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Nutritional Challenges

Author(s): Nancy Moreno, PhD, and Paula Cutler, BS.

Specialty Menus

Each group of students will plan menus for all meals in one day for a person with special dietary needs. Activity Seven in the Food and Fitness guide provides information about the nutritional needs of hypothetical people with the following special needs.

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure) affects about one in every four Americans. It makes the heart work too hard and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. It also can cause other problems, such as kidney disease and blindness. People who are overweight or have diabetes are at an increased risk for high blood pressure. In general, people with hypertension should reduce their salt intake and limit consumption of processed foods that contain a lot of salt.
  • Vegetarian diets vary from “strict vegetarian,” which excludes all animal-based foods, to ones that include diary products, eggs or even fish and poultry. The greatest challenges in following a strict vegetarian diet are obtaining sufficient amounts of vitamin B12—which is not naturally present in plants—and all of the amino acids needed by the body to build proteins. Good sources of proteins for vegetarians include beans and nuts.
  • Pregnancy places special demands on the body. A healthy diet is important, because everything a pregnant woman eats or drinks contributes to the development of the baby. A pregnant woman needs increased daily servings of proteins and dairy products (calcium sources).
  • Lactose intolerance, which is the inability to digest the natural sugar in milk (lactose), is common in adults and is not dangerous. However, people who are lactose intolerant may have digestive system symptoms, such as nausea, cramps, gas and diarrhea, when they eat foods containing milk products. Avoiding milk products or taking an enzyme tablet (such as the commercially available Lactaid) eliminates the discomfort. However, lactose intolerant individuals must make sure they have enough calcium-rich foods in their diets to meet the body’s needs. Good non-dairy sources of calcium include enriched soy milk, lactose-reduced milk, fish with soft edible bones (such as sardines) and broccoli.
  • Type 2 diabetes is a growing problem among America’s youth. According to the National Institutes of Health, type 2 diabetes, once seen only in adults, has been been appearing at steadily increasing rates in children. Studies in Cincinnati, Charleston, Los Angeles, San Antonio and other cities indicate that the percentage of children diagnosed with type 2 diabetes has risen from less than 5 percent before 1994 to 30-50 percent in subsequent years. Type 2 diabetes makes it harder for cells in the body to take in glucose, a sugar that circulates in the blood and provides energy to cells. Over time, diabetes can result in damage to the eyes, kidneys, nerves, ear, teeth and gums. In general, persons with diabetes should eat about the same amount of food at the same times each day and avoid sugar, refined carbohydrates (white bread, white rice and potatoes, for example) and fats.
  • Athletes, to perform at their best, must have proper nutrition, as well as exercise and practice. In general, an athlete in training has higher caloric needs than non-athletes. In addition, important nutrients must be replenished. Athletes should drink water before, during and after physical activity.
  • Astronauts, who must live and work in microgravity conditions, have special nutritional needs. Without the pull of gravity, fluids distribute themselves equally throughout the body, leading to changes in the circulatory system. At the same time, muscles and bones become smaller and weaker because they do not have to work against the pull of gravity. The body uses about the same amount of energy in space as it does on Earth. However, astronauts frequently lose weight for a number of reasons, including the following: boredom with the food provided, busy schedules, poor appetite (fluid shifts in the upper body and head lead to a stuffy nose), difficulty eating in a microgravity environment (food and utensils float), and nausea and motion sickness, which usually is most pronounced during the first days of space flight.

Funded by the following grant(s)

National Space Biomedical Research Institute

National Space Biomedical Research Institute

This work was supported by National Space Biomedical Research Institute through NASA cooperative agreement NCC 9-58.