Caring can be a full-time job in the truest sense: there are few other jobs where you are “on” 24 hours a day and seven days a week. It is no wonder many carer’s can be exhausted and run down. Studies show that up to 61% of carers report that their own health is affected. Trying to manage a gluten free diet and care for someone else can be an extra stress.
One of the ways that carer’s health can be impacted is nutrition. Sometimes people are so focused on the person they are caring for that there is little time left to take care of themselves. It is not always easy to cook from scratch when you are tired and a healthy diet can go out the window when you are busy looking after someone else. The problem is that not getting enough good nutrition can drop your energy levels and affect your mood, putting you at risk of poor health. Add in coeliac disease and poor nutrition can lead an increased risk of osteoporosis or low levels of B vitamins and iron. We take a look at the top 8 things you can do to ensure you are getting the nutrients you need to keep healthy, maintain your energy levels and look after your mental health as you continue to care.
Even if it is not “perfect” food or totally healthy, you need to fuel your body throughout the day. When you are caring it is easy to skip a meal or to go through the day and only realise at night that you have barely eaten. Regular meals help to keep energy levels up and fuel your brain as well as your body. A quick snack is better than a missed meal.
Foods that are high in protein are usually high in other important nutrients like iron and B vitamins too. Aim to have some protein at every meal – you don’t need huge amounts, but you do need it regularly through the day. Try adding an egg at breakfast or some Greek yoghurt. Add tuna to a gluten free sandwich at lunchtime or slice up some cheese. Bean salads or soups based on beans and lentils are also great sources of protein. If you are short on time, you can add a small tin of chickpeas to a ready-made soup and just puree – you’ll be adding protein, fibre and iron.
Oil-rich fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines are a great source of the omega-3 EPA. Studies show that EPA helps with mental health and may play a role in reducing anxiety and depression. Eating oil-rich fish twice a week will give you plenty of EPA. If you don’t like fish you can try a fish oil supplement – just check the label and make sure it is one that has EPA.
It is easy to reach for the biscuit tin when you are tired and busy and need something quick to eat. Try stocking up on more nutritious snacks. This makes it easier to grab something that will boost your nutrition even if you are in a hurry. Try plain nuts like almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts. Bigger seeds like pumpkin and sunflower seeds make a great snack too. Hummus is a very handy snack that you can eat with gluten free crackers or veggie sticks – it is rich in fibre and protein. Simple snacks like a sliced apple eaten with cheddar cheese are filling, tasty and packed with great nutrition.
No, you don’t need to drink your body weight in water everyday but staying hydrated does help with energy levels. It’s easy to forget to drink when you are tired or busy and becoming dehydrated can lead to headaches, loss of concentration and irritability. Aim to have 4-6 glasses of water everyday along with your other drinks like tea, coffee or herbal teas. You need at least 1.5 litres of fluid per day.
Iron is always an issue in coeliac disease so do keep an eye on your iron-rich foods. Red meat is a great source of iron and you will also find iron in chicken legs and eggs. Beans and lentils are another great source of iron and you will also pick up iron in hazelnuts, almonds and pumpkin seeds. You can also top up your iron by adding some green vegetables like spinach or kale to your meals.
Nothing slows you down like sluggish digestion. A slow-moving gut can drain your energy and leave you feeling bloated and run down. It might not be glamourous but looking after your gut is important. Sometimes we are so focused on avoiding gluten that we forget to think about the fibre. Aim to have some high fibre foods at every meal – this will help keep things going as they should. Look for higher fibre gluten free breakfast cereals and check labels on gluten free bread. Some gluten free breads can be quite high in fibre. Add some seeds to gluten free cereals, salads and yoghurt. Aim to add some fruit and /or vegetables to every meal.
It is good to get all the nutrition you need but it’s also good to enjoy a treat from time to time. There is no problem having a treat as long as you are getting the good stuff in as well. If you are getting it right 80% of the time, then the occasionally gluten free biscuit, bar of chocolate or cake will be fine.