Benefits of the MS diet, recipe ideas and more

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a degenerative autoimmune disease. Although scientists still understand the role of diet in the treatment and control of MS, some people are able to slow the progression of their disease by following an MS diet.

One such person is Dr. Terry Wahls, a physician with MS. After finding herself in a wheelchair, she developed the Wahls Protocol, a dietary approach to rejuvenate cells and slow the process of MS. The Wahls Protocol is similar to paleo or keto diets, but more restrictive.

Read on to learn more about the Wahls Protocol food list and the benefits you could get from preparing Wahls Protocol recipes.

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Wahls protocol for MS

The Wahls Protocol is a specific, restrictive way of eating that is designed to control MS symptoms. Some people use the protocol to help control others neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington’s disease.

The diet most closely resembles a paleo diet, although there are key differences. On the Wahls Protocol, you will eat:

  • Dark leafy vegetables like kale
  • Vegetables containing sulfur, such as cabbage and mushrooms
  • Fish and meat, with a particular focus on organ meats like liver and kidney
  • Seaweed, nutritional yeast and fermented foods

People on the Wahl Protocol do not consume dairy, grain, or sweeteners, including natural sweeteners like honey.

There are three levels in the Wahls diet. Because the diet can be difficult to scale, the levels are meant to build on each other, and the higher the level of the diet you’re on, the more benefit you’ll get, according to Dr. Wahls.

  • Wahls Diet (Level One): You’ll ditch all gluten and dairy and focus on eating 9 cups of fruits and vegetables a day.
  • Wahls Paleo (Level Two): You will stop eating grains and limit potatoes and beans to two servings per week. You will incorporate seaweed and fermented foods.
  • Wahls Paleo Plus (Level Three): This level is a ketogenic diet with intermittent fasting. He eliminates potatoes, beans and legumes and limits fruits to one serving, preferably berries. It incorporates coconut milk and limits meals to twice a day, with a long fast.

Who is Dr. Terry Wahls?

Terry Wahls, MD, is a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa. She also has multiple sclerosis and was diagnosed in 2000. Dr. Wahls became interested in the impact of certain vitamins and nutrients on the progression of her multiple sclerosis. She has dabbled in medical research, including animal research, to study the different ways micronutrients can impact MS patients. In 2007, she developed the Wahls protocol. When she started following the MS Diet, she saw significant results, going from a wheelchair to walking independently. She has since written books and cookbooks on the Wahls Protocol.

Paleo Diet vs Wahls Protocol

The Wahls Protocol most closely resembles a paleo diet. A paleo diet is meant to mimic what prehistoric humans would have eaten. The diet focuses primarily on vegetables, fruits and lean meats, and excludes grains, beans and legumes, dairy products and processed foods.

The Wahls protocol is even more restrictive than the paleo diet. Like paleo, the Wahls diet eliminates dairy, grains, legumes, and processed foods. However, the Wahls Protocol focuses specifically on nutrients that Dr. Wahls says help reduce inflammation and support brain and cellular health. These include:

  • Carotenoids and vitamin K to support neuron health
  • Sulfur for brain health and to reduce degeneration
  • Retinol for healthy bones and immune function
  • Fermented Foods to Support Healthy Gut Bacteria

Wahls said she didn’t see any significant changes in her health after following a paleo diet alone.

Benefits of making diet changes with MS

Dr. Wahls was in a wheelchair, unable even to sit up straight when she started following the Wahls Protocol, she says. After following the diet, she is able to walk unaided, ride a bicycle and go horseback riding.

However, Dr. Wahl’s experience is just one example, and not everyone who follows the Wahls protocol can be expected to. The diet is recommended for many autoimmune diseases. Yet healthcare providers are still learning how diet can impact the progression of MS and other autoimmune diseases. Dr. Wahls herself is involved in clinical trials on the effectiveness of the Wahls Protocol.

Wahls Protocol Recipes and Meal Plans

Wahls Protocol recipes and meal plans incorporate tons of leafy greens, as well as meats and fermented foods.

Receipts

  • Stir-fried vegetables with bacon and kimchi: Fry the bacon without nitrates in a large frying pan. Add chopped onions, kale, cauliflower and carrots. Sauté for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the kimchi. Season with spicy peppers.
  • Wahls fondant: In a food processor, combine the avocado, coconut milk, coconut powder and walnuts. Garnish with fresh berries and coconut milk cream.
  • Spicy Beef Cabbage Wraps: Chop the beef liver and mix it with ground beef. Blow. Add the onions, cilantro, green pepper, jalapeños and cauliflower. Season with red pepper, lime and other spices, to taste. Wrap in green cabbage, like a burrito.

Summary

The Wahls Protocol is an MS diet designed to help slow disease progression. The plan is to eliminate grains, dairy products, sweeteners and processed foods. Plus, it focuses on nutrients that are good for brain and immune health, including vitamin K, sulfur, retinol, and probiotics. Healthcare providers are still studying the Wahls protocol, but it is recommended for patients with MS or an autoimmune disease.

A word from Verywell

Dealing with a serious illness like MS can leave you feeling helpless. Taking control of your diet is a way to regain autonomy over your health. Although there are no guarantees, many people have had success following the Wahls Protocol. If the protocol feels overwhelming, talk to your healthcare provider or registered dietitian about how you can slowly start making changes that might help you cope with MS.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When does the Wahls Protocol start to take effect?

    There is no well-known timeline for when the Wahls Protocol will begin to take effect. Dr. Wahls went from using a wheelchair to walking independently less than a year after following him. Another dieter reported similar changes within a month. You may notice results much sooner. Before starting the diet, talk with your healthcare provider about what to expect.

  • Can diet changes help slow the progression of MS?

    Researchers are still studying whether diet changes can slow the progression of MS. However, anecdotal reports are promising and the Wahls protocol is often recommended for MS and autoimmune diseases. Talk to your healthcare team about whether dietary changes might help.

  • Is caffeine acceptable on the Wahls diet?

    Some people on the Wahl diet consume caffeine, while others don’t. It is best to discuss with your health care provider what is best for your particular situation.

  • What is the difference between the Wahls protocol and keto?

    The most restrictive level of the Wahls protocol, level three, is a ketogenic diet. However, the Wahls protocol is different from traditional keto because it focuses on specific vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients that can benefit people with MS.

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