Maybe I'll follow the Swank Diet, or I've heard the Wahls Diet is nearly a cure, but what about paleo and primal? Should I check out the "Best Bet" diet (shout out to the fabulous Ashton Embry)? Do I go low fat? Low carb? No dairy? Low sodium? Gluten-free? Green tea? What the heck is an omega 3? YOU HAVE TO BE FRICKEN' KIDDING ME!
Okay, healthy eating is important for everyone. Not exactly news. But when you have a chronic illness, it seems to take a little more of centre stage.
So where do you start? Well, it helps (?) to know that doctors don't even agree on what's good for people with MS. My neurologist recommended I up my vitamin D intake a few years back, so I supplement 3500 IU a day. Some articles suggest supplementing with vitamin D can throw your system out of whack. [Note: vitamin D toxicity is extreeeemely rare]
I did so much reading when I was first diagnosed that I made a list of anti-inflammatory snacks and supplements. Seriously. Cherries, ginger, omega-3 fatty acids like fish oil or flax seed (or more accessible than flax, chia), fruits and veg (for delightful plant nutrients called phytochemicals), except nightshades like tomatoes and potatoes (I'm from Newfoundland, you just try to tell me not to eat a potato). I even printed a little list to carry with me to the grocery store. Now, don't get me wrong, inflammation is the beast I try to tame, but no one needs to obsess over a list of anti-inflammatories.
To me, it's simple.
If you don't eat vegetables, eat vegetables. If you only eat potatoes, try something green or orange on the side. If you don't like vegetables blend them into smoothies, pasta sauces, meat patties…just eat them.
If you eat a lot of processed food, don't.
If you drink a lot, don't.
If you eat a lot of sugar, you guessed it…don't.
If you eat meat, try to balance with a lot of vegetables, and make it grass fed.Some of y'all thought I was gonna go all vegetarian on ya' there, didn't you? :)
Carbs aren't going to kill you, just make most of them complex carbs.
Is there anything harmful about the Swank diet? No. Will getting a massive amount of antioxidants as per the Wahls diet do you good? Of course it will. People with MS have higher levels of oxidative stress than the norm, so the more antioxidants we consume (found in those colourful stores of veggies and fruits), the less damage done to our bodies by free radicals. That said, if you don't have MS, the same is true. Veggies are good for you. Your mom wasn't lying.
Does paleo or primal work? Possibly. Does low carb have benefit? Of course. As does eating low sodium.
This is what I do:
- I don't eat meat. That's a personal choice and has little to do with MS.
- I try to never say no to vegetables of any sort (I'm working on onions and green pepper, but I don't think I can get there with onion and can only eat it super diced or blended).
- I track my calories. Again, personal choice and not for everyone, but it helps me manage meals and put healthy portions into perspective. If I stop tracking, my metabolism goes haywire. When I started tracking a few years ago, I was shocked to find that I tend to not eat enough calories rather than too many.
- I find balance. Do I eat processed crap sometimes? Yes! Do I eat and enjoy salads and healthy, well-balanced meals more often than I eat that stuff? Absolutely.
- I try to limit my glucose simple sugar intake because it is wicked hard on endothelial health and bumps up oxidative stress. This one's the kicker for me because my go to "feel good" food growing up was candy and pop. Soda's not a problem for me to ignore. Something in me whimpers as I go by the candy aisle.
- I drink beer and wine (funny on the heels of that last one, maybe). Maybe not as much as I once did, but that seems to be more of an age decision than an MS one.
- If I have "bad" food it doesn't plague me. I'm not tormented by visions of Doritos.
In supplements, I take milk thistle for my liver health - it has liver-protecting silymarin. I drink a boatload of green tea (ECGC…plus deliciousness, why not?). I take a vegetarian multivitamin to make sure I get sufficient B12 and magnesium. I still take the vitamin D supplements and I try to let myself get a little sun whenever it appears. I take flax seed oil for the anti-inflammatory properties and would love to find relatively inexpensive chia oil.
None of this is all that whacky or out there...unless you love steak and just can't fathom being vegetarian. Actually, if you try the Wahls diet, you'll be pleased to find that Terry Wahls recommends meat intake and thinks vegetarianism is a no-no.
For those with MS, do some research. Food has impact. We are so very careful over what drug regimens we choose, it's a little unthinkable not to try to control as much of MS as we can and give our food some thought too.