After a spinal cord injury, a person’s metabolism often changes significantly. Because they use fewer muscles, people with a spinal cord injury require fewer calories per day. However, if their eating habits do not change after their injury, they may be at risk for obesity and other related health conditions. Avoiding certain types of food after a spinal cord injury can help a person maintain a healthy weight.
Fast foods are high on the list of foods to avoid after a spinal cord injury, or SCI, as they tend to pack excessive calories into a single meal. The Spinal Cord Injury Network reports that the average fast food meal contains around 1,200 calories. For some people, this may be half of their entire daily recommendation after their spinal cord injury. According to the National Guideline Clearinghouse, a person with a spinal cord injury usually requires around 10 percent fewer calories per day than the average person. They may need even less if they are severely impaired or inactive. Avoiding fast foods can help a person reduce his caloric intake, as well as avoid the excess fat, cholesterol and sodium that these foods tend to contain.
The Spinal Cord Injury Network recommends people with paraplegia or quadriplegia limit their sodium intake to between 500 and 1,000 mg daily. More than this amount may cause excess fluid retention, which can leave their bodies more vulnerable to related health conditions. Excess sodium can raise blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Sodium is found not only in salt but also in many sauces, condiments and pre-made meals. Reading labels and avoiding high-sodium foods can help people living with SCI reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke.
Sugary Foods and Beverages
Foods that contain large amounts of sugar should also be avoided by those living with SCI. Sugary foods tend to be higher in calories, without the added benefit of extra nutrition. In other words, many high-sugar foods are empty calories. The Baylor College of Medicine recommends such foods make up only a minimal part of the daily diet for those living with SCI. These include sodas, candy, cookies and cakes. In addition, sweetened beverages, such as juices or tea mixes, may also contain excessive amounts of sugar.
Alcohol is another empty calorie beverage, which not only adds to the daily calorie count without adding any nutrition but has other potential side effects as well. Alcohol can have an increased effect for someone with a spinal cord injury; because of this, daily consumption should be limited. Baylor recommends one drink per day for women with SCI and two for men with SCI as a maximum.
Other High-Fat Foods
In addition to fast foods and sweets, other junk foods, such as chips, should be limited by people with SCIs. However, even healthy foods can become high-fat foods if prepared a certain way. For example, fried chicken has substantially more calories and fat than baked or roasted chicken. In addition, limiting the amount of oil and butter used in food preparation can reduce calories while maintaining the same nutritional content. Finally, leaner cuts of meat can reduce saturated fat intake for those living with spinal cord injuries.