Sickle cell disease, also called sickle cell anaemia, is a genetic red blood cell disorder that causes blood cells to take on a sickle or crescent shape. People with sickle cell anaemia often experience episodes of pain, fatigue and frequent infections. Sickle cell anaemia is associated with low calcium intake, vitamin D deficiency and poor appetite. All of these can lead to delayed growth and development in children.
This is one of the reasons why children with sickle cell disease are usually smaller in stature compared with their peers. Ensuring that these children eat food that is adequate in energy and nutrients can go a long way to help them grow well just like their peers. Not only that, they also stay healthy and live long.
It is fair to say that; an under-nourished sickle cell disease child will not only be suffering from the genetic red blood cell disorder but malnutrition as well. It is a fact that a lot of children in this country and the world over are anaemic due to poor quality diets given them. The sickle cell child only suffers twice; that is if their nutrition is bad.
If your child gets enough calcium, great job! However, calcium alone is not enough. Calcium is effective at building strong bones only if your child also gets enough vitamin D. Make sure your child consumes vitamin D-fortified milk and gets adequate active play time outdoors. Take note, children with darker skin may be more likely to be vitamin D deficient.
Choose from these other food sources of calcium; spinach, kale, okra, collards, soybeans, white beans, fish like sardines, salmon, perch, and rainbow trout, foods that are calcium-fortified; such as orange juice, oatmeal, soymilk, and breakfast cereals. Other sources of calcium are; low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, and cheese, and other leafy green vegetables.
These foods are also rich in Vitamin D; fatty fish, like tuna, mackerel, and salmon, foods fortified with vitamin D; like some dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and cereals. The rest are beef liver, cheese and egg eaten with the yolk. Vitamin D supplements can also be helpful.
Calcium and vitamin D are important for your child’s growth and development, but good overall nutrition is essential. Do the following to ensure that your child with sickle cell disease is given the best of nutrition every day;
- Make good nutrition a family affair so your child does not feel punished when they are drinking milk and everyone else has a soft drink. Join them so they feel it is just normal to eat the foods that will help them.
- Eat from a rainbow of fruits and vegetables paired with grains, proteins (such as eggs, fish, chicken, lean meat, beans) and nuts. These foods will help them build blood well all the time, build their immune system and stay healthy. Remember, a healthy diet will offer a lot more.
- Provide healthy, high-calorie foods including dried fruit, nuts and nut butters, or smoothies if your child does not have much of an appetite. This is a way to energize your child for a great day. These foods also serve as very nutritious snacks for your child.
- Encourage intake of plenty water to prevent constipation. Let your child drink water throughout the day. Eating foods that are fluid in nature also adds on to the water intake of the day. Water is one of the nutrients as well and so adequate intake is required.
- Forgo sugar-sweetened drinks for milk or calcium-fortified orange juice, which provide better nutrition.
- Give them home cooked food as much as possible. Understandably, it may be easier said than done. Busy families find cooking at home to be challenging. Enjoying a meal together as a family is important, especially for a child with a chronic illness. No good thing comes easy so try hard and feed your child what you cook. It is worth it.
In conclusion, I will advise that just as you have sickle cell specialist doctors attending to the medical needs of your child, work with a registered dietician to better understand your child’s unique nutrition needs and identify quick and healthy meals that will work for the entire family.