The Role of Nutrition in Managing MS: Top Foods to Include in Your Diet

December 18, 2023

When we think about nutrition in the context of Multiple Sclerosis (MS), we often think which is the food that is best to put into our body? But is it that white and black? In some ways, I think it is: for example the research says too much saturated fat is not good for anyone but especially for someone with MS. Swank’s famous paper shows that. Other things however are not so clear. Lots of protein or carbs or fat?

Let’s look at what general nutrition could be beneficial for someone with MS:

  1. Low-Saturated Fat Diet: Many experts recommend following a low-saturated fat diet, similar to the Swank Diet or the OMS (Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis) program. Reducing saturated fat intake from sources like red meat, full-fat dairy, and butter may help reduce inflammation, which is a key factor in MS. Because saturated fats can cause inflammation, a central feature of MS. MS is a chronic inflammatory disease, and diet plays a crucial role in modulating inflammatory processes and influencing molecular pathways. A diet high in saturated fats is associated with a pro-inflammatory state, which may worsen MS symptoms or increase the frequency of flare-ups, something we certainly don’t want. Studies have shown that diets rich in pro-inflammatory foods and nutrients, including saturated fats, are linked to a higher likelihood of MS and may contribute to the disease’s severity. Therefore, we want to eat a low saturated fat diet containing of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, plant based protein, fish for omega 3 as well as nuts and seeds in moderation. We also want to think about how the food is prepared (baking vs. frying) and to minimize processed food so we eat as close to nature as we can.
  2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and may be helpful for individuals with MS. Sources of omega-3s include fatty fish (e.g., salmon, mackerel), flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and omega-3 supplements like fish oil or flaxoil capsules. We don’t have to use the (flaxseed oil) capsules, we can drizzle the flax oil over our meals. I have grown to love it. I use it from oatmeal over salad to rice and beans- in almost everything. Flax oil does not agree with everyone. If that is the case for you, grind the flax seeds and use them in smoothies, oatmeal and other meals far for an extra boost of omega 3. But that is not all, they have fiber, protein and many vitamins and minerals!
  3. Antioxidant-Rich Foods: Antioxidants can help protect cells from oxidative stress, which is thought to play a role in MS progression. Consume a variety of fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants, such as berries, leafy greens, carrots, tomatoes, artichokes or goji berries.
  4. Vitamin D: Adequate vitamin D levels are important for immune system regulation and may be beneficial for individuals with MS. Get vitamin D from safe sun exposure or vitamin D supplements, as recommended by your doctor.
  5. Calcium: Many people with MS have a diet that may not include dairy. Therefore you want to ensure to get enough calcium from alternative sources like fortified non-dairy milk, leafy greens, and fortified cereals.
  6. Lean Protein: If you eat meat (depends on if you follow a specific diet – OMS excludes meat) go for lean protein sources such as skinless poultry, fish, tofu, legumes (e.g., beans and lentils), and low-fat dairy or dairy alternatives. Protein is important for muscle maintenance and repair.
  7. Fiber: Include plenty of fiber in your diet from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Fiber can help with digestion and promote gut health.
  8. Hydration: Stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Proper hydration can help manage symptoms like constipation and fatigue.
  9. Avoid Processed Foods: Minimize your intake of highly processed and sugary foods, as they can contribute to inflammation and may worsen MS symptoms.

It’s worth noting that while some dietary strategies may help manage symptoms and improve quality of life for individuals with MS, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. What works best can vary from person to person.

Something we hear about a lot are “superfoods”. What are they and do they really matter for someone with MS?

Well, there is no definitive list of “superfoods” for MS, there are certain nutrients and dietary components that are particularly important for supporting overall health and potentially managing MS symptoms. Often people wonder where to start and what to eat. Here are some foods that (if you like them) you can’t go wrong by eating them as they have so many good properties:

For examples these foods are knows to be rich in antioxidants:

  1. Berries: Such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries.
  2. Dark Chocolate: High in antioxidants like flavonoids.
  3. Nuts: Especially almonds and walnuts.
  4. Green Tea: Contains a type of antioxidants known as catechins.
  5. Leafy Greens: Such as spinach, kale, and collard greens.
  6. Beans: Particularly red, black, and pinto beans.
  7. Whole Grains: Like oats and barley.
  8. Grapes: Especially red and purple grapes.
  9. Artichokes: High in several antioxidant compounds.
  10. Beets: Known for their antioxidant betalains.

Following the OMS diet, I do not eat dark chocolate so I was wondering if cocoa powder is equally good. After researching that, the answer is that it is actually better. It has high levels of antioxidants such as anthocyanins and is mostly unprocessed and unsweetened. Of course it depends on the brand but I do not have a problem eating the top five items on the list, in fact I enjoy them!

Tell me what is your top food that you include in your diet to eat a healthy diet to live the best with MS.

Ingrid Adelsberger