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Basic Rules of the Swank Diet for Multiple Sclerosis

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Updated December 01, 2012

Basics of the Swank Diet for Multiple Sclerosis If you have multiple sclerosis (MS) and have done any digging to find out complementary and alternative medicine approaches to managing this disease, you have probably heard of the "Swank Diet" for MS. For an overview of the theory and the claims behind the diet, see What is the Swank Diet for Multiple Sclerosis?

While I cannot endorse the Swank Diet as something that I specifically adhere to, I will say that it seems like a sensible eating plan. It is certainly healthy and I can't find anything that is questionable or potentially harmful in the recommendations.

As far as eating plans go, the Swank Diet is pretty simple to understand. Instead of a "diet," you can really think of it more as a "lifestyle," meaning that you are not having to measure your portions or eat special food. Instead, you will basically be cutting out lots of fat and cutting way back on meat.

The Rules

Here are some basic rules for following the Swank Diet. As you will notice, they pretty much all focus on fat intake:

Oils: Limit your oils (unsaturated fat) to between 20 and 50 grams per day.

Saturated Fat: Do not consume more than 15 grams of saturated fat each day.

Red Meat: Do not eat ANY red meat the first year. After the first year, you may have 3 ounces of red meat per week. This rule applies to pork and wild game.

Dairy: Any dairy products cannot contain more than 1% butterfat. Clearly, this leaves out butter itself. Any dairy products with any saturated fat should be limited to 2 servings per day. However, fat free dairy products are allowed in any amount. Artificial "dairy" products, such as margarine or shortening, are not allowed.

Processed Foods: Do not eat ANY processed foods containing saturated fat.

Supplements: Do take a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement, along with a capsule containing the equivalent of 1 tsp of cod liver oil.

Additional Information

Don't Wait: Dr. Swank's data showed that the people who did the best (in terms of delayed/no disability progression and/or improvement) on the Swank diet were those who started eating this way early in their disease, ideally immediately following diagnosis.

Don’t Cheat:For the diet to have the amazing results demonstrated in the study, it was shown that people have to be very strict in adhering to the guidelines. In an interview with Dr. John McDougal, Dr. Swank says that an increase of even 8 grams of saturated fat a day increases the risk of death from MS-related causes three-fold. For reference, Dr. Swank points out that even 2 extra ounces of cheddar cheese (with 12 grams of saturated fat) or one ounce of pork sausage (with 10 grams of saturated fat) can push a person over their daily limit.

What Can You Eat?You might be wondering what is allowed on the Swank Diet. There are misconceptions out there that the diet is vegetarian or even vegan. This is not the case. Here is a list of foods that you can eat:

  • Grains: Grains and cereals are allowed, with 4 servings encouraged; watch for hidden fats in baked goods and in granola.
  • Eggs: Eggs are allowed, but don't forget to count the 5 grams of saturated fat in the yolks.
  • Pasta and rice: These are allowed in any amount, but whole grain pasta and brown rice are preferred.
  • Poultry: White meat of chicken or turkey is allowed, as long as it has no skin or visible fat.
  • Fruits: People should eat least 2 servings a day of fruit. However, avocados and olives should be limited, due to their fat content.
  • Vegetables: At least 2 servings of vegetables a day are part of the Swank Diet (1 serving=1 cup). You can have unlimited servings.
  • Fish: All whitefish and shellfish is allowed in unlimited amounts; fatty fish must be counted in daily fat allowance
  • Coffee: No more than 3 cups per day of any caffeine-containing beverage are allowed.
  • Nuts: Nuts and seeds are fine, but must be counted towards daily oil allowance.

The Bottom Line

If you are planning on giving the Swank Diet a try, I suggest that you look for some nice low-fat vegetarian cookbooks (vegan would be even better, since you wouldn't have to worry about fat from cheeses and other dairy or eggs) and try entirely new recipes, rather than just cutting meat out of your existing diet. In my opinion, having something different to look forward to makes you less likely to miss certain foods.

Everything you need to know about the Swank Diet, including bunches of recipes, can be found in The Multiple Sclerosis Diet Book, written by Dr. Swank himself.

Other articles on diet:

The "Best Bet Diet" for Multiple Sclerosis

Can Diet Help Multiple Sclerosis?

Readers Respond: Do you think a certain diet can help slow MS?

Are You a Vegetarian with Multiple Sclerosis?

Vegetarians with MS May Need Vitamin B12

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