Spinal Cord Injury Nutrition FactsSCI & Nutrition Facts - #1 of 6
Lifestyle for Healthy EatingLifestyle for Healthy Eating
Eating is one of life's greatest pleasures. Good food is also necessary to maintain a healthy, energetic body that resists infection and enables you to have a full productive life.

After a spinal cord injury, your body systems -- such as bowel, bladder and skin -- have been altered due to your paralysis. Because you are less active, your muscles and bones become weaker. Your circulatory and respiratory systems that pump blood and oxygen to your heart, lungs and throughout your body do not work as effectively. With less physical activity, you may burn off fewer calories and gain weight. Excess weight puts more stress on your heart and makes weight shifts and transfers more difficult to do. This can contirubute to skin breakdown or pressure ulcers.

In the U.S., food is abundant and relatively cheap. This may be why many of us are eating more high-calorie foods containing fat and sugar and are becoming increasingly less healthy. The good news is that by eating nutritionally balanced meals, you can prevent or lessen the chances for medical complications. The choice is yours.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans

Developed by nutrition experts at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans will help direct you to better health. The major principles of the Guidelines are:

  • Eat a wide variety of foods. Since no single food can provide all the nutrients you need, a varied diet increases the chances of a balanced diet and helps you reduce your consumption of foods that are higher in fat, sugar and calories.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. After a spinal cord injury, your physical activity will decrease and your body burns fewer calories. By performing some physical activity each day, you will burn off more calories, increase your stamina and strengthen your respiratory and heart systems.
  • Choose a diet with plenty of grain products, fruits and vegetables. These foods should be the foundation of what you eat. They provide excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, and complex carbohydrates (starch and dietary fiber) that maintain healthy body systems.
  • Choose a diet moderate in sugars. Foods containing large amounts of sugar are high in calories and low in nutrients and should be eaten in moderation.
  • Choose a diet moderate in salt and sodium. In your body, sodium regulates fluid balance and affects your blood pressure. Too much salt may raise your blood pressure.
  • Choose a diet low in fat and cholesterol. Since fat contains over twice the calories of carbohydrates or protein, foods high in fat should be eaten less frequently and in much smaller amounts than grains, fruits and vegetables. Diets high in fat also increase your chances for heart disease and certain cancers.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation. Moderate alcohol consumption is one drink or less per day for women (none for pregnant women) and two alcoholic drinks or less for men. Alcohol is high in calories and is harmful in large quantities.

The Food Guide Pyramid Fats, Oils & Sweets Use Sparingly, Milk Yogurt & Cheese Group, 2-3 Servings, Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs & Nuts Group 2-3 Servings, Vegetable Group, 3-5 Servings, Fruit Group 2-4 Servings, Bread, Cereal, Rice & Pasta Group 6-11 Servings. Source: U.S.Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Provided by: The Education Department of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association

The Food Guide Pyramid can help you put the Dietary Guidelines into action. The Pyramid is based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's research on what foods Americans eat, what nutrients are in these foods and how to make the best food choices for balanced nutrition. You will notice that those foods at the bottom of the Pyramid are recommended in greater amounts. As you travel up the Pyramid, servings decrease in number. To get necessary nutrients, eat at least the lowest number of servings recommended.

What Counts as a Serving?

How to Judge a Portion Size

Your fist =
about 1 cup or 1 medium size fruit

Your palm (without fingers) =
about 3 ounces of cooked meat, poultry or fish

Your cupped hand =
about 1-2 ounces of nuts or pretzels

Your thumb =
about 1 ounce of cheese or meat

Your thumb tip =
about 1 tablespoon

Your fingertip =
about 1 teaspoon


Bread, Cereal, Rice, Pasta and Starchy Vegetables
(6-11 servings)

1 slice of bread
1/4-1/2 cup ready-to-eat cereal
1/2 cup cooked cereal, rice or pasta
1/2 cup cooked potato, yams, corn, beans

(3-5 servings)
1 cup raw vegetables
1/2 cup cooked vegetables
3/4 cup vegetable juice
(2-4 servings)
1 medium piece of fruit
1/2 cup chopped, cooked or canned fruit
3/4 cup fruit juice
Milk, Yogurt and Cheese
(2-3 servings)
1 cup milk or yogurt
1 1/2 oz. natural cheese
2 oz. processed cheese
Meat, Poultry, Fish, Eggs
(2-3 servings)
2-3 oz. cooked lean meat, poultry or fish
1 egg = 1 oz. lean meat
Fats, Oils, Nuts and Sweets Use sparingly, especially to lose weight

SCI & Nutrition Facts is supported by the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center in Community Integration for Individuals with Spinal Cord Injury at Baylor College of Medicine and TIRR (The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research), Houston, TX, which is funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research of the U.S. Department of Education under grant #H133B40011. The U.S. Department of Education does not necessarily endorse the information in SCI & Nutrition Facts.

  ©2002 Baylor College of Medicine and TIRR. All rights reserved.