Do you really know what makes your food help your MS? Is it only about nutrients and avoiding foods that make you fat? What is it about certain foods that Multiple Sclerosis feeds on? In this post, I would like to explore the concept of inflammation, specifically related to MS. We will discuss how it arises and the role that a MS diet plays in calming inflamed nerves and ultimately reducing symptoms.
My experience with anti-inflammatory foods has been nothing short of incredible. I have discovered foods that make me feel energetic, nourished and improve my MS symptoms almost immediately! For example, I simply cannot have my raw juice in the morning without juicing an inch of ginger. Ginger is a potent anti-inflammatory food. It has a certain ‘zing’ to it that gets me going for the day. I can seriously compare it to drinking coffee, only instead of the caffeine high I am on a nutrient high! I can just hear my cells sing my praises for giving them exactly what they need to function effectively.
The word inflammation means to ‘ignite‘ or ‘set alight‘. According to Wikipedia, inflammation is part of the complex biological response of our cells to harmful stimuli. In MS, these aggravating stimuli would be the T-cells of the immune system. Inflammation is generally good in that it is a protective attempt by the organism to remove the stimuli and to start the healing process. However, if it carries on for too long it can compromise the health and functioning of the person. For this reason, it is closely regulated by the body. In MS, however, it seems that this process of regulation is a bit slow to catch on.
A Disease of Inflammation
MS is an autoimmune disease but it is also a disease of inflammation. As we all know, MS causes the immune cells to attack the nervous system, which causes an inflammatory response (also called pro-inflammatory, which I like to use as this term is clearer). This is when we start to feel the variety of symptoms that MS can give rise to. Depending on a number of factors, the immune cells will attack for a certain amount of time during which the nerve cells become highly inflamed. Inflammation causes the myelin to disappear and as a result, the electrical impulses that travel along the nerves become slower. If inflammation continues for long enough, the nerves themselves are damaged. In MS terms, this is a relapse (or exacerbation), and symptoms will be experienced until the inflammation starts to decrease and heal. This can have permanent consequences.
I find it amazing how the human body works – the nerve tissue tries to fend off those evil T-cells by becoming inflamed. It is ironic, however, that the very process meant to help us is the mechanism through which we experience our debilitating symptoms. It is therefore necessary to help the body reduce the inflammation at a faster rate in order to reduce the damage it can do.
An Anti-inflammatory MS Diet
Many people have been witness to the significant impact that an anti-inflammatory diet can have on the prevention and treatment of MS. I get emails every day from women who can’t believe the change they feel after just a few weeks of eating this way. Their once inflamed nerves have calmed and are now healing. They are experiencing an increase in energy, clearer thinking, improved sleep and a decrease in their symptoms. It’s all about helping the body decrease inflammation.
At a cellular level, our bodies create both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory chemicals, called “prostaglandins” from nutrients in the food that we eat. Too many pro-inflammatory foods can lead to the production of excessive amounts of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins. Obviously, this fuels your body’s pro-inflammatory response and leads to more MS symptoms. On a more positive note, when we eat certain nutrients, like omega-3 fatty acids, our bodies produce more anti-inflammatory prostaglandins, which causes a reduction in inflammation – another reason why an anti-inflammatory diet like the MS diet is needed by all MS’ers.
Essentially, there are two main objectives we are trying to achieve with our MS Diet:
Avoid foods that are going to trigger an activation in the immune system and cause it to attack our nerves – these foods also cause inflammation which is another reason to steer clear of them.
Include foods that are going to have an anti-inflammatory effect on our bodies. This will help any areas of inflammation to decrease and heal quicker. These foods also help our bodies to function ‘oh so beautifully’ because of the nutrient and fibre content. This prevents conditions such as leaky gut syndrome and blood- brain barrier permeability which are both factors in MS progression. It also prevents the development of other serious diseases such as cancer and heart disease which are the result of chronic inflammation.
But how do we know which foods are anti-inflammatory and which are pro-inflammatory? Some are easy to work out. For instance, we know we should be avoiding gluten, dairy, refined sugar, legumes (and soy), heated and saturated fats, and caffeine as part of a healthy MS diet. Others are not so obvious.
The IF (Inflammation Factor) Rating System
MS’ers can really thank Monica Reinegal, a nutritional researcher, who introduced the IF Rating System in 2006 to help us work out which foods are pro-inflammatory, and which are anti-inflammatory. She first introduced the concept of the “IF Rating” in her book, ‘The Inflammation Free Diet Plan‘. She explains the “IF Rating” for each food can be worked out using a number of factors, the primary ones being:
- The amount and type of fat content
- Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio
- Composition of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants
- Glycemic load
- Presence of other anti-inflammatory compounds
The discovery of the IF rating has allowed to us, not only, to see which food are anti-inflammatory but just how anti-inflammatory they actually are! It is a major breakthrough when looking at how dietary changes can heal the body, combined with a healthy MS diet.
Foods with a positive rating value are considered anti-inflammatory. Foods with a negative rating value are considered pro-inflammatory. If a food scores zero, it means that it’s neutral, neither pro-inflammatory nor anti-inflammatory.
