To stay healthy in prison, ingenuity is key.
Health problems are common behind bars. During a recent National Inmate Survey, 40% of state prisoners reported having a current chronic medical condition. An estimated 33% of federal prisoners experience the same issue, with high blood pressure being the most common chronic condition reported behind bars. And 17% reported at some point having an infectious disease.
HOW TO STAY HEALTHY BEHIND BARS
Although some conditions require medication or treatment, some can be helped through better lifestyle choices.
Things like prayer, meditation, exercise, restful sleep, and healthy eating habits help us stay well and ward off diseases. Superfoods like blueberries, broccoli, kale, and artichokes have antioxidants that can help our body's cells function properly. But fresh kale isn't commonly offered at prison commissaries.
In the Spring 2021 edition of Inside Journal®, we shared a few commissary-friendly ways to stay healthy while incarcerated:
- Limit your salt and caffeine intake, which can raise blood pressure and hinder deep sleep.
- Go nuts! Walnuts, pecans, chestnuts, and even peanuts are rich in antioxidants (which may reduce the risk of diseases); almonds contain more fiber and Vitamin E than any other nut; macadamia nuts contain the most monounsaturated fat (shown to lower cholesterol and blood pressure). Just be careful not to eat too many at once, as nuts are also high in fat.
- Fill up on oatmeal! Oatmeal can help lower cholesterol, can improve blood sugar, is filling, and is high in fiber, antioxidants, and nutrients. Just be warned that some flavored oatmeal packets contain sweeteners and artificial ingredients, which can be unhealthy.
- Get fishy! Canned tuna, sardines, and salmon are all vitamin-rich, lean proteins that are high in Omega-3 nutrients, which can help your heart and mind stay healthy.
Prisoners' basic health needs are met while they are incarcerated. The prisoners with good behavior may be able to shop at the prison commissary every so often. Although resources are limited, prisoners have developed creative dishes they can make on their own.
For example, check out this recipe for Zesty Tuna Wraps.
ZESTY TUNA WRAPS
- 6 oz. tuna, drained
- 1 tbsp. salsa
- 1 small pickle, diced
- ½ tsp. ranch dressing or cream cheese
- ½ tbsp. low-fat mayo
- 1 flour tortilla*
- ½ oz. Velveeta-style cheese
Combine tuna, salsa, pickle, ranch dressing, and mayo in a bowl, stirring until well blended. Place one tortilla (the wrap) on a clean work surface. Spread cheese along one edge of wrap. Place tuna filling on top of cheese. Roll wrap starting at the edge with the filling. Roll halfway, then fold inward and finish rolling. (Hint: tortillas can crack, but if warmed first, they will be more flexible.) Warm the tuna wraps in a hot pot or microwave or eat cold.
*If your commissary doesn’t sell tortillas, spread the tuna filling on crackers or bread instead.
You can find more recipes in our prison cookbook, Inside Scoop. For additional resources on staying healthy behind bars, check out How to Survive Prison: A Guide for Prisoners by Prisoners and Women's Prison Survival Guide: A Guide for Incarcerated Women.
Disclaimer: Some of these ingredients may not be available, and restrictions on cooking vary. Be sure to comply with your facility's rules and regulations. Also, this content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Talk to your facility's medical staff about any questions you may have regarding a health condition.
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