Swank diet: Does it help with multiple sclerosis?

The Swank diet is probably the best known of all diets associated with multiple sclerosis (MS). It is named after Dr. Roy Swank, who developed it in the 1940s. It is a very low-fat diet that stresses on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and very lean proteins. The diet may help MS-affected individuals live a healthier and more active lifestyle.

What is multiple sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a long-term disease that affects your brain, spinal cord, and the optic nerves in your eyes. It is a disease with random symptoms that can differ in intensity. Some people experience mild symptoms like fatigue and numbness, while severe cases of MS can cause paralysis, vision loss, and diminished brain function, and those affected have trouble getting around and doing daily tasks.

MS happens when your immune system attacks the protective covering over your nerve cells. In time, this irreversible disorder may deteriorate your nerves completely, interrupting nerve signals between your brain cells and your body.

History of the Swank Diet

Dr. Roy Swank began studying people with MS in Canada in the 1940s. He was a neurologist who believed that diet might play a significant role in multiple sclerosis after seeing the geography and epidemiology of MS. For example, multiple sclerosis is more common in Canada, U.S., and Europe, than in Africa and Asia. In these areas with high MS, people’s diets tend to be high in fat, especially saturated fat. Therefore, Dr. Swank worked with Aagot Grimsgard, a dietitian, to create a low-fat diet now called as the Swank diet. A central feature of the Swank diet is that it limits fat, particularly saturated fat. Dr. Roy treated MS patients for thirty-five years and used the Swank diet to treat symptoms such as fatigue, muscle weakness, numbness, and vision problems.

What does the Swank diet consist of?

Fats and Oils

The Swank diet is focused on reducing saturated and regulating unsaturated fats. It allows no more than 15 grams of saturated fat a day. Butter, lard, margarine, shortening, and hydrogenated oils are not allowed due to their high saturated fat content. Similarly, oils such as coconut and palm are avoided.

The diet allows between 20 and 50 grams of unsaturated fats, oils like olive or sesame oil, soyabean, sunflower, flaxseed or peanut oil. Nuts and seeds are fine, but they must be counted in the daily fat intake.

Fruits and Vegetables

You can eat all the fruits and vegetables you want, but recommended is two fruits and two servings of vegetables every day (1 serving= 1 cup). Moreover, fruits such as avocados and olives that naturally contain fat should be limited.

Grain products

Four servings of grains and cereals daily is recommended. Foods such as bread, low-fat cereals, rice, pasta, and certain crackers are allowed. Whole-grain products are preferred. Moreover, baked foods that contain fat should be avoided.

Dairy products

All dairy products must be non-fat, that is, they must contain no more than one gram of saturated fat per serving. Two servings every day is recommended (1 serving = 1 cup). Some of the dairy products included in the Swank diet are non-fat or skimmed milk, non-fat buttermilk, fat-free cheese, non-fat yogurt, non-fat cottage cheese, and non-fat ice cream.

Meats, poultry, fish and eggs

Red meat and pork are prohibited during the first year. After that, about 3 ounces of red meat is allowed once per week. Skinless white chicken and turkey meat are allowed. All white fish and shellfish are allowed. Due to saturated fat present in egg yolks, only one whole egg is allowed, three times a week.

Processed foods

Packaged and processed foods are high in unsaturated fat and sodium content. Those exceeding 1 gram of saturated fat per serving are to be avoided.


Recommended daily supplements include 1 tsp. Cod liver oil, a multivitamin with minerals, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E.

Caffeine and Alcohol

No more than 3 cups of any caffeine every day. A glass of wine or a cocktail is permissible.

A low-fat diet such as the Swank diet may be difficult, but with a little discipline, patients suffering from MS can easily adopt it to ease their painful symptoms. While the Swank diet may help to improve the health of patients suffering from MS, the diet should not be mistaken as a cure for this condition. Medical diagnosis and treatment of MS is necessary to prevent nerve deterioration.

The Swank diet, a popular complementary approach to manage multiple sclerosis!