Long term health conditions

Diet

A healthy diet is one which consists of an appropriate balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat as well as other essential ingredients such as vitamins and some minerals. It is also important to of include plenty of vegetables and fruit in one's diet. This dietry advice applies to everyone and, if carefully followed, then there is no need for extra vitamin and mineral supplements. People with certain chronic illnesses such as cystic fibrosis and kidney diseases need to have a high calorie diet to prevent weight loss. Some others need to avoid or include particular foods because of their condition - which can cause problems when you want to eat with friends or pick up a take-away.

Many of the young people we talked to were well aware that a healthy diet in combination with exercise, not smoking and drinking little or no alcohol would help their bodies to be strong, fight infections and stay well. Although no one said that their diet was 'perfect' some did say that if they ate chocolate or a piece of cake they would make up for it by having a piece of fruit afterwards.

One young woman with scoliosis said she makes sure she eats things with enough calcium to help strengthen her bones.

Most young people said they don't take vitamins, minerals or any other kinds of supplements and prefer to rely on getting what they needed from the food they normally ate. Some do take specific supplements because they believe it has a beneficial effect on their symptoms or condition. One young woman started to take cod liver oil after reading an article which suggested it was good for people with arthritis. 
Being able to eat what they want gave some young people a sense of control over their bodies. Several young people suggested that they don't follow their doctor's advice regarding diet. One young man said that when his arthritis was bad, food was the only thing he had to look forward to. A young woman said that she is willing to compromise on other things but not on her food because she loves food and eating out. 
When you leave home or go to university it can sometimes be hard to eat enough of the right type of food. One young woman in her first year at university said that she realises the impact that a bad diet and lack of rest has on her cystic fibrosis. 
Young people with type 1 diabetes face particular issues when it comes to diet. Getting the balance right between insulin units and the right amount and kind of food can be tricky particularly just after diagnosis. This balance is very important because it helps control the occurrence of hypos (hypoglycaemia or low blood sugar) or highs (hyperglycaemia or high blood sugar). (For a more detailed discussion see our section on Type 1 Diabetes in young people). One young woman was initially put on a set number of units of insulin for each meal and found herself eating a lot. She was particularly worried about her weight gain. Another girl with diabetes said that eating chocolate and not doing the insulin injection sent her blood sugar levels sky high. A young woman living with cystic fibrosis as well as type 1 diabetes told us that she finds her diabetes more difficult to control.
In a few cases young people have had to adjust their diet either for a short period or permanently. This can be difficult to get used to. One young woman with kidney disease said that she was put on a high calorie diet and was not allowed to eat dairy products or foods containing potassium, such as bananas. She found it hard at first but her dietician gave her lots of advice and information. 
One young man was diagnosed with coeliac disease after being screened for the condition. Type 1 diabetes and coeliac disease sometimes occur together and therefore patients with diabetes are usually screened shortly after diagnosis for coeliac disease. This young man is restricted in the choice of carbohydrates he can eat because he needs to follow a gluten free diet. 
Sometimes when you are really quite ill it is not possible to eat through your mouth. A sixteen year old with a kidney condition told us what it was like to have a nasal feeding tube (a plastic tube through the nose passage that goes down your oesophagus into your stomach) and about his concerns about having a tube so visible on his face. When he found out that he might need a permanent tube he decided that he didn't want to have to explain it to friends. He asked for alternatives and decided to have a feeding tube inserted directly into his stomach instead.

Last reviewed May 2014..

Last updated April 2010.

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