Diet and Nutrition

The Swank Diet for Multiple Sclerosis

The Swank Diet for Multiple Sclerosis

The Swank Diet for Multiple Sclerosis

It’s hard to avoid being constantly bombarded with media information about new diets that will make life better. One may help with weight loss while another will claim to provide shiny, luxurious hair.

But what about a diet for multiple sclerosis (MS)? It’s actually not that uncommon. Many people with MS use diets as a form of complementary medicine. And is that really so surprising?

The swank diet was developed in the late 1940s. The diet has been shown to reduce the frequency of flare ups as well as the severity of symptoms related to the disease, according to proponents of the diet.

What Does the Swank Diet Consist of? 

  • Fats — Since plant oils such as olive oil, soybean oil, and canola oil contain mostly unsaturated fats, they are included in the swank diet. Due to their high unsaturated fat content, coconut and palm oil, lard, butter, margarine, and hydrogenated oils are not recommended. As snacks, nuts, seeds, and nut butters can be included, but they must be counted in one’s total daily fat allotment.
  • Fruits and vegetables — In the swank diet, all fruits and vegetables are allowed; at least two servings of fruits and vegetables each should be included per day. Fruits such as avocados and olives that contain naturally occurring fat should be included in the daily fat total.
  • Meats and poultry – A person following the swank diet should not eat red meat or pork during the first year. After that, once per week, three ounces of red meat can be eaten. In the swank diet, skinless white chicken and turkey meat are allowed. It is recommended, though, not to eat processed poultry or dark meat poultry.
  • Fish — In the swank diet, white fish and shellfish are allowed. However, in people with high cholesterol, shellfish should not be included. Fatty fish such as tuna and salmon should be included in one’s daily fat allotment.
  • Dairy and eggs — Two servings per day of nonfat dairy products should be included in the swank diet. There is no restriction on nonfat milk, fat-free cheeses, or nonfat cottage cheese. People following the swank diet should eat only one whole egg per week, and not more than three times a month due to the saturated fat content of egg yolks.
  • Grain products — People following the swank diet are recommended to consume four servings of grains per day. This includes low-fat cereals, pasta, rice, and breads. Whole grain products are preferred.
  • Caffeine and alcohol — Caffeinated beverages are limited to three cups per day, and one serving of liquor or wine per day is all that’s allowed. 
  • Supplements — For those following the swank diet, specific vitamin and mineral supplements are recommended.

Evidence for the Use of the Swank Diet in Managing MS

Dr. Swank advocated the multiple benefits of a low-fat diet in people with MS. Some of these benefits were observed for many years alongside the original diet. From conducting studies, he noted a slower disease progression in people who ate less than 20g of saturated fat per day. However, the study was criticized because he did not compare the results with a control group. Also, the dropout rate was high. 

There was another study done in 2016 that looked at people with MS following the McDougall program for a year. This diet is similar to the swank diet in that it is very low in fat. It also excludes fish, eggs, meat, vegetables, and dairy. Compared to the control group, no improvement was seen in the patients’ brain scans, nor were there fewer symptom flare ups. However, it was reported that their energy levels improved and there were positive changes in their BMIs as well. Although after six months the cholesterol and insulin levels in the diet group were lower, this change was not seen after the study ended.