Making healthy food choices can sometimes be tricky whether you are living with a disability or not.
Motivation and a lack of support are really common barriers for people when it comes to making and maintaining healthy lifestyle choices.
Healthy eating is important for everyone, but especially for people with disability who have a higher risk of chronic health conditions
A healthy diet can improve your immune system and recovery from illness
It’s important to follow expert advice from reliable sources when it comes to nutrition and diet
There’s also a lot of confusing information out there about what is and isn’t ‘healthy’, and it can be overwhelming trying to understand what is best for you.
How can healthy habits around nutrition and diet improve the lives of people living with intellectual or physical disability?
Senior dietitian at NDIS-registered health and disability support organisation Kinela, Jamil Tuazon, shares how food choices can impact our overall wellbeing as well as her top tips for healthy eating.
Healthy eating and living with disability
There are a variety of reasons why people with intellectual or physical disability may experience more health issues as a consequence of poor diet choices or limited access to nutrition information.
For example, research also shows that people on the autism spectrum can have increased food selectivity related to food categories, texture, smell, colour, temperature or appearance which may lead to an unbalanced diet.
People with an intellectual disability are also more likely to have poorer access to good medical care, exercise less than is recommended, and health providers may be unprepared to meet their needs.
These are just some of the extra challenges that people with a disability can face when it comes to making healthy lifestyle choices.
“Some medications can cause drowsiness, increased or decreased appetite, nausea, constipation and/or diarrhoea,” Ms Tuazon says.
“Reduced capacity may also be a challenge, such as physical, intellectual or mental health limitations.
“One of the biggest barriers however, is a lack of understanding about how important healthy eating is for people living with a disability - and how it can significantly improve someone’s quality of life.”
Benefits of a healthy diet ‘endless’
Healthy eating is important for everyone, but it’s especially important for people with a disability who have a higher risk of developing chronic health conditions, explains Ms Tuazon.
“A healthy and balanced diet can help to significantly reduce the risk of chronic conditions such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes,” she says.
“Healthy eating habits also assist with weight management, which can have a huge impact on your motivation, energy levels, self esteem, balance, mobility, access and independence.”
Healthy foods also have the power to improve your concentration skills and mental health, which can improve your capacity to learn, participate in activities and connect more with others.
But that’s not all, adds Ms Tuazon.
“A healthy diet can also improve your immune system and recovery from illness, which is really important for people with a disability who have higher risks of infections."
5 healthy eating tips for people with disability
There are lots of things, both big and small, that you can do to make healthier choices at meal times.
Ms Tuazon shares her top five tips:
Follow expert advice from reliable sources. One of the best places to start is by having the recommended intake across the five food groups, according to the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating
Have two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables each day, to give your body the nutrients it needs to maintain a healthy system.
Drink water instead of flavoured drinks like soft drinks or fruit juices, which are usually full of sugar.
It’s not just all about food - try and include regular physical activity as part of your routine - every step counts!
Get expert support from people who truly understand your needs and goals. See an accredited practising dietitian (ADP), or an National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) service provider like Kinela, who are specialists in disability health support.
It’s important to remember that while having a physical or intellectual disability might present more challenges in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, it’s not impossible by any means.
It just may take a little more effort, planning and support.
If you need help with nutrition or meal planning, you may be able to access support with NDIS funding. Check out our guide to diet and health support available under the NDIS to learn more.
Do you have any healthy eating tips to add? Share them in the comments section below.