For individuals with SCI, vegan and vegetarian diets can be extremely beneficial in supporting cardiovascular and immune health, maintaining regular bowel routines, as well as decreasing neuropathic pain through anti-inflammatory properties. However, not consuming animal proteins can lead to deficiencies of two nutrients that are vitally important to people with SCI- vitamin B12 and iron.
Individuals with SCI are at increased risk of anemia, particularly in the acute stage of injury due to blood loss, however it can occur at any stage in life, post-injury. Studies reveal there is a high correlation between UTI’s, pressure injuries and anemia in both complete and incomplete SCI. Moreover, a lack of iron in diet can lead to the body’s inability to produce enough hemoglobin in the red blood cells to carry oxygen. When oxygen is reduced, the cells have less energy to perform normal functions, and this can lead to fatigue.
Did you know that many of the symptoms of Vitamin B12 deficiency are common characteristics of SCI? This makes it hard to detect. A Vitamin B12 deficiency can contribute to the demyelination of the spinal cord – in other words, the breakdown of the protective covering that surrounds the nerves. If this occurs, it can affect the speed at which the signal travels along the nerve. A B12 deficiency can cause or exacerbate nervous system problems such as numbness and tingling in the arms and legs, depression, mental confusion, memory impairment, coordination problems when walking, loss of vibration sense and loss of deep tendon reflexes. So, if you are primarily eating plant-based foods, it is essential that you include vegan sources of these two nutrients to support your nervous system and maintain your energy levels. Here are two delicious plant-based recipes that contain both!
Black Bean Wrap
- 1 cucumber, chopped into quarters
- ¼ cup unsweetened coconut yogurt
- ¾ tsp taco seasoning
- 1 ½ tbsp lime juice
- 1 tbsp cilantro
- 1 cup black beans
- ½ stalk green onion (chopped)
- ¼ cup cherry tomato (chopped)
- ½ cup spinach
- 1 whole grain wrap
- Combine yogurt, onion, seasoning, cilantro, tomatoes and black beans in large bowl.
- Add spinach and black bean mixture to wrap. Roll and enjoy!
Vegan Lentil Keema
- 2 cups water
- 1 ¾ cup canned coconut milk
- 2 yellow potatoes (cubed)
- 1 cup canned lentils
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 2 tbsp cilantro
- 2 tsp cumin
- 3 gloves garlic (minced)
- 1 yellow onion (diced)
- 3 medium tomatoes (halved)
- 2 cups frozen peas
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
- Heat oil in pan over medium heat, cook all spices and herbs for 1 minute. Stir in onion for 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook for 5 more minutes. Add coconut milk.
- Add peas, potatoes, lentils, nutritional yeast and lime juice. Simmer for 20 minutes.
Joanne Smith is a dietitian specializing in nutrition for people with disabilities, and owner of Fruitful Elements, fruitfulelements.com