Empowering Nutrition: Ensuring Accessible and Healthy Food Choices for People with Disabilities
Average read time: 5 minutes
We look at ways to ensure healthy and accessible food choices are available for those living with disabilities or those looking after someone with a disability.
Following a healthy, balanced diet, and giving your body all the nutrients it needs, is important for anyone. Our diet impacts our health, wellbeing and mental health. For someone living with a disability, following a healthy, nutritious diet is even more important as it can help improve or manage their condition, help them function better, and give them the energy they need to cope on a daily basis.
When it comes to following the right diet for a certain disability, consulting a professional dietitian can help prevent nutritional issues from arising or improve issues that already exist, including weight loss or weight gain, nutritional deficiencies, or bowel issues.
However, there are ways to ensure healthy and accessible food choices are available for those living with disabilities as well as those looking after someone with a disability.
Advantages of following a healthy diet
As mentioned, following a healthy diet is important for anyone, whether living with a disability or not. But there are some additional advantages to following a balanced diet for disabled people.
Some reasons why disabled people should eat healthily include:
- Physical movement may be limited for some disabled individuals, but there are exercises specific to disabilities. However, exercising with physical disabilities requires more energy as the body has to compensate to move effectively. This means that healthy eating is even more important to help the body perform. Besides physical performance, following a healthy diet allows disabled adults and children to manage their weight. It would, therefore, be beneficial for someone with a disability to consult a physiotherapist or biokineticist for advice to ensure a balanced and healthy lifestyle.
- When we eat healthy, our wellbeing improves. Taking care of your mental state is just as important as taking care of your body, and this can be done by following a healthy diet. Some vitamins and minerals that are beneficial for our brain and can enhance our moods include zinc, omega-3 and vitamin B. Zinc is plentiful in red meats, seafood, nuts whole grains, breakfast cereals, and dairy products, while omega-3 can be obtained from seafood, nuts and seeds, and plant oils. You can stock up on vitamin B by including fish, meat, eggs, and dairy products in your diet.
- Protein has been found to stimulate the dopamine and norepinephrine levels in our brains. These two chemicals are responsible for altering our moods, making us feel motivated, and helping us to concentrate. Getting enough protein is, therefore, important to keep the mind happy and healthy.
- Food and nutrition play a large role in all kinds of medical treatments, including effective management for some disabilities. Following a diet that meets your body’s requirements will likely help you manage the condition more effectively.
Ensuring healthy food choices: Variety is key
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables every day
Enjoy starchy carbohydrates as part of your meals
Eat fish, chicken, lean meat and eggs daily – these are a good sources of protein
Eat enough dairy (or alternatives) by having milk, maas or yoghurt every day
Oils and spreads should also form part of your daily meals
Our bodies need healthy oils to function optimally. Preferably, use more avocado and olive oil and refrain from using butter and vegetable oils.
Tips to enforce and maintain healthy eating habits
Sticking to healthy eating habits can be difficult – even more so for those living with a disability. Here are some ideas to keep in mind to help implement changes to your diet, even if it’s just in the beginning while you get used to it.
Slowly introduce the changes: If someone is bombarded with a lot of changes and new foods, they’ll be less likely to see it through. So, ease into the new diet and see how it goes.
Keep food safe: Make sure to throw away foods that have expired and cook food properly. When getting used to a new diet, the last thing you need is to contract food-related illnesses.
Eat with company (if possible): Following a healthy diet is often easier and more enjoyable when shared with others. If you can, invite a friend over for lunch or dinner, or take part in a shared meal with loved ones.
Pay attention to portion sizes: Managing portion sizes is important. A tip to help you improve your portion size is to fill half your plate with vegetables or salad before dishing up meats and/or carbohydrates.
Pay attention to how you feel after meals: When we eat healthy, our bodies feel better after eating. Whereas when we eat junk food, we often feel drained or even nauseous. Pay attention to how you’re feeling after you’ve eaten to make sure you’re on the right track.
Make sure you stay hydrated: Make sure you drink plenty of water during the day to stay hydrated. Also, try to minimise your intake of sugary and carbonated drinks.
Implementing and following a healthy, nutritious diet is difficult – even more so for those living with disabilities whose access to different foods may be limited. When you want to change your own diet, or the diet of someone you’re taking care of, our number one tip is to do it gradually. Secondly, try playing around with the different food groups when planning meals to ensure that they’re all included on a daily basis.
Is following a healthy diet more important for disabled people?
Our diet impacts our health, wellbeing and mental health. For someone living with a disability, following a healthy, nutritious diet is even more important as it can help improve or manage their condition, help them function better, and give them the energy they need to cope on a daily basis.
What are the advantages of following a healthy diet?
- Better weight management
- Improved wellbeing and mental health
- Better management of disability
What food groups should I focus on?
The most important thing to focus on when eating healthier and more nutritious is variety. Ensure that all five food groups are consumed daily, i.e., fruits and vegetables, carbohydrates, proteins, dairy, and oils/spreads.
How do I implement dietary changes?
Sticking to healthy eating habits can be difficult – even more so for disabled people. Our number one tip is to introduce the changes slowly. If someone is bombarded, they’ll be less likely to see it through.