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Prednisone: What to Eat While You Are Taking Prednisone

Prednisone is a medication (a steroid drug) that is prescribed by your doctor for some diseases. While you are taking prednisone you will need to change what you eat and drink.

Prednisone has some side effects, including:

  • weight gain
  • increased appetite
  • high blood pressure
  • higher risk of developing osteoporosis​ or steroid-induced diabetes

This resource will explain what to eat and drink while you are taking prednisone to help lessen these side effects.

What kinds of foods should you eat while you are taking prednisone?

While taking prednisone, you need to eat a healthy and balanced diet of foods that are:

  • low in sodium (often called salt)
  • rich in calcium and vitamin D
  • low in calories

Eat foods that are low in sodium

We get sodium from the foods we eat, and most of it comes from salt. Sodium helps to control the amount of water in our bodies as well as our blood pressure.

You need to eat foods that are low in sodium because prednisone can cause you to hold extra water in your body. This causes swelling or puffiness, usually around your eyes and ankles. Too much salt in your diet can make this problem worse.

Eating foods low in sodium may also help to control your blood pressure​.

How to lower the amount of sodium in your diet

These suggestions will help lower the amount of sodium in your diet:

  • Keep the salt shaker out of sight.
  • Use less salt when cooking.
  • Do not put salt on your food.
  • Avoid foods that are processed, for example, hot dogs, luncheon meats, bacon and sausages, canned foods, TV dinners, foods with MSG (monosodium glutamate) and instant soups, instant noodles and instant meals.
  • Avoid soya sauce, hoisin sauce, and other sauces that are high in sodium. Choose lower sodium options if available.
  • Choose foods that are labeled “low salt,” “sodium free,” or “salt free.”
  • Use salt substitutes, herbs, and other seasonings like Mrs Dash for flavour.

Eat foods that are rich in calcium and vitamin D

Prednisone increases the risk of developing osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is when bones become thin and have a higher chance of breaking. Making sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet can help strengthen your bones.

How much calcium and vitamin D do you need each day?

Calcium & Vitamin D Requirements

Age (in years)

Calcium

Vitamin D*

1 to 3

500 mg

400 IU

4 to 8

800 mg

400 IU

9 to 18

1300 mg

400 IU

* You may need more vitamin D. Your doctor or dietitian will let you know how much.

Which foods are good sources of calcium and vitamin D?

 

 

Calcium

Vitamin D

Drinks

1 cup milk (skim, 1%, 2%, 3.25% or chocolate)

300 mg

100 IU

1 cup fortified soy beverage

300 mg

100 IU

1 cup fortified orange juice

300 mg

N/A

Foods - Dairy

1 cup yogurt (plain or fruit flavoured)

200 mg

10 IU

2 oz (50 g) hard & non-processed cheese such as Cheddar, Colby, Edam

350 mg

80 IU

2 oz (50 g) Mozzarella cheese

290 mg

80 IU

½ cup low-fat cottage or light creamed cheese

75 mg

N/A

Foods - Other

¾ cup cooked broccoli

50 mg

N/A

1 cup baked beans

160 mg

N/A

3.5 oz fatty fish (wild) such as salmon, tuna and mackerel

N/A

300 IU

1 oz (30 g) canned salmon with bones

78 mg

130 IU

Eat foods that are low in calories

Prednisone can make you hungrier. This means you will need to choose foods that are low in calories so that you don’t gain too much weight. Some weight gain is needed for growth, and weight gain will happen while taking prednisone, but too much weight gain is harmful: it can lead to overweight, obesity, and other health problems.

Eating foods low in calories also helps prevent high levels of sugar and cholesterol (a type of fat) in the blood.

Foods that are low in calories include:

  • fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables
  • low-fat dairy products
  • lean meats and alternatives
  • high-fibre grains

Avoid sugary foods and “junk” foods.

Besides eating foods that are low in calories, it is also very important that you are physically active. Watching calories and being active will help prevent weight gain.

