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The importance of healthy eating when living with a disability

The importance of healthy eating when living with a disability

How the NDIS and Five Good Friends can help

A nutritious diet and healthy food play an important role in everyone’s health. We all need to make good food choices in order to reduce the risk of disease, maintain a healthy weight and protect against illness.

For people with a disability, there are many barriers that might make eating well more difficult. Here we look at why it’s important to eat healthy food and how the NDIS and Five Good Friends can help you with meal times.

Why healthy eating is important

A healthy diet is one of the best ways we can improve our health. There are many diseases related to poor diet including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer. Almost a third of premature deaths are associated with preventable chronic diseases. 10% of the total burden of disease in Australia can be attributed to poor diets, with an additional 8.5% of disease because of obesity.

People with a disability are also more likely to be overweight or obese. 72% of people with a disability vs 55% of people without a disability are overweight or obese. These rates are similar for those with severe or profound disability and others with disability.

What is a healthy diet?

According to the Australian Dietary Guidelines, we should eat most of our food from the following food groups

Vegetables and fruit

Fruit and vegetables give us the nutrients, vitamins and minerals we need each day. They give us energy, keep our bowels regular and help our immune system ward off illness. 41% of Australians don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables and this increases to over 47% of people with disability.

Try to integrate lots of different types and colours of vegetables, legumes and beans into every meal if you can. You should have 5+ types of veggies across your day and you can mix it up between fresh, frozen, or even canned. You should have at least two serves of fruit a day, which could be as easy as eating an apple and a handful of strawberries.


Grains like bread, pasta, oats, cereals, polenta, couscous and rice are also really important to give us energy and help prevent constipation. Whole grains like wholemeal bread and pasta and brown rice have more goodness in them compared to the ‘white’ varieties.

Dairy and/or alternatives

Milk, yoghurt and cheese are vital for keeping our bones healthy. If you can’t eat cow’s milk, you could also try soy or other alternative milks that are fortified with calcium.

Lean meat/poultry/fish/nuts/eggs/tofu

It’s important for us to eat enough from this group to help repair our body. This type of food can help produce healthy blood and helps our immune system to function. If you don’t eat meat, there are plenty of alternatives that provide the same nutrients, including eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds and beans.


We need water for almost every function in our body. It is the main drink we should sip each day.

What we should eat less of

A small amount of fat is needed for our eyes, brain, skin and nerve tissue and for making hormones. We also need healthy fats from olive oil or avocado to help reduce the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol.

However, processed food and drinks like cake, lollies, chips, alcohol and soft drinks don’t provide many nutrients for our bodies and give us lots of extra fat, sugar and salt. Eating a lot of these types of foods can often make the illnesses we have worse or harder to manage. They’re often called ‘sometimes foods’ rather than ‘everyday foods’.

Is it harder to eat well when you have a disability?

It can be harder to have a healthy diet when you have a disability. You might have difficulty accessing fresh food because of transport or mobility issues. Even in your own kitchen, it might be challenging to cook because of accessibility issues such as a high bench top or equipment that isn’t easy to use.

If you have a chronic illness, you might not have enough energy to cook, so you resort to processed or packaged meals. You may have financial concerns which may make fresh food too expensive.

Your disability might make eating difficult, so you’re limited to a small range of food. You might not have the knowledge or understanding of what foods you could eat and how to prepare them.

How can the NDIS and Five Good Friends help

Food is considered a day-to-day living cost and isn’t generally a disability related support. However if you have difficulty shopping, preparing or making food, you may be able to get help with meal preparation from your Five Good Friends Helper.

We can help you with cooking and serving your meals, supervising your eating, grocery shopping, and cleaning eating areas. When you have the right support, it can make the process of eating healthily much less daunting. We can sit with you to plan your meals and make sure have enough healthy food in the house for times we aren’t there.

If you have ‘disability-related health supports’ then you may be able to get NDIS Core Support funding for meal delivery. For example, if you have difficulty swallowing or can’t prepare your own meals due to your disability, you may be able to access specialist meals through the NDIS.

In some cases, you may have to pay a co-payment for ingredients (usually 30%) but the rest will be covered by the NDIS. Every plan is different though and it will depend on your disability whether you’re eligible.

You may also get allied health support from a dietician as part of your Capacity Building budget. You could talk to a dietician about how to manage your diet with your disability and how you could improve your health and wellbeing.

You could also see an occupational therapist about ways you could improve your cooking environment. They could advise you on equipment you could get to make cooking safer and easier.

The NDIS may even be able to fund house modifications to make your kitchen easier and safer for you to use. This might include lowering benchtops or changing the cupboard layout.

If you’d like to know more about healthy eating and how the NDIS and Five Good Friends could help, get in touch with us.

Learn more: Disability support services: how to access the NDIS

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