Unfortunately, there is no way to eat your way around multiple sclerosis (MS). Even though a wide range of special diets have been purported as MS remedies, none have been proven in controlled trials to change the severity of MS. Just like everyone else, you will benefit most from planning a healthy diet that can give you the recommended amount of nutrients and can promote excellent cardiovascular health.
The USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) has recently developed a new, more personalized model of the Food Pyramid (you can access it in www.mypyramid.gov). By typing in your age, gender, and activity level, you can determine the type and amount of food you should eat each day, as well as advices on getting the most out of your money. The bottom line, regardless what your individual requirements are, you may get the greatest benefits from a diet plan that:
• Contains balanced amount of vegetables, fruits, grains, low-fat dairy products and lean meats (or any meat substitute).
• Provides you with just enough calories.
Taking Multiple Sclerosis Into Account During Diet Planning
Other than a balanced, high-fiber, low-fat diet (and a daily supplements), MS specialist nutritionists and neurologists recommend the following points:
Calories count. By eating more calories than necessary, your weight will increase – it’s no more complicated that. Exercises burn calories, along with many other benefits. So, if you have sedentary life and MS, to maintain the same weight, you should reduce the amount of calories you are taking in. And, if you want to use up all of your calories, you should get nutritious foods instead of from those delicious but not-so-nutritious junk foods and desserts that do nothing than making your waistline bigger.
Calcium strengthens your bones. We need plenty of calcium for strong teeth and bones. However, those with MS – especially women near or at menopause – can have higher risk for bone loss (osteoporosis) for some reasons:
- Mobility problems, weakness, fatigue, and stiffness (stiffness) can all lead to reduced physical activities, including less exercises, which, in turn, may accelerate bone loss.
- The corticoids that are used for treating MS relapses (exacerbations) may increase the risk of osteoporosis.
- Heat sensitivity, reduced mobility and fatigue may cause less exposure to the sun, which can affects vitamin D production (it is needed for calcium absorption). You should take 1,000 mg of calcium each day, if you’re 25 years old, and 1,500 mg each day for those with osteoporosis and menopause. Because vitamin D boosts the calcium absorption, it is necessary to take 400 IU (international units) of vitamin D from a dietary supplement and from the foods you eat.
Fluids help combat urinary tract infections. Those who are experiencing bladder issues tend to drink less in order to reduce urine production, which can be troublesome for many working people. However, low fluid intake can worsen constipation and fatigue, and can increase the chance of getting urinary tract infections. It is recommended to drink eight to ten glasses of liquid each day. Water and natural fruit juice (directly from real fruits, without added sugar) are hands-down the best way to rehydrate yourself, but low-calorie sodas, seltzer, skim milk, and plain coffee (decaffeinated) or tea come in second. Obviously, prepacked fruit juices and high-calorie sodas take a definite third. Soups can also give you some fluid.
With enough fiber, your systems are good to go. Constipation often accompanies MS. So, if you have a sedentary lifestyle and drink less than enough fluids, your problem can get worse. Certain medications used for MS symptoms treatment are amantadine for fatigue, medications for overactive bladder and baclofen for spasticity may also cause constipation. But, enough fiber will bring some changes in a good way. You should get about 25-30 grams of fiber a day, from fiber-rich foods such as cereals, whole grain breads, whole wheat pasta, lentils, and peas, brown rice dried beans, nuts, vegetables, and fruits.
Obstacles to Healthy Eating
Despite your best of intentions, creating and maintaining healthy eating habits can be demanding. But, being aware of how MS symptoms can disrupt healthy eating may allow you to stay on track. You should consider these inconvenient symptoms:
Fatigue: For those who just getting through a busy day that can take all their energy, it may seem overwhelming to put enough effort in creating healthy diet. So, instead of eating balanced meals, they may find themselves grabbing the nearest (high-fat and unhealthy) snacks or fast food. Or they may opt for some quick fixes – a few cans of sugary beverage that gives you a short energy boost but then leaves them feeling hungry and tired – instead of protein, which minimizes fatigue and helps them maintain an acceptable blood sugar level. Pretty soon they will have an endless and vicious cycle going, as fatigue leads to poor nutrition and eventually fatigue. A good nutritionist can recommend healthy, tasty dishes that are often easy to prepare. An OT (occupational therapist) can give you plenty of energy-saving tips, for example recommendations for helpful cooking tools and gadgets, ideas on how to organize your cooking space, and ways for simplifying your grocery list.
Depression: Like fatigue, this condition is common in people with multiple sclerosis. And, unfortunately, those who are depressed may slowly experience considerable changes in their appetites and eating pattern – either eating too little or too much. Neither extreme is advisable. If you have lost your appetite or can no longer enjoy eating, or if you tend to eat a lot of unhealthy comfort food to improve your spirits, you should let your doctor know about this. Other things, like weariness and certain medications, may cause changes in appetite, but it is still important to note whether depression is the primary culprit.
Mobility or accessibility issues: Sometimes people have trouble putting together healthy diet because they are unable to navigate the grocery stores or their homes the way when they were healthy. For example, foods are inaccessible, placed inside pans, pots and shelves or may be stuck in hidden places. So, if you feel that things are getting more challenging, try to not skip meals or rely too much on take-outs or prepared foods. Healthy people are not big fans of unhealthy eating. If you need to rely on prepared foods due to the lack of helping hands, be sure to look into the ingredients because most frozen foods are rich in fat or sodium, which can raise your blood pressure and add more weights. A nutritionist may point you in the right direction by suggesting to some healthier food products and tasty, simple menus. Also, a dependable OT can help you determine how to make your home and cooking area more accessible and organized so that everything you need are easily within your reach.