REMEMBER: It is easier to control your weight than to lose weight.

How much food should I eat per day?

The following table shows the recommended number of servings of food per day you should eat according to Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating. 

 

Children

Teens

Sex

Girls and Boys

Girls

Boys

Age

2 to 3

4 to 8

9 to 13

14 to 18

14 to 18

 

Recommended Servings per Day

Fruits and Vegetables

4

5

6

7

8

Grain Products

3

4

6

6

7

Milk and Alternatives

2

2

3 to 4

3 to 4

3 to 4

Meat and Alternatives

1

1

1 to 2

2

3

1 serving of fruits and vegetables is:

  • ½ cup (125 mL) fresh frozen or canned vegetables
  • ½ cup (125 mL) cooked vegetables
  • 1 cup (250 mL) raw leafy green vegetables
  • 1 fruit
  • ½ cup (125 mL) unsweetened 100% fruit juice

1 serving of grain products is:

  • 1 slice bread
  • ½ bagel OR ½ pita OR ½ tortilla
  • ½ cup (125 mL) cooked rice, quinoa, couscous
  • ¾ cup (180 mL) hot cereal OR 1 cup (30 g) dry cereal
  • ½ cup (125 mL) cooked pasta

1 serving of milk and alternatives is:

  • 1 cup (250 mL) milk
  • 1 cup (250 mL) fortified soy, rice, almond beverage
  • ¾ cup (175 g) yogurt
  • 1.5 oz (50 g) cheese

1 serving of meat and alternatives is:

  • 2.5 oz (75 g or ½ cup) cooked fish, shellfish, poultry, lean meats
  • ¾ cup (150 g) tofu
  • ¾ cup cooked legumes, beans, soy
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) peanut butter
  • ¼ cup shelled nuts and seeds

Some healthy food choices

This table provides examples of foods to choose and avoid while taking prednisone.

Food Group

Choose

Avoid

Fruits and Vegetables

Steamed vegetables

Cucumber slices

Homemade soups 

Canned fruits packed in water

Baked or mashed potatoes

Green salads + low fat dressing

Fried or battered vegetables

Pickles or pickled vegetables

Mr. Noodles, Cup of Soup

Canned fruits in syrup 

French fries 

Salads with mayonnaise (egg or tuna) and full fat dressings

Grain Products

Unsweetened cereals

Pasta + tomato sauce

Steamed rice

Whole grain breads

Unsalted crackers

Rice cakes

Low-fat, low-sodium microwave popcorn

Low-fat muffins

Sweetened cereals

Pasta + cream sauce

Fried rice

Cheese or nut bread

Salted crackers

Potato chips

Buttered popcorn 

Donuts, cakes

Milk and Alternatives

Skim or 1% milk

Fat-free yogurt

Fat-free pudding 

Low-fat frozen yogurt

Low-fat cheeses and spreads (4%, 7%, 15% MF)

2% or 3.25% milk

Regular yogurt

Regular pudding

Ice cream

Full fat cheese (35% MF), processed cheese, Cheese Whiz

Meats and Alternatives

Lean cuts of meat

Poultry without skin

Cooked fresh ham and other meats

Roast beef, pork, lamb, goat 

Fish canned in water

Fatty or battered meats

Fried chicken

Salted or smoked meats 

Deli meats, cold cuts, black forest ham, corned beef, bologna

Fish canned in oil

Other Foods

Sugar free Kool-Aid, Crystal Light

Diet soda/pop

Sugar free gum

Low-fat granola bars, trail mix

Dried fruits

Low-fat, low-sodium popcorn, salt-free pretzels

Kool-Aid 

Regular soda/pop

Sweetened gum

Chocolate bars

Energy bars

Candies

Potato chips, cheezies, salted nuts

Tips at home

Snack ideas (low calorie and low sodium):

