The anti-inflammatory diet and multiple sclerosis

August 12, 2013

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? Rich in flavonoids and carotenoids with 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 3-4 serving of fruit daily (one serving is 1 medium size piece of fruit, ½ cup fresh fruit or ¼ cup dried fruit). Also aim for 4-5 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 reduce 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 1-2 servings beans per day (one serving is ½ cup cooked beans). Choose 3-5 serving 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. Avoid foods that list partially hydrogenated oil in the ingredients
  • 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 very low saturated fat diets have little or no neurologic deterioration as a result of the progress of 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? 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 5-7 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. These are 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 two 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.


Great article and thanks for sharing.Nutrition is obviously important, but how do you feel about other anti-inflammatory agents, such as creams?I wonder what is the best approach with MS - is it drugs and diet immediately after diagnosis or do you start with a change in lifestyle? I only ask because of the side-effects of the major MS-directed drugs.Thanks again for posting this article, it was a great read.
Hi Peter,Immediately after diagnosis one should begin thinking about which MS disease modifying therapy (DMT) to start. Earlier DMT initiation results in better long term MS outcomes versus delaying treatment. There are now 10 FDA approved MS DMT drugs on the market. Most medications have side effects. Often these may seem scarier on paper than when you sit down and talk with your health care provider about them. It most helpful to first discuss the DMT drugs with your health care provider, be given a list of credible DMT resources (for example, National MS Society, Swedish MS Center website), read about the various treatments, write down your questions, and then return in a few weeks for further discussion with your MS health care provider. The pros and cons of each drug should be reviewed before making a treatment decision. Although side effects exist, for each drug, they are often manageable with the guidance of your health care team. It is beneficial to bring someone with you, for this conversati...