Ask Eve: How Much Saturated Fat Should an MS Diet Include?

As mentioned in the “Ask Eve” introduction last month, sadly there is no magic-bullet diet that will alleviate MS symptoms, so there is currently no such thing as an “MS Diet.” Because MS medicines and therapies are often ineffective and hard on the body, those of us living with MS naturally search for other areas, such as diet, that might bring us relief. But for decades, scientists have tried to identify a diet that would benefit people living with MS, with inconclusive results.

Does this mean that your diet doesn’t matter and you should eat whatever you want? Absolutely not. Individuals living with MS still need to follow the dietary recommendations that have been proven to benefit everyone. A key area to address is your saturated fat intake.

How does saturated fat affect my body?

Eating too much saturated fat can elevate your bad (low-density lipoprotein) blood cholesterol levels. Thus diets high in saturated fat increase your risk for developing heart disease, which is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. The American Heart Association suggests limiting saturated fat in your diet to no more than 7 percent of your total calorie intake, which equates to about 16 grams of saturated fat daily if you’re following a 2,000-calorie diet.

If you have high cholesterol, the American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat to 5 to 6 percent of your total calories, or 11 to 13 grams when eating 2,000 calories daily.

Does saturated fat intake affect any MS symptoms specifically?

Consuming too much saturated fat also increases inflammation in the body, a big ‘red-flag’ for those of us dealing with MS.  Dr. Roy Laver Swank, an MS neurologist, came up with the first MS diet back in the 1950s.  His focus was on saturated fats, and he found that significantly reducing saturated fat intake reduced symptoms.  His clinical studies had many flaws (small study group, not properly randomized, etc.), but showed strong results.  As our knowledge about nutrition increased, we learned of the other negative effects of saturated fat, and now agree everyone should lower saturated fat intake.  So whether your reason for reducing saturated fat is specifically important for your MS or simply to improve your heart health, this diet modification is a very good idea.

How does saturated fat compare to carbohydrates and protein?

Fat grams (including saturated fat) are also high in calories, which can lead to unhealthy weight gain. While carbohydrates and protein each provide just 4 calories in each gram, fat contains 9 calories per gram. Eating just 250 extra calories daily can lead to a slow gradual weight gain of about one-half pound per week.

What foods should I avoid to reduce saturated fat in my diet ?

The main sources of saturated fat in the diet are fatty cuts of meat, poultry skin, meat products such as sausages and pies, whole milk and full-fat dairy products such as cheese, cream, butter, ghee and lard, coconut and palm oils, biscuits, cakes and pastries, and chocolate.

Keeping your eye on your saturated fat levels will keep your heart and waistline healthy, benefiting your overall health. Stay tuned for more tips next month!

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Eve was diagnosed with MS in 1994, received her masters in nutrition in 2009, moved to Portland in 2015 (she says she LOVES IT), and is passionate about taking care of herself (and helping others) to be the healthiest we can possibly be.

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