The Impact of Diet on People with MS

When diagnosed with MS, you might be wondering what kinds of foods are good for you, which you should avoid, which diet will have the biggest impact on your MS, or which will best help you control your weight.

These are excellent questions to ask yourself. A healthy diet is integral to your overall health.

However, if you are wondering about the ideal diet for MS, the answer is both simple and complicated.

Let’s start with the simple part: no single diet has been shown to alter the MS disease process.

The complicated part is this: there is a lot of research being conducted to look at specific diets, intermittent fasting, the role of gut bacteria, and the role of certain supplements such as Vitamin D.

However, there are few definitive answers yet.

Couple in the kitchen cooking together

What We Know About Diet

Until we have a clearer understanding of the “best MS diet,” we can focus on what we do know. A lot has been learned about the effects of other conditions, known as comorbidities, on MS.

  • Vascular conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, can contribute to progression in MS and may even contribute to earlier mortality.
  • MS symptoms, such as fatigue, bladder issues, or constipation, can be more severe when your diet has low nutritional value. Poor diet plus these MS setbacks can contribute to other conditions, like obesity and osteoporosis.

A healthful diet can prevent or manage comorbidities, and contribute to your overall wellbeing.


A medical condition that is simultaneously present with your MS. Some comorbid conditions can be affected by your diet and can have an effect on your MS.

Good Nutrition and Diets for MS 

Given this information, the best nutrition recommendations for people with MS include:

  • Plenty of fresh, colorful fruits and vegetable
  • More fish and plant-based protein than meats
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Whole grains that have plenty of natural fiber
  • Plenty of non-caffeinated liquids
  • Limited saturated fats (the type that come from meats), refined sugar, and salt

This balanced, heart-healthy diet is high in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and fluids. It promotes overall health, helps lessen the severity of MS symptoms, and reduces your risk of other health conditions that can worsen your MS and shorten your lifespan.

MS Diets

Over the years, many diets have been promoted to treat or manage MS.

Unfortunately, testing them in high-quality, controlled studies has been extremely difficult because most people find it very challenging to stick with a diet rigorously enough to allow scientific testing.

Recently, however, the Wahls modified-Paleo diet and the low-fat Swank diet were compared in a clinical trial. Both diets were found after three months to reduce fatigue and improve quality of life in people with relapsing-remitting MS. This high-quality study shows that a healthy diet is one strategy for improving function in MS.

Perhaps you have heard from a friend, support group, or social media about a specific MS diet. Before beginning any new diet, we encourage you to consult with your MS care provider in addition to doing your own research. As a starting point, review our guide to five specific diets, any evidence for their effects on MS, and other information you should know before trying that diet.

Body Weight, Diet, and MS 

Maintaining a healthy weight is important in a number of ways, helping you:

  • Reduce your risk of disease progression
  • Improve your overall health
  • Add years to your life
  • Promote healthy bowel and bladder function
  • Reduce your fatigue

However, MS fatigue and mobility problems can make it tougher to maintain a healthy body weight.

Physical activity in combination with a healthy, well-balanced diet is an optimal strategy for maintaining a healthy weight.

When repeated dieting doesn’t lead to success, or exercising feels too exhausting to even contemplate, it can be incredibly discouraging. A dietary professional and physical therapist can help!

Diet specialists can help you identify the right nutrition goals for you, then suggest foods, portion sizes, and other ideas to meet your dietary needs.

Physical therapists can recommend an exercise program that fits with your abilities. They can also show you ways to adapt physical activities or sports you enjoy or identify new activities to try

How To Eat Well With MS

Eating a healthful diet isn’t always easy, but you can eat well while keeping costs down, working within your family/social norms, and enjoying the foods you love. Here are ideas to help make healthy eating work for you. 

Young Caucasian woman grocery shopping

Buy in bulk.

To keep food costs down, consider canned goods, non-perishables, and frozen foods that you can buy in larger quantities, usually for a lower price-per-pound.  Canned fruits and veggies can be healthy, but look at the ingredients list and nutrition information to find out if there’s added salt, syrups, or sugars. If you can, aim for those with the least amount none of these additives. Grains, dried fruits, nut butters, and beans are non-perishables, meaning, they will last a long time before spoiling. Look for staples that can balance your diet, like adding protein, vitamins, nutrients, and fiber. Remember, keep an eye on added salts and sugars in these products, too.

Don’t forget frozen

Frozen foods are the hidden gem of healthy eating! Frozen veggies can be as tasty and healthy as fresh, at a much lower cost. You can turn them into soups, stir-fries, or a simple side. Frozen fruit makes a delicious addition to smoothies, yogurt, and oatmeal.

Choose your brands carefully.

Watch out for packaged goods that are marketed as "healthy" but actually contain loads of sugar or processed carbs. There's no need to pay a high cost for fancy foods with few health benefits.

Eliminate unnecessary waste.

Leftovers can be your best friend! You save energy by meal-prepping just once, and you reduce costs by eliminating waste. When buying fresh, aim to buy just what you need. It's best for you, the environment, and your wallet when you don't have good food go bad in your fridge.

Father and young son prepping fruit and veggies in the kitchen

Eat well with foods you enjoy.

It's uncommon to have a distaste for veggies, fish, and whole grains. Like changing any other habit, it helps to start with small steps. A few ideas? Try adding one green vegetable per day... Try "Meatless Mondays," or create your own version by serving fish or a plant-based protein once a week... Try new ways of cooking. Search online for things like "colorful veggie dinner," "how to cook fish," or "whole grain recipes" to see what healthy ideas you can find... Invite your family to participate. Perhaps each family member can suggest one new food to try every week. Start gradually and give yourself a chance to get used to the taste of these new foods. Like so many other people, you might find you really enjoy these new, diverse flavors!

family laughing together at a dinner table

Don't give up your family traditions and cultural norms.

Family traditions and cultural norms are among the toughest food habits to change, particularly since those changes often require the cooperation of loved ones. Consider adapting your traditional recipes in healthful ways. A nutritionist or dietitian can help with this, or search for healthy ingredient swaps online. Be sure to explain to your family why you’re looking to alter your diet. It's the first step to getting them on board with your efforts. You don't need to change everything! Even reducing your fats, sugars, starches, and red meat for just some meals every week will make a big difference.

Find ways to work around fatigue and other MS symptoms.

MS fatigue, the heat of the kitchen, and mobility problems, among other things, can make shortcuts seem like lifesavers. You may feel too tired to cook, and it's easier just to microwave some prepared foods. Watch out, though! Relying too heavily on prepared foods can mean taking in excess sodium and artificial ingredients. Meal-prepping, meal kit services, and eating leftovers can be healthier alternatives. You can also simplify your shopping and cooking in ways that save energy and money—an occupational therapist can show you how!

Where to Begin

A common barrier to eating a healthier diet is simply not knowing where to start. Your healthcare team can help!

A registered dietitian or licensed nutritionist can help you with dietary choices and affordable meal planning. An occupational therapist can offer tips and tools to simplify meal prep and cooking. And a mental health professional can help with emotional and cultural factors that may complicate your best-laid plans.

Useful Links

  • Guide to building healthy eating habits (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
  • Weight Management and Nutrition Webinar recording brought to you by the National MS Society and Can Do MS
  • Online search tool to locate registered dietician nutritionists (RDNs) (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics)
  • Dietary Studies in MS – Overview of research studies conducted on diets for MS (National MS Society)