Nutrition in Sickle Cell Disease - Nemours Blog


Nutrition in Sickle Cell Disease

Keeping your child healthy and strong.

Children with sickle cell disease (SCD) have lower levels of certain vitamins, minerals, proteins and other nutrients. That’s because their bodies turn over red blood cells so fast that nutrients are broken down faster than normal.

When the body doesn’t get the nutrients it needs, it leads to malnourishment, anemia (low iron), frequent infections, poor growth and development, and other complications.

At the Nemours Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, our team incorporates nutrition into the overall treatment plan for kids with SCD. We know that good nutrition helps to support growth, restore energy, improve immunity and strengthen muscles and bones.

Good nutrition can also reduce pain crisis and the side effects of certain treatments. This can help decrease the number of hospital visits and improve overall health as your child grows.

Essential Vitamins and Minerals for SCD

A child with SCD takes in less energy from food, so it’s crucial to make up for that with plenty of calories, protein, vitamins and minerals.

Some specific nutrients, their benefit and foods you can find them in include:

Folate to increase iron and prevent anemia. Get folate from black-eyed peas, beans and dark leafy greens.

Magnesium to help convert food to energy. Get magnesium from almonds, black beans and bananas.

Omega-3 fats to reduce inflammation and pain. Get omega-3 fats from fish like salmon or tuna, and walnuts.

Selenium to improve immune function. Get selenium from beef, turkey and eggs.

Vitamin A to help with growth, vision and immunity. Get vitamin A in egg yolks, dairy and mangoes.

Vitamin B6 and B12 to help with healthy development. Get B6 and B12 vitamins from eggs, chicken and beef.

Vitamin D for bone health and energy. Get vitamin D in fortified dairy products, egg yolks and tuna.

Vitamin E to widen blood vessels and reduce inflammation. Get vitamin E from almonds, peanut butter and broccoli.

Zinc for improved growth and immune function. Get zinc from seafood, chicken, cheese and beef.

How Water Helps Kids With SCD

Staying hydrated helps reduce the sickling of red blood cells. It can also prevent pain crisis and infections. Have your child drink 8 to 10 8-ounce glasses of water every day. Make sure they always have bottled water at school and activities.

In addition to water, you can help your child stay hydrated with these options:

  • Fruits like watermelon and strawberries
  • Vegetables link iceberg lettuce and cucumbers
  • Juices
  • Milk
  • Soups
  • Sports drinks
  • Popsicles

Meal Planning for Kids With Sickle Cell Disease

We know it can be hard to get kids to eat well, especially if they’re picky eaters.

If you need kid-friendly recipes, check out the Nemours Eating Well With Sickle Cell cookbook. In addition to meal and snack recipes, our dietitians offer detailed advice and information on the importance of healthy eating with SCD.

For more assistance, you can also make an appointment for one-on-one nutrition counseling with a dietitian. You may need a referral from your child’s physician.

What is Nutrition Counseling?

Nutrition counseling helps kids get the nutrients they need to stay healthy. This is important, especially in children with lifelong conditions like SCD.

At Nemours, our dietitians work closely with hematology experts to understand your child’s specific needs. We start by assessing your child’s condition, treatment plan and current diet.

We offer education, personalized nutrition plans and support to help you make dietary changes that fit your family’s life. We know it’s a process and we work to make it easier for you.

Our team may see your child while they’re in the hospital or as an outpatient. We’re here every step of the way to keep your child healthy and strong, and free of pain.

Find out more about nutrition services at Nemours.

You can also learn more about sickle cell disease in children from the Nemours experts at

Michell Fullmer, RD, LDN, CSP, CNSC

Michelle Fullmer, RD, LDN, CSP, CNSC, is a senior clinical dietitian for the Nemours Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, at Nemours Children's Hospital in Wilmington, Del.