Everyone experiences MS differently. And, of course, everyone faces different obstacles. But, when it comes to eating healthy there do seem to be a lot of universal challenges…like knowing what it even means to eat healthy and why it matters when living with MS. Also, there are many with MS whose symptoms interfere with consistently eating healthy. Fatigue is a BIG challenge faced by many people. I have had a fair number of questions from people who are struggling with a poor appetite which can make it difficult to eat well. And for most of us, budgetary concerns are woven through each of these challenges. Finally, emotional eating and its impact on food choices is something that many are trying to navigate. I plan to address each of these issues in this series of articles. If there is something specific that I have not mentioned and that you would like me to address, please email me and let me know.
Let’s get started…
Eating Healthy With MS: Why It Matters
Research continues to investigate the role of nutrition in the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) disease process. However, as of the writing of this article, there is no diet or eating pattern that has been proven to cure, prevent, alter or reverse the course of the MS disease process. That does not mean that nutrition choices have no impact on your health and quality of life (QOL) while living with MS.
Food choices can help to manage MS symptoms like fatigue, bowel regularity and stress which is certainly helpful but it is important to remember that your food choices impact your whole body, not just MS or your MS symptoms.
The American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), American Cancer Society, The Arthritis Foundation, and the National Osteoporosis Foundation all encourage a diet that includes a variety of colorful vegetables and fruits and other plant foods including whole grains, beans /legumes, nuts and seeds while opting for lean proteins and healthy fats. And there is a general consensus that limiting salt, saturated fat and added sugars is a good idea, avoiding trans fats altogether is supported by all. I encourage you to click through the links above to the nutrition information on each website to get more valuable information.
Having one or more chronic comorbid health conditions (such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, obstructive sleep apnea, arthritis, cancer and others) along with MS is associated with an increase in disability and a decrease in quality of life. Adopting a healthy eating pattern will not make MS go away, but it will help to reduce risk factors for acquiring a comorbid chronic health condition. And if you are currently living with one of these comorbid conditions, as well as MS, adopting a healthy eating pattern will help you to manage them better by having better blood sugar control, improved blood pressure, improved blood fats like cholesterol and triglycerides.
But I Am Exhausted, Tell Me What Foods l Need To Eat To Give Me Energy!
This is a question that comes to me really often. I am asked which foods will improve energy or provide the most energy. To answer accurately, I will need to reframe the question a bit:
- Is there a difference between consuming more energy and feeling more energetic? The short answer is YES.
- The next question to consider is: “Will consuming additional energy make me feel more energetic?” The short answer is, not exactly.
- While it is true that you must consume enough energy to meet your needs, consuming more energy (calories) than is needed will not contribute to you feeling more energetic.
Huh? Why Am I Eating “Energy Bars” If They Won’t Energize Me?
Let’s break it down a bit: Food is fuel, and fuel is energy. The energy we get from food is calories.
But all calories are not created equal. And calories are not the only thing needed by your body to be well fueled. You also need vitamins and minerals. Although vitamins and minerals do not directly provide energy, they function as coenzymes and are required to unlock the energy from the calories in your food. Enzymes are involved in all metabolic processes. If the coenzymes are not present in adequate supply then energy metabolism will suffer.
In this article, I referred to our bodies as an engine. MS has made our engine less efficient. It is precisely because our engines are not efficient that we need to provide our engines the highest quality fuel, not simply more of it. Extra energy (that is not used by the body) is stored as fat. And, consuming extra energy (or having it stored around your midsection) typically doesn’t result in feeling energetic — unless it is a food with a high sugar content (sugar buzz!), or a food with a stimulant ingredient like caffeine. These choices may boost your perceived energy levels for the short term but will eventually leave you feeling drained and can contribute to interrupted sleep, poor blood sugar control and other things that generally make us feel bad.
The question of “what foods will give me the most energy?” is illustrative of the dose-response that many hope to get from their food. Marketers know what you want and they are more than happy to sell it to you. And no, they are not above confusing you to make a sale.
Nutrient dense foods provide calories PLUS vitamins, minerals and other valuable nutrients. Energy-dense foods that contain few beneficial nutrients are considered Empty Calories and are not the high-quality fuel your body needs to function optimally.
Nutrient Dense Foods include:
- A Variety of Colorful Vegetables and Fruits
- Whole Grains
- A variety of Lean Proteins, including Plant Proteins
- Healthy Fats including (but not limited to!): avocado, olive oil, fatty fish, walnuts flaxseeds… But remember, it is possible to get too much of a good thing! The idea is to replace unhealthy saturated or trans fats with these healthier options NOT eat them in huge quantities.
Feeding your body high-quality fuel every day will help your inefficient engine to get the most energy. Energy consumed from food in the form of calories is stored potential energy that will be available when called upon for movement. (kinetic energy). A healthy, nutrient-dense diet is a really important part of feeling energetic, but it is only one part. Sleeping well, being physically active and managing your stress (along with other healthy daily habits) are equally important contributors to your energy level. In fact, it is all of these factors working together that contribute to a state of feeling energetic. The honest truth is that eating well cannot make up for being sleep deprived, sedentary and stressed out.
My Grandmother Always Said That Home Cookin’ Can Fix Anything…
And it looks like she was right. Well, sort of. The best way to ensure that you are eating nutrient dense high-quality fuel that promotes your health is to prepare more of the meals and snacks that you consume. In Part 2 of this series, I will provide some tips and strategies to make meal planning work for you not just add another burden to your to do list. Stay tuned!