Food and Diet

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: April 2023

The way you fuel your body plays a big role in your overall health. This is especially true for those with chronic health conditions like multiple sclerosis (MS). However, information about different diets can be overwhelming and confusing. It can be hard to figure out the best diet for you and stick to a plan to eat well.

The connection between diet and MS

Your diet affects many aspects of your life, from your ability to stay active to the health of your immune system.1-3

Weight gain and exercise

Eating a poor diet can lead to weight gain. Excess weight can lead to being less active, which can make MS symptoms worse. Eating well can improve your energy levels and help you stay active. This is important for managing the physical and mental challenges of MS.1

A poor diet and weight gain also can lead to other health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Having one or more of these conditions increases your risk for heart attacks and strokes. These conditions also have been linked to worsening disability and severity of MS.1

Nutrients and good bacteria

What you eat affects the nutrients your body receives. Without the right fuel, your body cannot carry out its normal functions or maintain a strong immune system. This can increase inflammation and strain the central nervous system.1-3

Your diet also affects the bacteria that live in your gut. This is called your gut microbiome. In recent years, research has suggested that the gut, immune system, and brain (nervous system) are highly linked. Eating a balanced diet may help create a strong gut-brain connection. This might help improve underlying health conditions like MS.1-3

Is there a “best diet” for MS?

At this time, there is no research that points to an ideal diet for MS. Several studies have looked at certain patterns of eating and have found interesting results. However, many of these studies were small or had issues in the way they were designed. Research involving more people is needed to understand the true relationship between different diets and MS.1

Some specific diets studied with MS include:2-6

  • Mediterranean diet
  • Ketogenic diet
  • Intermittent fasting
  • McDougall diet (plant-based)
  • Gluten-free diet
  • Low-salt diet
  • Low-carb diet

While a few of these diets were helpful for some, they also had drawbacks. For example, low-carb diets can lead to constipation, bone weakness, or fatigue. Gluten-free foods may be worse than foods with gluten. Avoiding dairy could cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Overall, there may be good and bad effects of each diet. Talk to your doctor about which foods might be best for you.2-6

Tips for starting and maintaining a strong diet

Experts generally agree that eating a well-balanced diet is helpful in navigating life with MS. A well-balanced diet includes foods that have lots of vitamins and nutrients. These include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.1-3

Other tips for eating well include:1,4-6

  • Be mindful of calories you are taking in. The less active you are, the fewer calories you need.
  • Avoid processed or junk foods whenever possible.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. This can be a balancing act for those with bladder symptoms.
  • Include fiber in your diet to avoid constipation.
  • Reduce refined or processed grains.
  • Reduce added sugar, salt, and saturated fats.
  • Choose foods that are good sources of vitamins and minerals. This includes vitamin D and calcium.
  • Cook meals at home whenever you can.
  • Try taking prebiotics or probiotics to help promote gut health. You can also eat fermented foods like yogurt or kombucha. Talk to your doctor before starting any new supplements.

Working with your healthcare team to eat well

Discuss your health goals with your doctor or a nutritionist before starting a new diet. They can help determine what nutrients you need based on your activity level, treatment plan, and other health conditions.

Eating well can be expensive or difficult for some people. However, there are programs that can help connect you with the ingredients you need. Talk to your healthcare team about your ability to access foods that are good for you. Many doctor's offices and nutritionists can help you get the food you need if you are struggling to get to the store or pay for groceries.

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