Nourishing choices

As with exercise, good nutrition can help to decrease some of the complications that come with an SCI, such as bowel regularity, urinary tract infections and pressure sores. A healthy food habit also helps to combat depression and boost both mental clarity and physical energy. Eating properly to maintain a healthy body weight lowers your risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. After an SCI, your body will burn fewer calories so eating healthy, balanced meals can help you to maintain your weight without needing to count calories.

Food for thought

As always, you will need to work closely with your health team to determine a diet that optimizes your well-being. Below are a few general tips to keep in mind.

  • Eat nutrient dense foods. If you haven’t done so, now is the time to get the poor nutrition (fast food, trans fats, sugary drinks, etc.) out of your life and embrace more natural and nutritious foods. Classic nutrient-poor foods include sweets (doughnuts, cookies, cupcakes) and anything deep fried (French fries, potato chips, battered fish). Also watch for highly-processed meals that come pre-packaged (in cardboard boxes or plastic wrap), have been processed in a factory and contain ingredients you don’t recognize. The more you can eat foods in their natural state – vegetables, fruits, grains, fish – the better.
  • Eat for bladder and bowel management. That means getting fibre in your diet (whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables), drinking plenty of water to help move your bowels and flush your bladder, and avoiding foods that you have noticed harden your stool or give you excessive gas. In addition, drinking unsweetened cranberry juice may help to reduce UTIs. Getting the balance right in your intake may take some time and experiment.
  • Eat for bone health. With less weight-bearing physical activity, make sure you have vitamin D and calcium in your diet. Sitting in the sun delivers vitamin D, so it’s good to get outside on sunny days for limited exposure. In addition, eat foods high in vitamin D (fatty fish like salmon and sardines, dairy products, eggs) and take a supplement if recommended. Calcium, which requires vitamin D for absorption, can be found in green leafy vegetables, fish, beans and calcium-fortified cereals. You may also take a calcium supplement if needed
  • Eat for skin health. Recognizing that people with SCI loose muscle mass below the level of injury and are susceptible to skin breakdown and pressure sores, it is important to do what you can to keep your skin healthy.  What you eat and drink has an impact on skin health. It is important to consume adequate amounts of protein, as that is important for tissue growth, maintenance and repair.  You should also drink plenty of water to keep your skin hydrated and to help prevent skin breakdown and tears.

There is much more to know about good nutrition, which is the foundation for a longer and healthier life. When you have time, it’s worth the effort to learn as much as you can.

Read regular nutrition articles in Community magazine.

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