Nutrition plays an important role in overall health for people with multiple sclerosis (MS), and it can help reduce the risk of developing other chronic conditions. Eating well can affect energy levels, symptoms, and overall well-being.
Dr. Laura Kruskall, founder of the Nutrition Center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, shared several diet tips during a recent Multiple Sclerosis Association of America webinar on healthy eating and MS. Here are five of her suggestions for better nutrition.
An anti-inflammatory eating plan can help with MS. It may also allow those with MS to prevent or manage other chronic diseases.
“In addition to just managing MS, we also know that healthy eating or anti-inflammatory eating may decrease the risk of developing other chronic diseases and secondary conditions, things like osteoporosis, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes,” Dr. Kruskall said. “In the new world of research, we also now find that obesity is an inflammatory disease, so it’s very important for all individuals, including people with MS, to manage body weight.”
Dr. Kruskall often advises people with MS to follow the Mediterranean diet as a way of keeping inflammation at bay. “I actually call it a Mediterranean eating plan because I like that term better, because it really isn’t a diet, it’s a lifestyle,” she said.
The Mediterranean diet includes eating more plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and whole grains — along with a moderate intake of seafood, poultry, and eggs. “The Mediterranean eating plan is just a fancy way of looking at this whole anti-inflammatory eating pattern,” Dr. Kruskall said.
Dr. Kruskall suggested people with MS work with their care team to monitor vitamin D levels through blood tests and ask their doctors about whether it’s a good idea to take a supplement.
“Unless you're under a physician's care and unless your physician is recommending a specific amount for you, do not take in more vitamin D than 4,000 international units a day,” she advised. She added that the body can make vitamin D from sun exposure, so time outside (using appropriate sunscreen) can also boost levels of this nutrient.
Some studies suggest omega-3 fatty acids may have a preventative effect on MS relapses, but Dr. Kruskall noted that research isn’t definitive on this subject. She said the human body doesn’t make omega-3 fatty acids, so eating fatty fish or taking omega-3 supplements is the best way to ingest them.
Don’t worry about omega-6 fatty acids or omega-9s, she said — they’re readily found in our diets already.
Diets high in processed meats and refined carbohydrates aren’t ideal for anyone, Dr. Kruskall explained. But quality carbs (like whole grains) and lean meats that are less processed can be OK in moderation.
“Quality carbohydrates are those that are in fruits and vegetables and whole grain in the natural or minimally processed form,” she said.
There is no definitive link between sodium and MS symptoms, but eating too much salt can impact your overall health.
Dr. Kruskall recommended keeping sodium intake below 2.3 grams daily. This requires reading food labels and limiting the use of table salt added to foods.
“Any time we pick up the salt shaker and we start sprinkling it on our food, we’re adding a very large amount of sodium to our food table,” she said.