Life with MS

MS and Diet Choices

By Matt Cavallo

From the moment I was diagnosed with MS, my friends and family wanted to talk to me about my diet. Since that time, I have tinkered with a variety of different diet options in an attempt to self-manage my multiple sclerosis progression. Changing my diet habits, however, has not been easy.
I grew up in a large Italian family where, every Sunday, my grandmother would make a marvelous family dinner. This included scratch-made pasta, handmade meatballs, sausage, pork chops in a homemade tomato sauce with plenty of bakery-fresh Scala bread on the side to mop up the sauce. This weekly Sunday dinner shaped my eating habits and became a staple of my weekly menu to this day.
Now in my forties, I keep the memory of grandmother alive by cooking her famed recipes, much to the delight of my children. Cooking is a bonding moment where you can teach the next generation about the wonders of generations that have passed. I’m sure that many of you who are reading this have similar cherished traditions and memories about the food of your youth. I am also sure that many of you, like me, face difficult diet choices based, in part, on the complications of living with multiple sclerosis.
The evidence is mounting on the relationship between MS and diet choices. While there are diets – including the Wahls Protocol, Swank Diet, and the Paleo Diet – that are discussed as being beneficial for people living with autoimmune disease, there is no agreed-upon MS diet. However, it’s generally accepted that what and how you eat can make a  difference in your energy level, bladder and bowel function, and overall health.
 “No one is completely sure what works and what doesn’t,” said Dr. Heidi Crayton, director of the MS Center of Greater Washington, D.C. “There are guidelines for smart eating, but there is no fail-safe plan. I tell my patients with MS that it’s really important to have a healthy diet. That includes two liters of water and 30 grams of fiber every day, a palate with bright, colorful foods, and foods that have high nutritional value. Decrease fats and refined sugar.”
It is important to note that before you start any kind of diet or supplement regimen, you should talk to your doctor. Some special diets can lack essential nutrients or can include a toxic level of vitamins which will end up doing more harm than good. Talking to your doctor or being referred to a registered
dietician can help ensure that you follow a diet strategy that works for you.
While there is no specific diet approved for MS, there is consensus on foods to avoid or limit:
• Sodium – a 2014 Neurology study revealed that high levels of sodium could lead to a flare in symptoms and increased MRI activity. While the results of the study have been highly debated, limiting your sodium and salt intake is a healthy decision.
• Sugar – people living with MS report fatigue as one of the top symptoms. Sugar contributes to increased fatigue and can also lead to weight gain, making mobility more difficult. Did you know that one can of cola exceeds the recommended level of sugar intake for one day? If you are drinking a can of cola to combat MS fatigue, it is actually having the opposite effect and increasing fatigue because of the high sugar content.
• Saturated fats – saturated fats are foods like fatty beef, pork, poultry with skin, butter, and cheese. The American Heart Association recommends aiming for a dietary pattern that achieves no more than 5 to 6 percent of calories from saturated fat. For example, if you need about 2,000 calories a day, no more than 120 of them should come from saturated fat. These foods increase your LDL, or ‘bad cholesterol’, and can lead to heart disease – especially in people living with MS that have a more sedentary lifestyle because of physical disabilities.
• Other foods to limit or avoid include caffeine, alcohol, refined grains, MSG, and artificial sweeteners. These foods are known to contribute to a wide range of symptoms including bladder issues, fatigue, weight gain, and increased cholesterol.
Learn more about diet with MS Focus’ new booklet Food to Fight MS. See page 9 in this issue to learn more.