How do I transition to the Overcoming MS Diet?
For those embarking on the Overcoming MS Program, this question can resonate with a lot of us. We know the potential of this evidence-based approach to improve our lives, yet the transition can feel daunting. Where do we find delicious alternatives to familiar foods? How do we maintain momentum without sacrificing culinary joy?
I, too, once stared at an emptied fridge filled with goodbyes, only to be met with a blank canvas of "what now?". Through trial and error, experimentation, and a whole lot of delicious discoveries, I've learned the art of making my Overcoming MS diet not just sustainable, but versatile and satisfying. Here are some of my tips to achieve your goals of making your diet more Overcoming MS-friendly this year.
Embrace oily fish: more than just eating salmon
While fish might have been the occasional star in my pre-Overcoming MS days, this would mainly be white fish like cod and haddock. Salmon sometimes made an appearance but there are more oily fish rich in Omega-3 (which is known to have a positive impact) that deserve the spotlight.
- Anchovies - these little fish add umami depth to homemade pesto, tomato sauces, and olive tapenades. Blend them into a homemade pesto with basil, garlic, olive oil, nutritional yeast and walnuts for a vibrant sauce which doesn’t have to be saved just for pasta. You can also add anchovies to a tomato sauce for your favourite lentil bolognese recipe and you’ll be surprised how much depth of flavour they provide. Alternatively, chop them finely into an olive tapenade and serve on crackers.
- Sardines - mashed sardines from a tin combined with steamed sweet potato make delicious fishcakes. Add spring onions, grated courgette, and your favourite herbs and/or spices. Form into palm-sized patties and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. You might just become a sardine convert!
- Mackerel - if the "fishy" flavour of mackerel is a hurdle, try this. Mix tinned mackerel with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a spoonful of curry powder. It's surprisingly delicious and adds a unique twist when sprinkled on salads.
Enjoy dairy-free delights
The world of dairy alternatives has exploded, but knowing the good from the not-so-good can be confusing. Do check the labels as some contain added sugars and oils which may be best to avoid. My top dairy-free swaps are:
- Olive oil - embrace your inner Mediterranean and use extra virgin olive oil instead of butter. Drizzle on bread, or roasted vegetables, and even use for baking.
- Almond milk cream cheese - while most vegan cheeses are highly processed and full of saturated fats, my favourite is an almond milk cream cheese by Nush, which is delicious when served with smoked salmon. Alternatively, you can make your own cream cheese by blending cashew nuts with a little plant-based milk, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and some chopped chives.
- Silken tofu – don’t underestimate this secret ingredient. Blend it with lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, and nutritional yeast for a tangy base that mimics sour cream or mascarpone. Use it in dressings, dips, pasta sauces, or even creamy desserts. Get creative and enjoy!
Connect to plant power
With some familiar faces leaving the stage, your plate might feel a little empty at first. But worry not, the plant kingdom is brimming with incredible alternatives, particularly legumes. Find new plants to add to your diet.
- Chickpeas - beyond hummus (which is a great staple to have in the fridge), roasted chickpeas are the ultimate crunchy snack. Toss them with your favourite spices like paprika and cumin, add a pinch of salt and pepper and roast them for 30 minutes. Or, add them to soups, stews, and pasta sauces for added texture and fibre.
- Lentils - whether you soak your own, or buy them tinned or pre-cooked in pouches, lentils might become a kitchen regular for you. Opening a tin of lentils and adding them to a pasta sauce, curry, soup, stew or salad is really convenient and quick. For those transitioning from meat, lentils are a great replacement either in sauces or burgers. Try a half-and-half mix with minced meat as you move towards more plant-based dishes.
- Beans - chickpeas aren’t the only legume suited to making a tasty dip. Butter beans, cannellini beans and edamame beans are all great bases. Experiment with lemon juice, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, tahini or almond butter, adding sundried tomatoes, basil, or different spices like cumin or paprika for flavour variations.
You’re not alone
If you’re brand new to the Program and are looking for some extra support, have a look at the 6 Months to Overcoming MS course on the Live Well Hub. This programme is packed with tips and advice to help you make long-term and sustainable changes to your diet and lifestyle.
Jenna Cox is a registered nutritional therapist based in Bristol, UK. She has been following the Overcoming MS Program since 2016. As a nutritional therapist, she is passionate about helping individuals, especially those with autoimmune diseases like MS, navigate their journey to optimal health through diet and lifestyle changes.