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07 July 2022

Plant-based, vegan or Overcoming MS diet: what’s the difference?

With many plant-based and vegan diets growing in popularity, we explore the similarities – and the differences – between the Overcoming MS diet and veganism.

The Overcoming MS diet is one of the central pillars of our program. It’s sometimes described as “vegan plus fish,” although you may have heard individuals describe their Overcoming MS-compliant diets as anything from “plant-based” to “vegetarian” to “pescatarian.” So, what exactly is it – and does it matter?

Of course, every individual will interpret the Overcoming MS diet in a way that suits their circumstances, but given the growing choices in terms of vegan, vegetarian and plant-based foods, it can be useful to understand how the Overcoming MS (OMS) diet interacts with these dietary options. So, here’s our breakdown of the similarities — and differences — between these approaches to diet.


Veganism is a philosophy and lifestyle that extends beyond food to all animal products and by-products. The aim of veganism is to eliminate exploitation of animals completely. Practicing vegans avoid eating or drinking any and all animal food products, including dairy and other animal-derived substances.

But veganism is more than a diet — for example vegans might not wear leather or wool products, buy products that are tested on animals, or visit zoos or aquariums. As such, veganism is more of a complete lifestyle choice. The vegan diet therefore differs from the Overcoming MS diet because, while some people following the Overcoming MS Program (OMSers) may be ethically vegan and choose to follow the vegan lifestyle, the principle of the Overcoming MS diet specifically is built around health, rather than eliminating animal cruelty.

So what do vegans eat and drink?

  • They do not eat or drink any product derived from animals, including meat and dairy
  • They do not consume fish, honey, egg whites, or beer and wine clarified with animal products (by contrast, all of these food items are compliant with the Overcoming MS program)
  • They may eat fried foods, vegan-friendly ‘junk’ food, processed meat substitutes, or foods made with coconut — all of which are not recommended on the Overcoming MS program

The Overcoming MS diet

Professor George Jelinek modeled his diet on the research of neurologist Dr. Roy Swank, who prescribed a diet which is low in saturated fat for his MS patients. Over the course of 34 years, patients who stuck to the diet were less likely to see their condition deteriorate, less likely to experience disability, and as a group they had lower death rates than those who did not stick to the diet.

One of the central tenets of the Overcoming MS diet is that it eliminates meat and poultry, but recommends three servings of Omega-3-rich oily fish per week.

So what can someone following the Overcoming MS diet eat and drink?

  • They do not eat dairy, meat and poultry but may eat egg whites, fish and other seafood
  • They supplement their Omega-3 intake with high quality flax oil and they may consume uncooked cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
  • They do eat whole foods, including fruit, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, pulses and soy products
  • They do not eat fried foods, refined sugar, and packaged foods made with fats and oils
  • They do not eat coconut fat, palm oil and peanuts   

Whole food, plant-based diets

A whole food, plant-based (WFPB) diet goes one step further than the Overcoming MS diet because it eliminates not only all animal products but also salt, oil and added sugars. This is intended to further improve health outcomes. So on a WFPB diet, processed plant-based foods such as vegan-friendly meat and dairy substitutes and refined flour are strictly limited or eliminated completely.

The term ‘whole food, plant-based’ was coined by The China Study co-author T. Colin Campbell in the 1980s to refer to a diet which is low in fat, and high in fiber and plant material.

So what does someone on a WFPB diet eat and drink?

  • They do not eat any meat, poultry, fish, dairy or eggs
  • They may eat minimally processed “whole” foods (for example: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes)
  • They do not eat any oils, including olive oil, as well as foods containing added fats
  • They also eliminate processed foods such as white rice, white flour, added sugars and corn syrup, and the vast majority of packaged foods

While there are similarities in all of these diets, the most important thing for someone following the Overcoming MS program is to commit to eating for health, and to follow it through.

Deciding on the right combination of mostly plant-based foods that will make you feel in control and help to manage your symptoms is a deeply personal one. Every OMSer must ultimately choose for themselves how strict they would like to be with their diet, and how they identify their requirements when explaining what they eat to others.