Helpful dietary suggestions for children with sickle cell disease

A diet high in calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals is important

Sylvia Amuta avatar

by Sylvia Amuta |

Share this article:

Share article via email
banner for Sylvia Amuta's column

Healthy eating is crucial for those who suffer from sickle cell disease. It’s beneficial both for overall health and to avoid complications.

For children with sickle cell disease, the breakdown of red blood cells requires more energy than in typically developing children. A child who is affected may look shorter and thinner than others in their age group because they require more energy to maintain normal growth and development. However, as long as their energy requirements are met, children with sickle cell disease may generally catch up to their peers. A diet high in calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals is therefore essential for children with sickle cell disease.

Instilling good eating habits in any child, much less one with sickle cell disease, is challenging. Despite my career as a health advocate, my family and friends would be surprised to learn that I sometimes indulge my children with sugary treats. I’ve given up before while trying to convince my kids to eat their veggies because it’s easier to just give in than to go through all of the ups and downs of using threats and rewards.

Recommended Reading
An illustrated banner showing a woman dressed in red with a stethoscope hanging on her neck. She is surrounded by floating blood cells.

How health complications led me to become ‘the Sickle Cell Crusader’

Time for a change

When my sickle cell-affected niece Ada moved in with me, I realized that I had to improve the quality of the food we ate. I made the deliberate choice and effort to improve my diet because of the many health advantages it would have for a kid with sickle cell.

I had to get creative about making healthy food appealing to the kids so that they would continue eating it, and about offering them the calories they needed without resorting to junk food.

What exactly did I do?

Children with sickle cell disease have red blood cells that break down more quickly than the usual person’s, and folic acid helps to make new red blood cells. Therefore, when planning meals for my niece, I had to keep in mind that folate-rich foods — such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and peas — are all good natural sources of folic acid.

To encourage my niece to eat more regularly, I insisted that she eat three full meals and numerous snacks every day. This helped to keep her energy up and improved her fluid intake as well, which also is important.

I increased the calorie content of healthy, low-calorie meals by doing one of the following: providing peanut butter with fruits like bananas and apples; using gravies and sauces with carbs like rice and pasta; topping salads with fruits or eggs; and supplementing staple meals with other nutritious food items no matter how small, such as beans, peas, and so on.

I chose meals and snacks that are rich in calories. I aimed to offer a variety by including things like nuts, whole milk and all kinds of milk products, including yogurt, and avocados and similar foods that are calorie-dense.

I steered away from empty calorie foods by convincing my niece and the kids to consume whole milk or fresh juices instead of sodas and energy drinks. Protein, calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and calories may all be found in a glass of whole milk. Another objective was to maintain hydration, so I also encouraged them to drink lots of water.

Every once in a while, I would give my niece high-calorie supplements like Pediasure, Ensure, or Boost.

Even though it was cost-intensive and challenging at first, I found implementing these things to be quite helpful, and over time, I noticed a marked improvement in the health of my entire family. Everyone, including my niece, enjoyed our new and improved nutrient-dense meals.

How has diet affected your sickle cell disease? Please share in the comments below. 

Note: Sickle Cell Disease News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sickle Cell Disease News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sickle cell disease.


Leave a comment

Fill in the required fields to post. Your email address will not be published.