Your body needs a balance of healthy foods to ensure best health and aid improvement and recovery. To make sure you achieve a healthy balanced diet, eat a variety of foods from each of these groups:
- Bread, cereals, pasta, potato, and rice. Eat a portion at every meal.
- Fruit and vegetables - aim to eat five or more portions a day. Fruit makes an ideal snack.
- Meat, fish, and other alternatives: such as meat, chicken, fish, egg, nuts, Quorn, beans, pulses, soya alternatives. Include these at two meals.
- Milk and milk products, including cheese and yoghurts; and calcium-enriched milk alternatives such as soya based products.
For more information, take a look at the British Dietetic Association's food factsheets.
What foods will help my energy levels?
Sugary drinks and high-sugar foods can lead to energy slumps later on, so a diet high in sugar is often best avoided. Slow-release or low glycaemic index (low GI) foods can help sustain your energy levels over a longer period of time. Low GI foods oats, wholegrain cereals, pasta, yoghurt and many fruit. Having regular frequent and smaller meals can also help.
Drinks with caffeine can act as a stimulant, so avoid them after lunch or altogether if you find that they affect you. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, cola and chocolate drinks and foods.
If I feel sick, is there anything that will help?
Feeling a bit sick (nauseous) is fairly common in M.E. Eating little and often, especially dry food such as ginger biscuits, toast or crackers, can help the feeling of sickness. Some people find it helps to sip at a drink often rather than drinking large amounts in one go; as does avoiding having drinks around meal times. Cold food doesn't smell as strongly as hot food so may be easier to manage.
My weight is changing, should I be concerned?
It is not unusual for weight changes to happen in M.E., and you may find you lose some weight, especially if your appetite is not so good, you feel sick or because of the effort of eating. To prevent weight loss, or to increase your weight, you will need to eat more often, and include snacks and nutritious drinks, such as milk, or soya, or smoothies. If you have lost a lot of weight, talk to your doctor about referring you to see a diet specialist.
It is also common for people with M.E. to gain weight. This can be due to lower activity level, or sometimes "comfort eating" when feeling low. Try to counteract this by focusing on positive healthy food choices such as five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Keep higher calorie foods that have high fat and/or sugar (such as biscuits, chocolate, cakes, crisps and sugary drinks) as a treat only.
Can cutting out certain foods help me?
There is no evidence that cutting out certain foods will make anyone with M.E. better, and there is a risk that if you cut something out, your diet is no longer balanced. However, some people have found that cutting out certain foods, such as wheat or milk, has helped reduce their symptoms. If you want to try and exclude a food, we suggest that you do this with your doctor or a dietican, who will help you to keep your diet healthy. For example, if you want to avoid milk, they can advise you on how to make sure you still take in enough calcium. Don't exclude a food from your diet for more than four weeks without professional advice.
What can I do to reduce irritable bowel symptoms?
Stomach ache, bloating after food and wind are very common in M.E. Having regular meals with healthy food choices, and changing your source of fibre are ways that may help. If these symptoms are causing you a lot of discomfort, talk to your doctor about being referred to a dietician for more individual advice. You could also take a look at the IBS Network, a national charity supporting people with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
What about vitamin or mineral supplements?
There have been a lot of claims that taking certain vitamins, minerals or food supplements will help with M.E. symptoms (for example, it has been suggested that in ME/CFS the body is lacking certain nutrients), but so far, there is no scientific evidence to support any of these claims.
If you are worried that your diet is not as healthy as it should be, it may be worth taking an all-in-one multivitamin and mineral supplement as long as it contains no more that 100% of your daily recommended intake. Be careful not to take large doses of supplements, especially Vitamin A and B6, as this can be harmful. Taking several different supplements increases the chance of accidentally having too much of any one nutrient, so best just to take one. Always check with your doctor before taking supplements, as they can have an adverse effect if taken incorrectly or combined with other medication.
If you spend most of your time indoors, you will probably be low in Vitamin D. You get most of your Vitamin D from sunshine, and it is needed to make strong bones and teeth, making it especially important during the growth spurt in teenagers. If you have a low Vitamin D intake, speak to your doctor about taking a Vitamin D supplement, particularly if you are severely affected people; you can ask for a blood test to check Vitamin D levels.