The importance of good nutrition

Your nutritional needs vary greatly depending on your level of injury, but everyone can benefit from understanding what he or she should be eating to maintain a healthy lifestyle and optimal weight.

Obesity is on the rise across the United States and people with disabilities are part of the picture. Extra weight decreases mobility, endurance and balance. It can make transfers difficult and increases the risk of pressure sores.

There are also dangers to being underweight, increasing the risk for infections, pressure sores, and resulting in less energy and more fatigue.

Make sure to work with your doctor to devise a nutrition plan that complements your lifestyle and health.

Understanding the basics

Caloric intake: Caloric intake should be tailored to the individual based on disability type, age, activity level, and starting body weight. A balanced diet is essential -- think low fat, high fiber, proper portion sizes. Important tip, don't skip meals. It decreases metabolism rates.

Protein intake: People with mobility limitations generally need more protein in their diets to help prevent tissue or muscle breakdown. At least two 4 oz servings of a high-protein food should be consumed every day. Eat even more than that if there is an active pressure sore developing. Zinc and vitamin C also aid in healing.

Although protein is essential, don’t overdo. Pay attention to protein portion size, fat and cholesterol content.

Calcium intake: A higher rate of osteoporosis in lower limbs means you should consider integrating more calcium-rich foods in your diet. Dairy products with lower fat levels that contain vitamin D help reduce the loss of bone mass and aid in proper circulation. Taking a supplement that contains vitamin D is also an option.

Fiber intake: To promote normal bowel functioning and prevent constipation and diarrhea, nutritionists recommend whole grain breads and cereals, fresh fruits and vegetables, raw nuts and seed mixes with dried fruits and peanut butter. Fiber can also help with glucose levels and prevent diabetes.

Fluid intake: Water is the best source. It helps regulate the body's temperature, digestion of food, prevent urinary tract infections and kidney and bladder stones, and regulate bowel management. Limit fruit juices and sodas since they contain a large amount of calories and sugar. It's generally recommended that individuals living with paralysis drink at least eight cups (64 oz) per day.

Vitamins and supplements

Minerals and vitamins: Fruits and vegetables are good sources of vitamin A and the family of B vitamins. There is some evidence that taking extra vitamin C and a zinc supplement helps keep the skin healthy.

Antioxidant vitamins: These round up free radicals that can damage the body's cells, and may stimulate the immune system. Many people with chronic neurological disease take supplements, including vitamins A (beta-carotene), C and E. Fruits and vegetables are good sources. Grape seed extract, co-enzyme Q10 and pycnogenol are other sources.

Vitamin D: Vitamin D supplements are a healthy addition if you don't get out in the sun much. There is data showing a link between vitamin D and multiple sclerosis (MS). The farther away from the equator a person lives, the higher the risk of MS.

Preventing infections and complications

Pressure ulcers: An active pressure ulcer requires a diet high in protein, vitamins, and minerals to aid the healing process.

Kidney or bladder stones: Some individuals with spinal cord dysfunction may be prone to kidney or bladder stones. Certain beverages are more likely to create calcium crystals in the urine (beer, coffee, cocoa, cola drinks). Dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream) can also lead to trouble. The best way to avoid kidney or bladder stones is to drink a lot of water and stay hydrated.

Urinary tract infection: Carbonated beverages (soda), orange juice and grapefruit juice may cause the urine to become alkaline, a breeding ground for bacteria that can cause UTI.

Resources

If you are looking for more information on nutrition or have a specific question, our information specialists are available business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9am to 5pm ET.

Additionally, the Reeve Foundation maintains a repository of fact sheets including those that highlight resources and trusted organizations to help support healthy living and eating. This includes fact sheets on nutrition, healthy cooking, and fitness and exercise.

We encourage you to reach out to other support groups and organizations, including:

This project was supported, in part by grant number 90PR3002, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.