I did not figure this out on my own. I got really lucky.
Immediately after my diagnosis, I did the opposite of what the doctors told me and hit the Internet for answers, solutions, anything. Intuitively I wanted a diet that would allow my body to fight the MS on its own. Or rather, I wanted to get out of my own way. From what little nutrition knowledge I had at the time, I knew that our body's number daily goal is to achieve wellness and it will pursue that goal until we take our last breath. We however, derail that initiative on a daily basis through our food choices, stress, lack of exercise, lack of sleep, pollution etc. From just going vegetarian a few years prior, I experienced massive weight loss, about 30 lbs. and a resolution of some physical ailments that I thought was the natural progression of aging (I was in my 20's!). That coupled with the fact that my dad had a major transformation after adopting the DASH diet for hypertension, I knew that diet was going to be key in my recovery - I just had no idea how major it was going to be.
My initial research led me to Dr. Roy Swank, author of the Multiple Sclerosis Diet book. I immediately adopted his diet, during the recovery period of the attack that led to my diagnosis. But Dr. Swank died at age 99 (despite not having MS, he followed his own diet recommendations) in 2008 and I wanted the latest and greatest info and that led me to Dr. John McDougall, who would later become my doctor and reveal just how key a vegan diet is for MS among other chronic and non-chronic illnesses.
So let's break this down:
Whole foods means eating foods in their whole form - whole grain cereals, whole-wheat pastas, brown rice and naturally whole fruits and vegetables.
Whole foods means a limited reliance on processed foods, you'll come to find there are very few "legal" convenience foods out there although the food market is changing, just not fast enough.
Whole foods also means avoiding "frankenfoods" - meaning if it takes a factory to make it and you can't make it in your kitchen, you don't need it.
Centering your diet on whole foods, will require you to cook mostly from scratch, although I do take short cuts with such things as canned beans. Don't worry, I'm no Martha Stewart, I take as many short cuts as possible when cooking as long as they are legal and I will share those with you in time.
Lastly, whole foods means shopping just got simpler. You're going to find that you'll mainly shop the perimeter of the grocery store and that the aisles hold very little legal foods with the exception of some dry-good staples such as cereals, rice, pasta and canned produce.
Plant-based means no animal products or ingredients derived from an animal.
- No meat, chicken, pork or fish
- No milk, cheese, eggs or butter
Now, I do take exception with honey. An ethical vegan will tell you to stay clear of honey because of the exploitation of bees for profit but as a health vegan, I have no qualms with honey. Just be sure to support your local beekeepers - we need them more now than ever due to the colony collapse disorder. You'll get a higher quality product than what you find at the grocery store, most of which is cut with water and 76%1 of what's on the shelves doesn't contain pollen.
Suffer from seasonal allergies?
Seek out locally produced honey and work one teaspoon into your diet daily. As the bees pollinate the plants and flowers within the area you live, you will slowly build up a resistance from the pollens that plague you. It's best to start this treatment a few months prior to the start of pollen season to give your body time to build up this resistance. There is also anecdotal evidence to support that local honey can aid with asthma symptoms.
Now, plant-based does mean:
- Unlimited vegetables
- Unlimited starches
- Unlimited fruits
- Unlimited beans/lentils/legumes
- Limited nuts, seeds & avocados
Last but certainly not least, oil-free. For me, this is the toughest one to adhere.
Going oil-free means, you avoid oil as much as possible. You don't cook with oil, you avoid fried foods and you seek out oil-free convenience foods such as pasta sauce and salad dressings. This means you have to read labels very carefully. You'll start to notice products tend to contain more than one type of oil or list various oils it may contain - that's because at the time the product is produced, the company uses the cheapest oil on the market - makes you feel all warm and fuzzy doesn't it.
Oil-free is the stickler, it's why you'll find most processed foods are off limits. Sure, there is a ton of vegan products out there, but few that are oil-free.
I myself get into trouble with this one because I like to hit restaurants, I like vegan bakery and from time to time I life those fake meat products. As McDougall says in The Starch Solution, "The fat you eat is the fat you wear." I for one can attest to the trueness in that statement.