8 Diet Changes that make a difference
Nutritionist-approved tweaks that can lower overall inflammation in the body and help manage symptoms.
Everyone differs in terms of what foods they can and can’t eat, and the same holds true for those with multiple sclerosis, a disease with chronic inflammation at its root. One constant, however, is that certain foods can increase inflammation in the body while others can reduce it, says Tina Marinaccio, MS, RD, CPT, Healthful Living’s Integrative Culinary Registered Dietitian. To reduce inflammation in your body, try these dietary tweaks.
Eat plenty of salmon This fatty fish gives you much-needed omega-3 fatty acids, proven anti-inflammatories, explains Marinaccio. Other good sources include nuts like walnuts and seeds like sunflower and pumpkin seeds. These essential fatty acids balance out unhealthy inflammatory foods with omega-6 fatty acids (e.g., processed, packaged foods with refined oils like soybean and corn oil). “The typical American diet has three times the amount of omega-6 fatty acids that we should be eating,” explains Marinaccio. “We should all be decreasing foods with omega-6 fatty acids and eating more foods with omega-3s.” Healthy swap Substitute canned salmon for chicken in chicken salad recipes and use for sandwiches, to stuff tomatoes, or toss with whole grain pasta.
Add in more orange, red, and deep green fruits and vegetables Foods like sweet potatoes, carrots, papaya, collard greens, spinach, and apricots are all chock-full of something called carotenoids. These phytonutrients are powerful plant chemicals that give these fruits and vegetables their bright colors and have been shown to reduce overall inflammation in the body. Healthy swap Try oven-baked sweet potato fries instead of traditional deep-fried white potato fries, which increase inflammation.
Try fermented foods These foods, such as low-fat kefir, kombucha, miso, and kimchi or other fermented vegetables, contain healthy bacteria that support a balanced gut. “The health of the gut has a direct impact on the neurological system and brain health,” says Marinaccio, adding that an imbalance, or dysbiosis, in the gut is being explored as a risk factor for MS.
Probiotic supplements seem to help those with MS after 12 to 16 weeks of twice-daily use. These supplements contain healthy bacteria like Lactobacillus (designated by an L.) acidophilus, casei, and fermentum and Bifidobacteria (designated by a B.) bifidum, infantis, and lactis, according to recent studies. Healthy swap Instead of using milk in your smoothie, try unsweetened low-fat kefir and add in a low- sugar yogurt with plenty of probiotics for healthy bacteria.
Opt for healthier proteins Fish, chicken, turkey, and beans are all low in saturated fat, while red meat has higher amounts. (Saturated fats are predominantly found in animal sources like red meat, as well as whole milk, butter, and full-fat cheese.) “Saturated fats have been shown to increase cytokines, inflammatory substances in the body,” explains Marinaccio. Healthy swap Replace red meat in chili with a mix of lean ground turkey and diced wild mushrooms (high in vitamin D).
Reduce sodium intake High sodium intake seems to be linked to MS. “One study discussed how excess sodium seemed to contribute to the development of new lesions,” explains Marinaccio. Sodium is hidden in cold cuts, baked goods, packaged or processed foods, canned foods, frozen foods with sauces, and even bread. Healthy swap Rinse and cook dried beans on the weekend for use all week long instead of using canned beans, which are high in sodium. No time to cook dried beans? Look for “no added salt” or “low sodium” canned beans.
Eat plenty of foods with soluble fiber Certain fruits and vegetables like Jerusalem artichokes, anything in the onion family, asparagus, bananas, apples, and jicama provide beneficial plant fiber that support healthy bacteria and a balanced gut. “When bacteria feed off of, and digest plant fibers, they make short chain fatty acids,” says Marinaccio, who explains that one short chain fatty acid, butyrate, not only inhibits inflammation, it helps to support the immune system too. Healthy swap Cook with lentil pasta instead of wheat pasta to add resistant starches (which function like plant-based soluble fiber) to your gut to help feed the healthy bacteria there.
Consider whether intermittent fasting is right for you intermittent fasting is a way of eating that incorporates cycles of eating and going without food. “In addition to what we eat, when and how much may be very important,” explains Marinaccio. “Being overfed and overweight significantly increases the risk for multiple sclerosis. Fasting or restricting calories gives the body a break, allows the body to rest, and decreases inflammation.”
One study, which looked at intermittent fasting in mice, showed a reduction in MS symptoms and a regeneration of the myelin sheath (the protective covering surrounding nerve cells; see more, pp. 14–15). One human study that cycled fasting with either a Mediterranean diet (predominantly fish- and plant-based) or a ketogenic diet (a high-protein, low-carb diet) reported improvements in quality of life, including physical and mental health. Healthy swap Instead of eating a late dinner and early breakfast, try eating an early dinner (say 6 pm) and a late breakfast (after 10 am). Always check with your MD or a registered dietitian, however, before fasting, to be sure that it’s right for you.
Cut down added sugar Research shows that eating too much added sugar, in the form of sugary drinks and refined carbohydrates like cookies, cakes, and pastries, causes inflammation. Sugar can also sneak into everyday foods like ketchup, salad dressing, yogurt, soups, sauces, and more, which is why reading the labels of foods you’re buying and eating is important, says Marinaccio. Healthy swap Switch out milk chocolate for a serving of dark chocolate (with a minimum of 72 percent cacao) and a cup of berries—both of which provide health-boosting antioxidants and gut-friendly fiber.