Sickle cell anemia is one of a group of disorders known as sickle cell disease, a genetic red blood cell disorder that causes the red blood cells to have a sickle or crescent abnormal shape. This means, there aren’t enough healthy red blood cells that could transport oxygen throughout the body.
In the U.S., sickle cell anemia is more prevalent among African Americans and Hispanic Americans. People diagnosed with sickle cell anemia often experience symptoms of pain, fatigue, and recurrent infections. Sickle cell anemia is correlated with low calcium intake, vitamin D deficiency, and weak appetite. These things can significantly lead to delayed growth or development in children.
If your child is getting enough calcium, you are doing great! However, getting enough calcium alone is not going to fix everything.
Calcium can only be effective in building strong bones if your child is also getting enough vitamin D. So you have to make sure that your child drinks vitamin D-fortified milk and gets sufficient active playtime under the morning sun. Darker-skinned children are more likely to have vitamin D deficiency.
In this case, vitamin D supplements can be essential so you should discuss your options with your pediatrician or healthcare provider. Both calcium and vitamin D are necessary for your child’s healthy growth and development, but ensuring their overall nutrition is crucial. So, keep these dietary tips in mind to give your child holistic nutrition:
- Make sure that having good nutrition is a family matter so your child affected by the disease doesn’t feel punished whenever they’re having to eat healthy greens.
- Incorporate a variety of fruits and vegetables matched with grains, proteins (like eggs, fish, chicken, lean meat, beans or tofu) and nuts. The range of color is a subtle way to encourage your child to willingly eat a balanced meal.
- Stock up on a variety of calcium-rich foods like low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese, and yogurt as well as leafy green vegetables and calcium-fortified food like soy milk, orange juice, and tofu. Give your kids options and variety so that they don’t get sick of having to consume the same type of food and drink every day.
- Provide healthy, high-calorie food such as dried fruit, nuts, and nut butters, or smoothies if your child doesn’t have a good appetite. Serving these snacks in a cute container can also be a plus.
- Discuss vitamin D testing and supplementation with your kid’s healthcare provider because although adequate sun exposure, eggs, fortified milk, and other stuff provides your kid vitamin D, food alone is oftentimes unable to fully replenish vitamin D.
- Encourage them to drink a lot of water to prevent constipation. Get them a big tumbler that they can take with them everywhere to remind them and make it easy for you to monitor their daily water intake.
- Forget about artificial sugar and sugar-sweetened drinks. Go for milk or calcium-fortified orange juice instead because they provide better nutrition.
- Make sure that you have healthy snacks like fruits, nuts, and whole-wheat carbohydrates on hand to discourage your child from looking for junk food and other unhealthy options.
Naturally, these tips may be easier said than done, but in order to successfully give your child the best nutrition, the whole family must make a solid effort. Busy families and working parents see cooking at home as a difficult challenge, but keep in mind that enjoying meals together as a family is important, particularly for a child with a chronic illness.
Work together with a registered dietitian nutritionist to properly understand your child’s unique nutrition and dietary needs and learn about quick and healthy meals that will be perfect not just for your kid with the disease, but for the entire family.