The IF Rating is, however, not an exact science, so view it as a tool to point you in the right direction instead of a gospel to follow religiously. It does have its critics, some who do not agree with its view of saturated fats, which it weighs very negatively. This specific issue is evident on all the recipes on the MS Diet For Women site that include coconut milk (contains a lot of saturated fats, but is a great dairy substitute) – all my recipes have been analysed using data provided by nutritiondata.self.com.
IF Ratings are also dependent on serving size, so please take this into account when working this out for recipes (my recipes also take this into account already).
Let’s explore how the rating system works in a bit more detail and then take a look at the IF factor of many commonly consumed foods.
Here’s how we rate anti-flammatory foods, once an IF rating value has been produced after food analysis has occurred:
- Foods with IF Ratings between 1 and 100 are considered mildly anti-inflammatory
- Ratings between 101 and 500 indicate increasingly anti-inflammatory properties
- Foods that have ratings over 500 are strongly anti-inflammatory
Here are a few examples to give you a feel for anti-inflammatory IF ratings:
Olive oil (1 tbsp (14g)): +71
Carrot, boiled (1 carrot (46g)): +77
Broccoli, boiled (1 stalk (180g)): +143
Onion, raw (1 small (70g)): +164
Sweet potato, boiled without skin (1 medium (151g)): +232
Mollusks oyster, canned (1 cup (162g)): +377
Spinach, boiled (1 cup (180g)): +466
Atlantic salmon (wild), cooked (1/2 fillet (154g)): +895
Ginger, ground (1 tbsp (5g)): +1447
Turmeric, ground (1 tbsp (7g)): +1523
You can also see a list of foods with the highest IF Rating (per 200-calorie [kcal] serving).
Here’s how we rate pro-inflammatory foods, once an IF rating value has been produced after food analysis has occurred:
- Foods that have ratings between -1 and -100 are mildly pro-inflammatory
- Foods with ratings between -101 and -500 are increasingly pro-inflammatory
- Foods with ratings of -500 and lower are considered highly pro-inflammatory
Here are a few examples to give you a feel for pro-inflammatory IF ratings:
Mango (1 fruit (207g)): -19
Miso (1 ounce (28g)): -21
Whole-wheat bread (1 slice (28g)): -28
Walnuts (1 oz (28g)): -38
Corn, boiled (1 ear (77g)): -50
Whole egg, hard-boiled (1 large (50g)): -51
Banana (1 medium (118g)): -60
Toasted sunflower seeds (1 ounce (28g)): -72
Roasted pumpkin & squash seed 1 ounce (28g): -79
Long-grain brown rice, cooked (1 cup (195g)): -143
Raisins, seedless (1 small box (43g)): -145
Yogurt, non-fat (1 cup (245g)): -156
You can also see a list of foods with the lowest IF Rating (per 200-calorie [kcal] serving).
What were you surprized about in this list? Mango as a pro-inflammatory food was definitely a shock, given its only slighty and probably due to its fat content (saturated fats mentioned above) – I love mangoes and eat them every day in summer! Corn is another food I didn’t expect to be on the list, again, only slightly pro-inflammatory. As these foods are only slightly pro-inflammatory compared to foods such as refined sugar and so it is not necessary to avoid them entirely, especially if you are eating highly anti-inflammatory foods with them. Your body still needs vital nutrients found in many of these fruits and vegetables, so don’t just write them out of your MS diet because they are slightly pro-inflammatory. I think I may cut down on my mango consumption a bit though!
As mentioned above, all of my recipes have an IF rating – I have found that you can calculate the IF rating of an entire meal which is quite handy to understand the overall impact of the meal you are about to eat. I have spent a lot of time researching recipes down to the nutrient level, and the IF Rating is another measurement I report on for my recipes.
Top Foods To Consider
Here is a quick list of the top anti-inflammatory foods you should embrace, and pro-inflammatory foods that you should avoid:
|Top Anti-inflammatory Foods||Top Pro-inflammatory Foods|
|Wild Caught Salmon||Deep Fried Foods|
|Shiitake Mushroom||Red Meat|
|Brocolli||Artificial food additives|
|Extra-Virgin Olive Oil||Wheat and Gluten|
|Peppers and chillies||Refined grains|
Try and cram your diet full of these anti-inflammatory foods to your MS diet and stop eating food from the pro-inflammatory list.
Summing It All Up
When inflammation is on the outside of our bodies, in the form of a skin rash or a wound, it’s easy to be motivated to look after it and reduce the inflammation. Inflammation inside our bodies, is pretty much the same thing: an inflamed patch of tissue that is causing us pain and discomfort. If only we could see how the food we eat affects inflammation, we would probably be motivated enough to go straight to the kitchen and dispose of anything that would make it worse. However, many of us live blind to the harm that certain foods are doing and we wonder why our symptoms are getting worse when we don’t follow a healthy MS diet.
Let’s open our eyes and be aware of what we are putting in our mouths every time we eat. Following the MS Diet will help you with this process of reducing the inflammation.
Please leave a comment below – I would love to hear from you about foods you have found to either reduce or incease inflammation, or if you have any comments about the IF Rating system. Or simply let us know how this post has affected your understanding of your MS diet!