  • 1 piece of fresh fruit
  • Fresh vegetables with low-fat, low-sodium dip
  • Celery with fat-free cream cheese
  • Salad with Calorie-Wise dressing or oil & vinegar dressing
  • 1 fat-free yogurt (e.g. Source, Silhouette)
  • 1 mini-bag low-fat, low-sodium popcorn
  • 1 low-fat granola or cereal bar
  • 2 plain cookies (e.g. social tea, arrowroot, digestives)
  • 1 small low-fat muffin
  • 1 slice of whole grain bread with no-sugar jam
  • 1 scoop low-fat frozen yogurt or low-fat ice cream
  • 1 cup sugar-free Jell-O or fat-free pudding
  • 6 unsalted soda crackers + 3 small slices low-fat cheddar cheese

Be smart when you cook

  • Use pots and frying pans that are specially treated so that the food will not stick to them. Or instead of oils, use a cooking spray that is low in fat.
  • Do not fry foods. Bake, broil, roast, or barbecue them instead.
  • Take the fat you can see off of your meat. Take the skin off chicken.
  • Try not to eat sauces, dressings, and gravy unless they are ‘low-fat’ or ‘fat-free.’

Be smart when you eat

  • Eat at the kitchen table and not in front of the TV.
  • Keep the salt, butter and margarine off the table.
  • Start your meal with a glass of water or a salad so that you will be less hungry and eat less.
  • Eat only small to medium amounts of food at each meal.
  • If you are hungry for more food after you finish your meal, have more vegetables, salad, or fruit.

Get your family to help

The best way your family can help is by eating healthy foods and being physically active too. Get your parents, brothers and sisters, friends, grandparents, babysitters, neighbours, and teachers excited about the healthy foods you are eating. It is harder for you to have good eating and exercise habits if your family and friends do not have them too!

How to learn more about the calories and sodium in the foods you eat

Reading food labels

Food labels will help you learn more about your food and pick healthy choices for your diet. It is important to learn how to read a nutrition label.

Nutrition Facts Label
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Serving Size

The serving size tells what a single portion of a food is. The rest of the information on the label is for the serving size listed. If you are eating a larger or smaller amount of the food, use the information on the label to figure out the nutrients for the portion you are going to eat.

Major Nutrients

This list tells you how much of the nutrient there is per serving.

  • A low-sodium food contains less than 200 mg sodium per serving.
  • Choose foods with less than 10 g sugar per serving while taking prednisone.

Percent Daily Value

The % Daily Value (DV) tells you if the food contains a little or a lot of that particular nutrient. The % DV is based on recommendations for a healthy diet.

  • 5% DV or less is a little of that nutrient.
  • 15% DV or more is a lot of that nutrient.

Ingredients

Ingredients are listed in order of weight, from the largest to the smallest amount.  When an ingredient is listed near the beginning of the list, it means that the food has a lot of this ingredient. Also, a type of ingredient can be listed more than once using a different word. For example, sucrose, glucose, fructose, dextrose, corn syrup and honey all mean sugar.

So, if the ingredient label lists salt, sodium, fats, oils, or sugars near the start of the list or many times, it is best not to eat that food.

Health Claims

Health claims help us make informed choices about the product.

How long will you have to eat foods that are low in salt and calories?

You need to eat foods that are low in calories and sodium the entire time that you are taking prednisone. Usually, the amount of prednisone that you take is slowly lowered and then stopped. When you stop taking prednisone, you can continue eating foods that are low in calories and sodium, or you can stop eating them if you want. If you are restarted on prednisone, you will have to watch your diet again.

Key points

  • Prednisone has side effects such as weight gain, increased appetite, high blood pressure, and a higher risk of developing osteoporosis or steroid-induced diabetes.
  • Eating a healthy and balanced diet that is low in sodium (salt), rich in calcium and vitamin D, and low in calories can help with some of these problems. You should also try to be physically active.
  • Read the labels on the foods you eat to help you choose healthy foods.
  • Ask your family and friends for support.

Jennifer Buccino, MEd, RD, CDE

 




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