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15 Tips for Eating Healthily With Chronic Illness

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Editor’s note: The following is based on an individual’s experience and shouldn’t be taken as medical advice. 

When it comes to eating healthily when living with a chronic illness, you may find yourself in a bit of a quandary. We know that eating healthily can help us feel somewhat better, but we simply don’t have the energy to spend ages in the kitchen. Hmmm. Some days cooking anything at all just isn’t manageable. Many also rely on others to prepare and cook their meals (if they’re fortunate enough to have that support).

So I thought I’d dig out my old nutrition hat (I’ve previously worked as a Personal Trainer and I’m also qualified in Holistic Nutrition!), and come up with some simple ideas on how we can still eat healthily when living with a chronic illness. Even if you’re unable to do these yourself, it can help those we may depend upon to spend less time in the kitchen. That has to be a good thing, right?

I’m very aware that we all have our own individual nutritional needs. People may also struggle with a lack of appetite and/or nausea which can make food seem unappealing. Plus, in the complex world of chronic illness, all sorts of different allergies and intolerances can come into play. I’ve come a long way, but I’m still learning what works best for me as I go! I have found that (pretty much) cutting out dairy and substantially reducing gluten in my diet has made a big difference for a lot of my gut issues. Plus I try and eat a higher proportion of plant-based meals – though I still have some meat in my diet. We’re all so different though, and what works for me may not work for you.

When it comes to chronic illnesses like ME/CFS, it really can be a case of trial and error until you work out an eating pattern that suits you best.

My tips here are not about telling you what you should or shouldn’t eat. I’m merely just giving you some ideas to hopefully make your life a little easier! Feel free to adapt them to suit your needs!

1. Use frozen veggies to save time and energy by not having to chop. I honestly couldn’t live without frozen onions! I use them in soups, stews, pasta dishes, curries, etc.! I also love frozen peppers, and I’ve even recently discovered frozen, chopped garlic! Bonus! Frozen sweet potato and butternut squash chunks are also wonderful for making easy stews/soups or roasting them to add to salads.

2. Use frozen fruit to add to smoothies. I always have a supply of frozen berries and mango in my freezer. You can also chop up bananas and freeze them in bags. Handy for those over-ripe ones!

3. Staying with smoothies, I love my smoothie maker! I tried juicing for a while, but I found the chopping (and washing up afterwards) far too labor-intensive! I like to have smoothies to add some extra nutrition into my day while giving me a little energy boost. They’re also handy if you struggle with poor appetite or nausea, as it can sometimes feel easier to drink something. Be sure to sip them slowly though as otherwise it can be difficult to digest! The smoothie maker I use comes with two sports bottles (not used for sports of course these days!) and you just add your ingredients to this and blend! Then add your cap and voila, it’s ready to drink! Easy to make and easy to wash up! No fuss – phew!

4. Sprinkle seeds onto cereals, salads, soups, etc. Seeds are little nutritional powerhouses! They contain natural fiber, iron, protein, good fats and plenty of vitamins and minerals. You can use sunflowers seeds, pumpkin seeds, linseeds, chia seeds or sesame seeds, to name a few! I often buy a bag of mixed seeds to make life even easier! Happy sprinkling!

5. Add a little fruit or vegetables to each meal to be sure you reach your five servings a day! This is as easy as adding banana or berries to your breakfast, having some avocado or tomatoes with your sandwich at lunch, and having a side salad with dinner.

6. Add herbs to your meals. Fresh herbs are great but dried are good too (and easy!). Herbs have been used for centuries and have a whole host of nutritional benefits. These include strengthening the immune system, lowering blood sugar and cholesterol, anti-inflammatory properties and reducing the risk of some diseases. Think oregano/basil with pasta, coriander with curry, parsley/rosemary with stews. Often I’ll add herbs to salads for extra flavor and goodness. Or why not brew up some mint tea – any excuse for a cuppa!

7. Spice it up a little! Like herbs, spices are historically known for their wide range of health benefits. They are full of antioxidants, they can help to reduce inflammation, help digestion, reduce the risk of certain diseases, strengthen nails/skin/hair, etc.! Like herbs, each spice has its own specific benefits – there’s loads of info out there if you fancy learning more! So apart from the obvious like making a curry – why not sip some ginger tea (good to help with nausea too), add some cinnamon to your porridge and, if you’re feeling a little more adventurous, try making a turmeric latte! Or if you’re anything like my husband you’ll just add chili to everything!

8. Use tinned pulses such as chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, lentils. They are handy to use (no soaking required!) and are a good source of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Plus they’re inexpensive and count towards your five a day! These can be your friends for making easy stews, soups and curries!

9. Drink plenty of water. Don’t underestimate the benefits of being well hydrated! You could always keep a jug on hand to make this easier.

10. Use a slow cooker/crockpot. I recently dug out mine from the back of the cupboard and I’m so glad I did! Throw in all the ingredients in the morning, and you have a healthy, tasty dinner ready for that evening! Fab! I especially love recipes where you don’t need to brown anything first! If you have any tried and tested recommendations I’d love to have a peek please! I usually adapt recipes and use chopped, frozen vegetables to make life easier.

11. If you want to be a little more fancy you could stock up on a few nutritional powders! These are handy if you’re struggling to get enough vitamins and minerals in your diet or you just want a bit of a boost. For example, wheatgrass is high in iron. They can be used in cooking/baking, added to smoothies or even just stirred into water as a shot! Who needs vodka?! Just kidding! I’m not suggesting you go out and spend a fortune. It can be very easy to get caught up in thinking you need x, y and z when you probably don’t! Maybe just talk to your doctor and try a couple if you both think they’re necessary. I couldn’t live without cacao these days as I use it to make hot chocolate and energy balls.

12. Try healthy recipes with only a few ingredients listed. If you’re anything like me then a long list of ingredients will put you off! Again, you can adapt recipes and use frozen instead of fresh vegetables if it makes life easier. As you can probably tell, I’m not a fan of chopping!

13. Save the links (or take a pic if it’s in a book) to any easy, healthy recipes you like. If you’re like me, you’ll forget them otherwise! Pinterest is also great for finding new recipes. Check out my “Healthy Eating” board!

14. Graze on healthy snacks throughout the day to try and help manage your energy levels. Think nuts, seeds, fruit, energy balls, smoothies.

15. Double up the ingredients of a recipe to make enough for a couple of nights. My husband always makes a big batch of something at the beginning of the week, and it’s great to have something handy for the following night! Or if you’re using fresh (rather than frozen) ingredients you could always freeze batches.

Try to make healthy eating fun and remember it’s OK to have a treat. Phew! Some days it will all go out the window and you just have to eat whatever is convenient to get by. That’s life with a chronic illness! However, I find that by making some little tweaks to my diet, I can still manage to eat healthily the majority of the time.

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Thinkstock photo via Wavebreakmedia Ltd.

Originally published: November 15, 2017
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