Sickle Cell Diet

Sickle cell disease, also called sickle cell anemia, is the most common worldwide disease that is passed through families, according to University of Iowa Health Care, or UIHC. Individuals with sickle cell anemia may suffer from painful episodes that can occur suddenly and last for days. Proper nutrition is part of a healthy lifestyle that is necessary for vital health and disease management. Seek a registered dietitian for the best food options and calorie needs for your lifestyle.

A variety of colorful fruits and vegetables are recommended for sickle cell patients. (Image: Andy Crawford/Dorling Kindersley RF/Getty Images)

Sickle Cell

Sickle cell is a hereditary disease that is characterized by abnormally shaped red blood cells. The cells are hard and resemble sickles or crescents instead of the soft and round shapes seen in regular red blood cells. UIHC notes that sickle cells decrease the flow of blood and prevents oxygen from reaching tissues and organs in the body. This can cause individuals with sickle cell to experience anemia and symptoms of swelling and severe pain. Sickle cell disease is most commonly seen among individuals of African, Mediterranean, Caribbean and South American descent, according to UIHC.

Diet Significance

There is no cure for sickle cell disease; however, a balanced diet consisting of healthy food options may prevent painful complications such as a sickle cell crisis, according to A sickle cell crisis is defined as a sharp pain throughout the body that may last several hours to several days due to formation of blood clots. Individuals diagnosed with sickle cell anemia can continue to live productive lives if they manage their pain by adopting a healthy lifestyle. The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, NHLBI, notes that adopting a healthy lifestyle such as proper nutrition is an effective way for controlling and avoiding future pain associated with sickle cell disease. In addition to managing pain, a healthy diet also supports promotes health and overall well being.


There is no special diet for individuals diagnosed with sickle cell disease; however, a health care provider or registered dietitian may recommend healthy food options that promote good health. The NHLBI suggests a healthy diet that is low in saturated and trans fat, sodium, sugar and dietary cholesterol. Some healthy food options include various fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The UIHC recommends five to nine servings of fresh fruits and vegetables daily for individuals with sickle cell anemia. Fruits and vegetables such as berries, citrus fruits, melons and green leafy vegetables are significant sources of essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and dietary fiber. Low-fat diary products, legumes and lean meats such as poultry, beef and fish are some other healthy food options that provide protein necessary for health. In addition to healthy foods, individuals with sickle cell anemia should consume at least eight glasses of water daily to prevent dehydration, according to the NHLBI.


A study by S.Tsuyoshi Ohnishi, Ph.D., and colleagues published in the May 2000 issue of "The International Journal of Applied and Basic Nutritional Sciences," reported the effect of different dietary supplements on patients with sickle cell anemia. The study found that daily doses of aged garlic extract, vitamin C and vitamin E supplements were beneficial for individuals diagnosed with sickle cell. Health care providers may also recommend folic acid supplements to aid in the production of red blood cells, according to Consult a health care provider before treating yourself with dietary supplements.


In addition to proper nutrition, regular exercise and adequate sleep is also recommended for patients with sickle cell anemia, according to the NHLBI. Some examples of exercises include physical activities such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming or cycling. Avoid exercises or tasks that involve heavy physical labor or extreme hot or cold weather. Regular checkups with your doctor are recommended to ensure you're at the best health for regular physical exercise. You should also avoid certain medications, such as decongestants that contain pseudoephedrine, because they can constrict blood vessels and impair movement of red blood cells, according to NHLBI.

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