Most of us know that it’s good to eat healthfully. It helps us achieve and maintain a healthy weight, lessening the burden on our joints and thus resulting in fewer bleeds. It keeps our bones strong. It protects us from chronic conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
The challenge is not knowing about healthy eating. It’s knowing how to get started. Thankfully, you have a professional to guide you: the dietitian.
“My role is to be part of your healthcare team and to help you set and achieve personal health goals,” says Emily Ostrowski, a registered dietitian who works with patients at the Michigan State University Center for Bleeding and Clotting Disorders.
Developing a Plan
When you first meet your dietitian, you’ll discuss the food you eat and the nutritional supplements you take. You might have a physical exam to assess your body fat and muscle mass and any nutrient deficiencies you might have, such as a lack of bone-building vitamin D.
After the exam, your dietitian will develop an eating plan that’s tailored to you. For example, if bleeds have caused an iron deficiency, you may be advised to eat foods rich in iron (such as lean red meat, leafy greens, beans and fortified cereals) and foods loaded with vitamin C (think strawberries and oranges) to help your body absorb that iron.
Rather than telling you exactly what to eat, your dietitian will offer guidelines for a healthy diet. “We want you to make your own decisions,” Ostrowski says.
Focus on a variety of nutritious foods, such as vegetables, fruits, chicken and other lean meats, and whole grains. Your dietitian will help you determine portion sizes to best meet your needs.
Recognizing that it can be difficult to put healthful eating into practice, Ostrowski advises that most people start with small changes, such as slowly weaning off calorie-dense sugary sodas, which have almost no nutritional value and contribute to weight gain.
“Begin with baby steps,” Ostrowski says. “If people feel it’s all or nothing, generally they won’t stick with it.”
Caril Lattas, 62, of Hudson, Michigan, has von Willebrand disease and has been consulting with a dietitian for more than 20 years. Lattas says with expert help, she has cut back on low-fiber, high-carbohydrate foods such as white bread and pasta. “With their encouragement, I got back to eating a lot of vegetables,” she says. Lattas attributes her stable blood counts of the past few years to the abundance of fresh spinach, asparagus and other vegetables she enjoys.
Her tips for veggie avoiders are to add a little at each meal and to find your favorites. “They will grow on you!”