Nutrition and ALS

While good nutrition is important for everyone, it can be very challenging for people living with ALS to maintain a healthy diet due to chewing and swallowing difficulties often experienced at some point in the disease progression. Improper nutrition can cause people to feel tired, lower their resistance to infection, speed the loss of muscle mass, cause constipation and lead to a host of other health problems.

A nutritionist or speech therapist can help people living with ALS and their caregivers put together a healthy diet that works to meet each person’s specific needs. In general, though, when supplied with the right education and information, planning and preparing healthy meals the whole family will enjoy can be easy and stress free.

Below are some important facts to know and tips on maintaining good nutrition despite having ALS.

1. Protein provides the building blocks for muscle and many other tissues in your body.

Excluding water, about three-quarters of our body’s solid mass is made up of protein. If you don’t consume enough protein, your body may break down muscle tissue to supply the quantity it needs. While protein is very important for people living with ALS, it can be difficult to consume the necessary amount. Meat, including beef, poultry and fish, eggs, beans, nuts, milk and cheese are all-natural sources of protein.

2. Fiber can help you maintain a healthy weight and improve your digestive health.

Fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, and cereals are all good sources of fiber. Unfortunately, fibrous foods can also be hard for some people living with ALS to swallow. To make sure you’re getting enough fiber in your diet, consider eating fruits or vegetables with a soft consistency, such as bananas, canned peaches or cooked beans or applesauce and other fruits that have been pureed.

3. Most people need a half-gallon of water each day, or eight 8-ounce cups of liquid.

Dehydration can be another problem for people with swallowing difficulties, and getting enough water is every bit as important as getting enough food. If you’re having trouble swallowing liquids, you can get the water you need by drinking thick liquids or adding thickening powder to your favorite beverages. Eating food with a high-water content, such as canned fruits or pudding can also be a big help for people living with ALS. People with mobility challenges may limit their liquid intake to decrease trips to the bathroom. Strategies and equipment for easier transfers and independence are available.

4. Getting enough calories daily is critical for people living with ALS.

Getting enough calories to maintain a healthy weight can be challenging for people living with ALS. Though many people think it’s healthy to diet or limit fat intake, for people living with ALS it’s much more important to make sure you’re getting enough calories to fuel your body and prevent it from breaking down muscle tissue. If you quickly feel full or grow tired when eating, try having six to eight small meals each day instead of three large ones. You may also consider a feeding tube to supplement your calorie intake throughout the day.

5. Vitamins and minerals help boost the immune system, support normal growth and development, and help cells and organs do their jobs.

While there’s not yet clear evidence that vitamin supplements can help the body fight ALS, it’s been suggested that vitamin E may be beneficial to people living with ALS, but the evidence is inconclusive. However, it’s still a good idea to consider taking a daily multivitamin and perhaps an additional vitamin E supplement. Some vitamins come in either solid or liquid form, so you can choose whichever is easiest for you to consume.

Additional information regarding maintaining good nutrition while living with ALS can be found on the Your ALS Guide website and obtained from your physician, dietitian or ALS health care team.