times more omega-6 fat than omega-3 fat. The average person eating the SAD (Standard American Diet) eats approximately 20 times more omega-6 than omega-3 fat. This increases inflammation and decreases sensitivity to insulin (thus increasing risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease). These simple steps will help optimize your ratio:
- Eat Fish (2-3 times per week)
- Supplement with a Pharmaceutical Grade Fish Oil (2 grams per day is a good start)
- Eat vegan sources of omega-3 fats (such as ground flaxseeds or a high-quality flax oil)
- Eliminate processed omega-6 rich vegetable oils and packaged foods containing these oils (such as cottonseed oil, pure vegetable oil, soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, etc.)
- Eat omega-6 rich foods in their whole and unprocessed form (such as “whole soy” like edamame beans or tempeh, nuts, seeds, nut butters, etc.)
5. Eat “Whole Carbs”
When it comes to your diet for multiple sclerosis, you should completely eliminate any foods made with refined flour of any sort (a key word to look for on the ingredient list is “enriched flour”—if it’s “enriched” it’s processed). Avoid any food with high fructose corn syrup and eat sugar only in moderation (as part of a once daily sweet treat.) Empty-calorie processed carbs are easy to overeat because they are devoid of fiber, and when overeaten, empty carbs are converted by your body into saturated fat, which increases inflammation. However, good “whole carbs” are extremely healthy and not only are packed with fiber and a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals but they also contain lots of phytonutrients. “Good” whole carbs to eat everyday include fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, potatoes, corn, whole grains and sprouted whole grain breads and sprouted whole grain pastas. Note: sprouting releases all the vital nutrients stored within the whole grain.
6. Avoid Trans Fats.
We can’t think of anything worse than trans fats. The U.S. National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine (the organization responsible for advising the U.S. government on health policy and responsible for determining the RDI for vitamins) concluded there is no safe level of intake for trans fats. Trans fats increase inflammation, decrease sensitivity to insulin, increase your bad LDL cholesterol, decrease your good HDL cholesterol, impair artery dilation, and increase your triglyceride level. Whether you’re on a diet for multiple sclerosis or not, you should eat zero grams of trans fats per day.
What to Know more about the MS Diet?
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References for the MS Diet Guidelines:
1. Bates D, et al. “A double-blind controlled trial of long chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the treatment of multiple sclerosis.” J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1989 Jan; 52 (1): 18-22.
2. Swank RL, Dugan BB. “Effect of low saturated fat diet in early and late cases of multiple sclerosis.” Lancet. 1990 Jul 7; 336(8706): 37-9.
3. Nordvik I, et al. “Effect of dietary advice and n-3 supplementation in newly diagnosed MS patients.” Acta Neurol Scand. 2000 Sept; 102(3):143-9.
4. Gallai V, et al. “Cytokine secretion and eicosanoid production in the peripheral blood mononuclear cells of MS patients undergoing dietary supplementation with n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.” J Neuroimmunol. 1995 Feb; 56(2): 143-53.
5. Esparaza ML, et al. “Nutrition, latitude, and multiple sclerosis mortality, an ecologic study.” Am J Epidemiol. 1995 Oct 1; 142(7): 733-7.