Nutrition affects almost every aspect of our health, most especially our physical, emotional, and mental health. In essence, what we eat and how much we eat determines how healthy we are, and thus, has a direct impact on our quality of life.
This cannot be truer for people living with a chronic illness. Nutrition plays a huge part in managing a chronic illness, and in fact, it is the leading cause of many types of diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and some forms of cancer, among many others. That said, it is crucial for people with chronic illnesses to take care of their nutrition now more than ever.
Learn some of the common nutritional mistakes that people with a chronic illness should avoid.
Not following the doctor or dietitian’s recommendations
Once you are diagnosed with a chronic illness, your doctor will likely give you a diet recommendation, especially if your condition is related to your weight and nutritional habits. They may also refer you to a dietitian who will talk about your recommended diet more in-depth. And if you have to visit a facility, say, a cancer treatment facility, there may also be an in-house nutritionist who you can consult with as well.
Following the recommendations that these professionals give to you is imperative to managing your condition and, more importantly, prevent it from getting worse. While these are often termed as ‘recommendations’, do not see them as optional—follow them as closely as possible, and if there are things about your diet that you don’t like, you can always ask your doctor or dietitian for alternatives.
Eating too much processed food
Overly processed food is one of the leading causes of obesity, hypertension, kidney disease, cancer, and other types of chronic illnesses. If you continue to eat an excessive amount of processed food after getting diagnosed with a chronic illness, there is a good chance that you are making your disease worse.
However, not all processed food is inherently bad for you. Almost all types of food require a certain amount of processing. For example, the milk needs to be pasteurized to be safe to drink, and this type of processing does not make it unhealthy. In contrast, foods that undergo ultra-processing often contain refined ingredients and additives.
Examples of ultra-processed food include:
- Instant noodles
- Frozen meals
- Reconstituted meats (nuggets, processed ham, hotdogs, etc.)
- Sweetened juices
- Breakfast cereals
- Processed cheese
- Frozen pizzas
- Canned fruits and vegetables
These foods often contain trans fats, refined carbohydrates, sugars, artificial ingredients, and little to no fiber and nutrients.
Eating too little
Many types of chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease, require a modified diet for proper management. Oftentimes, these diets may seem restrictive at first glance. For instance, for a patient with heart disease, foods high in fat and salt are off the table.
However, this doesn’t mean that a patient cannot eat any amount of fat or salt. This type of thinking can sometimes lead to people with chronic illnesses eating below their daily caloric requirements.
Not getting enough calories can be just as harmful as eating too much. Thus, it is important to stay eat at least the minimum number of calories every day (you can track this easier with a calorie counter app). If the doctor recommends staying away from fatty or salty foods, supplement your diet with healthy alternatives that can not only bring your calorie count up—but also provide the nutrients that your body needs.
Not doing your own research
While it is extremely important to listen to your doctor or dietitian’s recommendations, it is also important that you do your own research as well. Ensure that you understand your illness and what the implications are to your health. Furthermore, learn what you can do to maintain proper nutrition given your condition.
Nutrition is not rocket science. While you may not be familiar with calorie computations or metabolic rates, you can still get a good grasp of what and how much you should eat. Look at reliable online sources (medical journals, medical websites, legitimate nutrition websites) to see what type of foods and recipes you can incorporate into your diet, as well as what foods to avoid altogether.
Maintaining proper nutrition is crucial to preventing a chronic illness from developing or—if you already have it—getting worse. With these tips, you can help establish a healthier lifestyle for yourself and, in the process, increase your quality of life without being too restrictive about the things you eat.