Nutritional Needs

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News May 2013

Weight management is important for people with spinal cord injury, and these tips are the key to staying trim and healthy.

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Research is clear that proper nutrition is a key factor in reducing obesity in the general population. Yet, there is limited research on the nutritional needs of people with spinal-cord injury (SCI). So, what do you do?

Here are some answers to important questions to get you started.

Do I Need to Ask My Doctor
Before Changing My Diet?

Absolutely! No popular diet program considers a person’s specific healthcare needs. Likewise, research only provides suggestions on what might be beneficial for a group — not the individual.

You must consider how your diet directly affects all your health-related concerns. So you should talk to your doctor before changing your routine to help avoid problems.

What Do I Need to Ask?

Ask your doctor to recommend a professional dietitian. This is because doctors know medicine, but dietitians (sometimes called nutritionists) know nutrition. A dietitian can help you understand the available SCI research and help you plan a diet to meet your needs.

Ask your doctor about following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 if dietary counseling is not possible. These guidelines are not based on SCI research, but they are updated regularly to reflect the latest research findings in the general population.

How Do I Change My Diet to Lose Weight?

You lose weight if you consume fewer calories than you burn, so you need to determine your daily calorie needs.

Photo by Getty Images

What is half of your desired target body weight? That number is a good starting point to figure the number of calories you need to consume to lose weight.

Formula for People with Paraplegia

-         ½ your target weight x 28 = daily calorie intake to reach target weight

Formula for People with Tetraplegia

-         ½ your target weight x 23 = daily calorie intake to reach target weight


If you want to lose weight, you should reduce your daily calorie intake by 200–300 calories or participate in exercise programs.

How Do I Change My Diet to Improve My Health?

You should adjust your diet to meet your calorie needs while eating a variety of healthier foods.

The chart accompanying this article can be your guide. It offers the daily recommended intakes of a variety of nutrients. There are also checks to show what nutrients positively affect some common problem issues you may have. Finally, you will find a few foods that are among the highest in nutritional benefit.

You might also consider a few behavior changes:

-             Eat only when you are hungry.

-             Eat healthy snacks between smaller meals so you have something every 3 to 4 hours instead of every 5 to 6 hours.

-             Stock your kitchen with healthy convenience foods and ready-to-eat snacks.

-             Avoid eating late at night.

How Does Nutrition Improve Problem Issues?

Everything you eat and drink affects your health. However, your diet should meet some of the unique concerns of people with SCI.

Water should be your drink choice! It helps with preventing urinary tract infection, regulating bowel management, and keeping skin moist and supple. In addition to drinking water, fresh vegetables and fruits contain water.

Protein is essential to muscle and skin health. People who do not exercise regularly usually need only the recommended daily intake of protein. You may need more protein if you are more physically active. The increase is needed to gain and maintain the muscle mass. Your doctor may also recommend more protein if you have a pressure ulcer.

Fiber is another helpful item. There are two types of fiber. Soluble fiber helps firm stool and reduce diarrhea. Insoluble fiber helps prevent constipation and infections of the gut. Remember to gradually adjust fiber intake to help avoid diarrhea and constipation.

Your diet should include a healthy balance of vitamins and minerals, but there are a few that are very beneficial.

Calcium: Your risk for developing osteoporosis increases as you age, especially if you are a woman. This increases your risk for bone fractures. Calcium helps reduce that risk.

Vitamin D: It’s essential for your body to absorb calcium. You get vitamin D through diet, multivitamin supplement, and sunlight absorbed through the skin. However, you may not sufficiently absorb vitamin D through the skin below your level of injury. This means you need at least 10–15 minutes of daily sunlight on skin above your level of injury.

Vitamin B12, folic acid and iron: These are needed to produce red blood cells and hemoglobin. This is essential in supplying oxygen to maintain the health of your skin and other organs.

Vitamin C and zinc: They help your body fight infection and promote skin, muscle and bone health.

Is Diet All I Need to Do to Be Healthy?

A healthy diet plays a key role in weight loss and overall health, but exercise adds even greater benefits.




Think Thin

by Andy Nemann

Hide it: Keep healthy food such as fruit in plain sight and put non-healthy snacks in the cupboard. Research published in Environment and Behavior found the closer people were to food, the more they ate. The study also found people are more likely to eat what they can easily see, so keeping apples in a clear bowl on the counter is an even better idea.


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