Health & Wellness

Renew, Rebuild, and Reimagine Your Diet

By Dr. Marco Vespignani

Water intake, fruits and vegetables, and avoiding processed foods are keys to improving your health

Spring is a wonderful time of year, a chance to see new life and energy everywhere we look. This can often lead to people wanting to bring this new life and energy to their bodies, as a chance to renew and rebuild. The challenges of having a chronic immune condition can lead to wanting to make positive changes to improve one’s health, energy, and reduce progression, as this is of utmost importance. But what can you do? Is there any real benefit to “cleaning” your body?

As a naturopathic doctor who specializes in caring for people with multiple sclerosis, I get this question perhaps more than any other. What is the “best” diet to eat? What foods are “toxic” and which ones might prevent my progression?

The truth is, no one knows the answer to that question for certain, yet years of research and anecdotal case reports have suggested there is a link between diet and chronic inflammatory diseases such as MS, and some things are known about which foods are most beneficial to humans. 

Consider water and food color 

First and foremost, water is essential. Nothing else you can put in your body cleanses your system like clean, pure water. Honestly, you shouldn’t drink anything else in a day unless you are first consuming enough water. While far from a universal suggestion for all people, I generally recommend one ounce of water for every two pounds of body weight per day. Individuals who are very overweight or with bladder, kidney, lung, or heart problems may need to consume far less than that, but for most adults, this is a safe amount to consume. 

Second, consider the colors of the food you eat. I do not mean the packaging it may have come in or if it is artificially colored. Believe it or not, each fruit and vegetable contains phytonutrients that contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Phytonutrients may also enhance immunity and intercellular communication, repair DNA damage from exposure to toxins, detoxify carcinogens, and alter estrogen metabolism. Foods that are bright red, green, yellow, purple, or orange are those colors because they have these very phytonutrients that improve organ repair and function. 

Consider the dark berry pigments, anthocyanins that protect vessels in the heart, brain, and eyes. Pomegranates, blueberries, blackberries, and cherries all contain these nutrients. A morning smoothie made up of dark berries, banana, and fruit juice, or a few handfuls of these dark berries as a snack or part of a meal can be a significant source of antioxidants.

One of my favorite families of foods, Brassicae, contains chemicals that improve how your body protects against oxidative stress and toxic exposures. Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kale all can help the body fight against oxidation, the rust of old age and disease. This family of foods are delicious when tossed in oil, spices, and roasted in the oven. 

Foods rich in beta carotenes or bioflavonoids protect neural tissue from damage. Making a juice with oranges and carrots or a soup of beets, onions, and peppers a great way to get those colors on your side. 

At the same time some whole foods may not have many colors, such as nuts, seeds, or grains, but instead have healthy fats and protein that sustain the function of your cells. A quinoa, sunflower seed, and honey morning meal, or a homemade vegan nut burger can provide essential amino acids and oils the animal alternative can barely compete with. 

Avoiding processed foods

When it comes to eliminating food options, foods that are processed are often the choice to remove from your diet. Most have added sugars, salts, preservatives, or colorings. While they may be cheaper, store for extended periods, and satisfy transient cravings, many of these adaptations are not great for your body. Your body is interested and craves “real” food where minimal “processing” occurs. 

Processed, sugary foods such as baked goods, cereals, and snack foods can cause large fluctuations in blood sugar, insulin, and weight that can cause more inflammation, something we want to avoid in MS. Instead leaning toward whole or unprocessed foods leads to less inflammation and weight gain. 

Chemical additives, while sometimes studied individually for health effects in animals or healthy adults, are not often researched with each other, or how these additives may affect people with chronic illnesses. 

Addressing elimination needs

The last – and perhaps most important – part of “cleaning” your body is the natural elimination of wastes through your organs of elimination: skin, lungs, kidneys, liver, and GI tract. Lungs excrete waste, making deep breathing and regular activity vital for removal. Urination is a good indicator of how clean your blood is. If you have dark yellow or brown urine you need to drink more water and likely consider a consult with your primary physician. Bowel movements should be regular, meaning predictable in size and frequency of movements. If you have frequent watery or ineffectual movements, or very infrequent, difficult ones, then a change in your diet is likely very necessary and you may want to have a nutritional or gastrointestinal consultation. 

Thus, when asked about “detox diets” or “spring cleanses,” I often try to lead my patients to make smart daily decisions about the food they put in front of themselves each day. Is it a whole food? Is it colorful? Can I read the ingredient label without a Ph.D.? Did I wash it all down with clean, clear water?

If the answers to all those questions are yes, then you are well on your way to a clean diet.