Progressive muscle weakness is characteristic of all types of muscular dystrophy. A well-balanced diet, which is a good source of energy and supports muscle development, is of particular importance to people with muscular dystrophy.
It is also vital that patients maintain a healthy weight, as obesity enhances muscle weakness and impedes mobility, while undernourishment limits the supply of essential nutrients required by the body to work well.
- Regular weight measurements.
- Determining the calorie requirements of the patient.
- Planning a diet that incorporates healthy food choices to meet caloric requirements, and adjusting as necessary.
- Recommending supplements, if needed to compensate for any deficiencies.
- Addressing issues such as gastrointestinal and swallowing problems, dehydration, and too much or too little weight gain.
Frequent evaluation of glucose intolerance — elevated blood glucose levels — can help to determine the patient’s predisposition to obesity and diabetes, and aid in selecting foods with a low glycemic index or those that do not rapidly spike glucose levels.
Recommended food choices
In general, high protein, low fat, and low carbohydrate meals are recommended.
Proteins are required for muscle repair and regeneration. Some of the preferred protein sources include lean meats such as chicken and fish, eggs, and vegetable proteins such as beans and soy.
Beans and legumes, whole grains, most fruits, and non-starchy vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage, etc., are a good source of carbohydrates with a low glycemic index and a key source of energy.
Food rich in calcium and vitamin D can help muscle and bone health.
Calcium-rich food includes dairy products like milk, cheese, yogurt, etc., leafy green vegetables such as broccoli and spinach, calcium-added food such as orange juice and cereals, and fish such as sardines and salmon. Fish is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, an essential nutrient with anti-inflammatory properties.
Dairy products and fish serve as a good source of vitamin D. However, the best source of vitamin D is not a food but sunlight. Daily activities involving exposure to sunlight are essential to raising or maintaining healthy vitamin D levels, and work to improve mobility.
Incorporating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables into a meal is advised because they are a good source of fiber and antioxidants, and also help in a person feeling full and satisfied with the meal, and so avoid overeating.
Weak stomach muscles and limited mobility often lead constipation in these patients, and consuming more fiber and drinking plenty of water is highly recommended when constipation appears. Drinking lots of water is also a key step in preventing constipation and protecting the kidneys from problems like kidney stones, and for staying hydrated.
Healthy fats provide energy and are essential for the proper functioning of muscles and bones. Examples of healthy fats include salmon (for fish oil), vegetable oil, and nuts.
A good practice is to avoid processed foods, such as white bread, sugar, and pasta. Sugar-sweetened beverages, like carbonated drinks, coffee, and alcohol, are also not advised.
In some instances, nutritional supplements may be required to fulfill the patient’s daily nutrient needs. These should only be taken after consultation with the person’s medical care team and nutritionist.
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