Proper nutrition is key to a healthy body, for everyone. However, PWDs may have certain special considerations when it comes to eating the right kinds of food.
There are several factors that may affect your ability to get the proper kinds of food and nutrition your body needs:
- lack of access to fresh ingredients
- difficulty preparing food at home
- medications changing how your body absorbs nutrients
- the desire to eat
- improper care
- the physical ability to eat, which can be influenced by
- sensory disorders
- the ability to chew and swallow food
Poor nutrition can make disabilities worse, or result in conditions that compound disability. For example, if a person with diabetes does not control their sugar intake, their condition can worsen. This can lead to nerve damage, which makes it harder to tell if feet are injured. Minor injuries can progress to ulcers, infections and amputation of a diabetic foot. A poor or imbalanced diet can
- reduce immunity to disease
- reduce productivity
- limit physical and mental development
Eating a balanced diet, together with staying physically active, can keep your body strong and healthy. A 2005 study showed that eating a proper diet with a variety of healthy foods helped to decrease functional limitations for PWDs.
Eating a balanced diet
The Malaysian Ministry of Health recommends a quarter-quarter-half approach to meals, where your plate should be filled with
- half a plate of fruits and vegetables
- a quarter plate of fish, meat or beans
- a quarter plate of carbohydrates, such as rice, bread, noodles or tubers
According to the Malaysian Food Pyramid 2020, a normal adult should aim to eat the following daily. Single serving sizes are given in brackets.
- 2 servings of fruit (1 whole medium-sized fruit)
- 3 servings or more of vegetables (approximately 1.5 cups of cooked vegetables)
- 3-5 servings of rice, bread, noodles or other carbohydrates (2 slices of bread or 2 scoops of rice)
- 1 serving of fish (1 medium kembung)
- 1-2 servings of eggs or meat (2 chicken eggs, 1 medium chicken drumstick or 1 palm-sized piece of lean beef)
- 1 serving of beans (1.5 square pieces of tofu)
- 2 servings of milk or milk products (1 glass of milk or 2 slices of cheese)
- limited amounts of fat, oil, sugar and salt
- 6-8 glasses of plain water
There may be some days when planning meals is overwhelming. A basic tip to remember is to eat food in all different colours, which will ensure you’re getting nutrients from different sources (mostly colourful fruits and vegetables).
Making healthy choices
Food delivery makes meals more convenient, but they can also lead to an unbalanced diet. To eat healthier, keep the following in mind when you order out or ask for grocery deliveries:
- avoid foods that are heavy on salt and fat
- limit your intake of fast foods and heavily processed foods, such as nuggets and sausages
- choose baked, grilled or steamed foods over fried
- replace fries or mashed potatoes with coleslaw or salad
- choose whole grains (wholemeal bread or brown rice) over white bread or rice
Planning meals can reduce the mental load associated with choosing and cooking meals. You can make one recipe in bulk, store or freeze it, and have a portion every day until it runs out. You can also adjust to have as much or as little variety in ingredients as you need to eat well.
Look for recipes like soups, stews, sauces and sambal that you can easily portion out and store to eat later. Start with recipes that are easy to make and store, then slowly expand your recipes as you get better and more used to meal planning.
Are supplements necessary?
A healthy diet should provide all the nutrients you need. However, if you have problems absorbing certain nutrients from food or it’s difficult to get certain nutrients in your diet, supplements can be a way to ensure you get what your body needs to stay healthy. It’s best to speak to your doctor before taking supplements. Taking supplements you don’t need can be expensive and wasteful at best, or actually dangerous at worst. Certain vitamins can build up to dangerous levels in the body and harm your health.
Finding more advice
More information about nutrition can be found online from the Ministry of Health, or disability advocacy websites. If you have further concerns about your nutrition, try speaking to your doctor or other PWDs, who may have insights that can help you improve the way you eat.
Many Malaysians find joy in food, and it should be no different for PWDs. By knowing how to eat well while respecting your personal limitations, you can keep your body healthy and strong to do the things you need to do and like to do each day of your life.
Disabled World (2021) Disability Fitness : Nutrition and Health [Accessed: 20 Feb 2022] Available at: https://www.disabled-world.com/fitness/
Elly B. (2020) Healthy Cooking Can Come With Many Unfair Barriers for People With Disabilities [Accessed: 20 Feb 2022] Available at: https://www.wellandgood.com/cooking-with-disability-barriers/
Jomo Kwame S., Wan Manan M. and Zhai Gen T. (2019) Address Malnutrition, Not Just Food Security [Accessed: 20 Feb 2022] Available at: https://www.ipsnews.net/2019/12/address-malnutrition-not-just-food-security/
Kathleen H., Meg T., Tom S., Ph.D, Joyce B. (2002) Nutrition and Disability [Accessed: 20 Feb 2022] Available at: http://mtdh.ruralinstitute.umt.edu/?page_id=821
Laura N. (2017) Disabled People Diet & Exercise [Accessed: 20 Feb 2022] Available at: https://healthfully.com/321840-disabled-people-diet-exercise.html
Ministry of Health (2020) Malaysian Dietary Guidelines 2020 [Accessed: 20 Feb 2022] Available at: https://nutrition.moh.gov.my/MDG2020/mobile/index.html
Ministry of Health (2020) MALAYSIAN FOOD PYRAMID 2020 [Accessed: 20 Feb 2022] Available at: https://nutrition.moh.gov.my/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/PiramidMakananBI.pdf
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Nora E. G., Marko K., Amy F., Werner S., Rosangela B.B. (2013) Inclusive nutrition for children and adults with disabilities [Accessed: 20 Feb 2022] Available at: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/langlo/article/PIIS2214-109X(13)70056-1/fulltext
Seong Ting C., Kahleng S., Azriani R., Hans V.R., Sakinah H. (2013) Malnutrition and Its Risk Factors among Persons with Disabilities in Malaysia [Accessed: 20 Feb 2022] Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/274067294_Malnutrition_and_Its_Risk_Factors_among_Persons_with_Disabilities_in_Malaysia
Perdue University (2019) Meal Planning Tips [Accessed: 20 Feb 2022] Available at: https://www.eatgathergo.org/eat/planning/meal-planning-tips/
Patricia Q., M.D. (2021) No More “What’s For Dinner?” Stress [Accessed: 20 Feb 2022] Available at: https://www.additudemag.com/meal-planning-tips/