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Nutrition and sickle cell disease

Eat your fruits and veggies

Karen Miller
Nutrition and sickle cell disease

The link between nutrition and sickle cell disease (SCD) might not be readily apparent at first blush. It’s all about the red blood cells. Normal red blood cells need to be replaced every four months. The red blood cells in SCD, however, barely make it to three weeks. Yet, the body needs the oxygen that red blood cells supply, so it regularly replenishes the stock.

Get the nutrition you need.

That’s the problem. Manufacturing new blood cells requires huge amounts of energy and protein. That energy and protein come from the food you eat, but other functions in the body are vying for them as well. The heart needs the energy to pump, the muscles to move, the body to grow.

Because of the rapid turnover in red blood cells in people with SCD, nutrients are broken down or metabolized relatively quickly. It is necessary then to eat a bit more. Even when kids eat diets according to the recommended daily dietary allowance, they still come up short in their nutritional requirements. That is why children with SCD are often smaller than children of comparable age who are not afflicted.

A healthy diet

There’s not a particular diet to follow. Fruits, veggies, whole grains, healthy fats and proteins will do nicely. Limit sodium intake. Avoid processed foods, such as ham and bacon. Good hydration is key. Choose water over sugar-sweetened beverages, such as sodas and fruit drinks. Eight to 10 glasses of water a day are recommended to reduce the risk of abnormal clumping together of the red blood cells, a process referred to as sickling.

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It’s not only quality of diet, but volume as well. Eat more frequently. Choose products high in calories. Snack between meals. For reasons not well understood, many people with SCD are deficient in several vitamins and minerals that are particularly beneficial to the condition. It’s important, therefore, to know the food sources of those micronutrients.


Quick and easy oatmeal

Oatmeal is high in fiber and rich in important vitamins and minerals that are beneficial to those with sickle cell disease.


1 cup instant oatmeal
1 tsp. brown sugar or honey (optional)
1 Tbs. raisins
2/3 cup whole milk or Lactaid milk
Dash of cinnamon (optional)

Powdered milk or peanut butter can also be added to increase calories

1. Combine all ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl.

2. Heat in microwave for two minutes on high or until thoroughly heated, or combine all ingredients in a small pot and cook on the stovetop on medium heat, stirring for five minutes or until thoroughly heated.

3. Add raisins for flavor and fiber.

4. Serve hot.

All-around good smoothie


People with sickle cell disease are encouraged to snack during the day to increase their intake of healthy food. This smoothie contains two fruits and milk and yogurt for calcium and vitamin D.

½ cup whole milk or Lactaid milk
½ cup yogurt
½ frozen banana, peeled and chopped
2 tsp. honey
½ cup frozen strawberries

1. In a blender, blend all ingredients until smooth.