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Warnings signs of a lack of nutrients

When a loved one is ill making sure they eat well is really important. That can be a challenge as certain medical conditions or illnesses can themselves lead to weight loss. People may lose their appetite, feel sick, lose their sense of taste, or find it hard to chew or swallow.

A good, balanced diet is crucial to health and wellbeing. "The benefits of good nutrition should never be underestimated, especially during periods of illness," says Michelle McGuinness, registered dietitian and British Dietetic Association spokesperson. "Food and fluids can be just as important as medication in some cases," adds Michelle.

Generally when you are ill your body has greater needs. "Adequate nutrition can play a significant role in your rate of recovery. It can also reduce your risk of infection and other illness, allow for effective wound healing, maintain good energy levels, and maintain muscle strength which reduces your risk of falls," says Michelle.

A lack of nutrients may in some cases have an effect on your treatment for certain conditions. "If you have really poor nutrition your treatment for cancer may in some cases have to be stopped," says senior cancer information nurse at Cancer Research UK, Jean Slocombe.

Here are some warning signs that your loved one might not be getting the nutrients they need:

They're losing weight

If weight is being lost without trying that's a 'red flag' suggesting there may be a problem. The NHS says it may be a sign that you are at risk of being malnourished if you lose 5 to10 % or more of your body weight within 6 months, without intentional dieting.

Not everyone has bathroom scales at home, but if clothes start to get very loose, they need another notch on their belt, or rings and watches are loose or slip off, then weight loss is likely.

If they have a medical condition which affects the ability or desire to eat, then weight loss may be hard to avoid. Also some conditions or treatments can themselves cause weight loss. If a loved one is losing weight without trying, seek medical advice. There're many reasons for weight loss, and support is available to help prevent further loss, depending on their health issues.

Solution

To regain lost weight they have to eat or drink more calories each day than they need, so low calorie foods aren't that useful. Try to pack as many calories as possible into their diets. Use whole milk and yoghurts instead of fat-free versions, and include butter, margarines and cheese as part of their daily diet. Add cream and sugar to desserts and porridges. Liquid nutritional supplements can be bought at a pharmacy, and your GP can also prescribe them if considered necessary. There's a range of flavours and types available. Drinks are a good way of boosting calories, protein and nutrients in an easy-to-swallow form.

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