The anti-inflammatory diet and multiple sclerosis

August 12, 2013 Swedish Health Team

the midsection of a woman, and she is holding a handful of nuts.


In this article:

  • A diet high in anti-inflammatory foods may help reduce the risk of chronic diseases, including multiple sclerosis.

  • Such a diet also provides vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and fiber.

  • Visit a Swedish clinician to learn more about how the diet can support better health with MS.

We have all seen inflammation on the surface of our bodies. Redness, heat, swelling or pain after a cut or sprain are examples of this process at work. In these cases, inflammation benefits the body by bringing more nutrients and immune activity to the injured or infected area, helping it to heal.

When inflammation occurs without purpose or is persistent, it can cause damage and illness. This type of abnormal inflammation is the root of many chronic diseases, including multiple sclerosis (MS).

Many factors contribute to chronic inflammation including stress, exposure to toxins such as cigarette smoke and dietary choices. We have control over some of the causes of inflammation. Learning what foods have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body may be beneficial in reducing long-term disease risk.

The anti-inflammatory diet is a balanced, sensible way of eating. It not only influences inflammation but also provides your body with adequate energy, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and fiber. Here are a few recommendations for eating to reduce and prevent inflammation.

Make sure your diet contains plenty of fruits and vegetables

  • Why? Fruits and vegetables are rich in flavonoids and carotenoids, which have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capacity.
  • What? Choose a wide variety of colors. Choose things that are fresh in season or frozen. Eat them both raw and cooked.
  • How much? Aim for three to four servings of fruit daily (one serving is one medium-sized piece of fruit, ½ cup fresh fruit or ¼ cup dried fruit), and four to five servings of vegetables daily (one serving is 2 cups salad greens or ½ cup cooked vegetables)

Choose beans, legumes and whole grains

  • Why? Choosing these carbohydrates over refined flour reduces the frequency of blood sugar spikes (and crashes).
  • What? Good choices include brown rice, quinoa, steel-cut oats, black beans, chickpeas and lentils.
  • How much? Choose one to two servings of beans (one serving is ½ cup cooked beans) and three to five servings of whole grains per day (one serving is ½ cup cooked grains).

Give the fat in your diet a makeover

1. Eliminate trans fat

  • Why? This highly inflammatory fat can be avoided by reading ingredient lists: look for "partially hydrogenated oil."
  • What? Avoid margarine, snack foods, packaged cookies and cakes and fried foods
  • How much? None.

2. Reduce saturated fat

  • Why? Studies have shown that a significant number of MS patients who follow diets very low saturated fats have little or no neurologic deterioration as a result of the progress of the disease
  • What? Limit red meat, whole milk, butter, cream, cheese and ice cream.
  • How much? Aim for 15g saturated fat or less per day.

3. Choose healthy monounsaturated fat or Omega-3 fats

  • Why? They're rich in polyphenols and heart healthy
  • What? Use olive oil or canola oil for cooking. Snack on nuts, avocados and seeds. Choose cold-water fish and omega-3 enriched eggs.
  • How much? Eat five to seven servings of healthy fats daily (one serving is equal to 1 teaspoon of oil, 2 walnuts, 1 tablespoon of flax seeds or 1 ounce avocado)

Reduce your intake of high-fat animal proteins

  • Why? Some cuts of meat are very high in saturated fat. Try to reduce your consumption of animal foods.
  • What? Good protein sources to include are fish, non-fat yogurt, omega-3 enriched eggs and organic chicken with the skin removed.
  • How much? Try to reduce meat intake to two meals per week and focus on protein from fish, beans, nuts, soy and grains instead.

Incorporate healthy herbs and spices

  • Why? These are powerful, natural anti-inflammatory substances.
  • What? Try turmeric, ginger, curry, garlic and cinnamon.
  • How much? These can be eaten in unlimited amounts.

Drink water and tea

  • Why? Tea contains catechins, compounds that reduce inflammation. Water is essential to keep all systems of the body running smoothly.
  • What? Try white, green or oolong teas. Choose other beverages that are mostly water such as sparkling water with lemon or very diluted fruit juice.
  • How much? Drink about 2 cups of tea daily. Drink water all throughout the day.

Eat sweets sparingly

  • Why? Avoid large spikes in blood sugar and empty calories.
  • What? The best choices are unsweetened dried fruit, dark chocolate with at least 70 percent pure cocoa and fruit sorbet.
  • How much? Sparingly.

Find a doctor

If you have questions about MS, contact the Multiple Sclerosis Center at Swedish. We can accommodate both in-person and virtual visits.

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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