Why is diet important in MS?
Does diet play a role in the development or course of MS?
- review how effective and safe the diets studied were
- see whether changes in diet helped MS
- look at any side effects of changes in diet
- examine any interactions between changes in diet and treatments for MS symptoms.
What is a good diet for MS?
Fruit and vegetables
|Fruit||Dried fruit||Vegetables||Juice||Pulses and beans|
|1 medium banana||½ large grapefruit||2 tablespoons of peas||
1 glass of 100% fruit or vegetable juice
|3 heaped tablespoons of baked beans, haricot beans, kidney beans, cannellini beans, butter beans or chick peas|
|3 tablespoons fruit salad||1 tablespoon of raisins||2 florets of broccoli||But you can only count juice as 1 of the 5 portions, no matter how much you drink in a day||Remember that beans and pulses count, but only as 1 of the 5 portions, no matter how much you eat in a day|
|2 satsumas||2 dried figs||1 cereal bowl of lettuce|
|½ large grapefruit||4 dried apple rings||7 cherry tomatoes|
Dietary fat and types of fat
- saturated fat - normally hard at room temperature. This is found in meat and animal fats (eg lard), and in dairy products such as butter and hard cheese
- unsaturated fat - usually soft or liquid at room temperature. Found in margarine and in vegetable, seed and fish oils.
- monounsaturated - found in olive oil and avocado
- polyunsaturated - found in vegetable oils such as sunflower oil, rapeseed oil, safflower oil and also in oily fish such as trout, salmon, herring, pilchards and sardines. Essential fatty acids are the building blocks of polyunsaturated fats. The body is unable to make polyunsaturated fatty acids itself so it is essential that they are consumed through the diet, hence they are also known as essential fatty acids.
Food allergy and intolerance
There is no evidence that MS is related to food allergies or intolerances but just because you have MS doesn't mean you can't develop these or other conditions that affect the digestive system. Your GP can refer you to an NHS allergy clinic if this is suspected.
Diet and managing symptoms
- Organise the kitchen to keep commonly used items close to hand.
- Keep the kitchen as cool as possible.
- Cook at times of day when energy levels are higher.
- Cook in bulk when you feel less fatigued and freeze for use at a later date.
- Sit rather than stand to prepare and cook meals.
- Get all the ingredients and utensils together before starting to cook.
- Make use of equipment or labour-saving devices where possible, such as electric mixers, can openers and knives.
- Use ready-prepared foods such as grated cheese, diced meat, pre-washed salads to reduce the energy required in preparing these foods.
- Frozen fruit and vegetables are as high in vitamins as fresh.
- Use wire baskets in pans rather than lifting heavy pans.
- Microwave cooking avoids having to lift heavy pans and does not heat up the kitchen.
- Invest in a one-pot cookery book to save on washing up.
- A trolley is useful to avoid extra walking and carrying in the kitchen and when serving.
- Soak dishes rather than washing up straight away.
- Consider a meals delivery service (help may be available from Social Services).
- Large meals can leave people feeling bloated and sluggish. If this is the case then try having more frequent, lighter meals or healthy between-meal snacks such as fresh fruit, cereals or sandwiches.
- Try to eat main meals when energy levels are higher.
- Don't miss out on breakfast which is essential to provide enough energy and nutrients for the morning. If the first meal of the day is lunch, then the body may have gone 16 hours or more without food.
- When fatigue is a problem it can be easy to rely on ready prepared and snack foods. Try keeping the ingredients for easy to prepare healthy snacks or meals in stock, such as beans on wholemeal toast or jacket potato and tuna for the microwave.
- Convenience foods can help at times when a healthier approach is not possible. Be aware that many convenience foods are high in fat and salt. Look out for healthy eating options and add extra vegetables or salad.
The role of diet in preventing other conditions
Specific diets suggested for MS
Best Bet diet
'Overcoming multiple sclerosis' diet
What to consider for any MS-specific diet
- have you been given balanced or evidence-based information about the diet, or does it only seem to be promoted by enthusiasts?
- will the diet be worse than the symptoms that it might alleviate - for example, will it stop you eating all the foods you enjoy, or make going out for meals or eating with family or friends difficult?
- does it make realistic claims for improvements in MS?
- will your diet still be balanced?
- how affordable is it?
- will cooking or preparing it be a problem?
- is it recommended by your GP or dietitian?
- Whether lack of vitamin D contributes to the risk of developing MS.
- Whether low levels of vitamin D affect the number of relapses and the disease course.
Sources of help and support
- Multiple Sclerosis 2005; 11(1):24-32. Multiple sclerosis and nutrition.
- International Journal of MS Care 2008; 10(2):47-57. Dietary practices of people with multiple sclerosis.
- Complementary Therapies in Medicine 2009; 17(4):216-223. Complementary and alternative medicines and dietary interventions in multiple sclerosis: what is being used in South Australia and why?
- Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 2006; 65:52A. Supplement use and comparative differences in nutritional status amongst patients with multiple sclerosis.
- Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012; 12:CD004192. Dietary interventions for multiple sclerosis.
- International Journal of Epidemiology 1997; 26(1):1-13 Fruit and vegetables and cardiovascular disease: a review.
- Geneva: WHO; 1990 (WHO Technical report series No 797). Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases. Report of a WHO study group.
- Journal of Neurological Sciences 2010; 291(1-2):86-88. Childhood cow's milk allergy and the risk of multiple sclerosis: a population based study.
- London: MASCIP; 2012. Guidelines for the management of neurogenic bowel dysfunction in individuals with central neurological conditions.
- Glycaemic Index
- Osteoporosis International 2011; 22(12):2935-2949. Bone health in multiple sclerosis.
- Lancet 1990; 336(8706):37-39. Effect of low saturated fat diet in early and late cases of multiple sclerosis.
- Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2010; 12:CD008422. Vitamin D for the management of multiple sclerosis.
- Multiple Sclerosis 2008; 14(9):1220-1224. Association of vitamin D metabolite levels with relapse rate and disability in multiple sclerosis.
- London: NICE; 2003. Multiple sclerosis: understanding NICE guidance - information for people with multiple sclerosis, their families and carers, and the public.
Last reviewed: November 2016
This page will be reviewed within three years