Good nutrition is a cornerstone of good health, but it’s not always clear what good nutrition looks like. This is especially true for people suffering from chronic conditions, as some foods may be difficult, if not impossible, to handle. Patients with chronic conditions can often improve their symptoms with better nutrition as well, so there is a lot of incentive to pursue counseling with a physician. And nutrition counseling is a painless process that is done with sensitivity toward the patient, so there is no reason to delay a consultation with the family doctor.
Who can benefit from nutrition counseling?
The truth is, most people could see improvements with nutrition counseling, even among those who are otherwise healthy. However, it is most beneficial to those who need to alleviate symptoms of a chronic disease or better their odds of dodging disease related to poor nutrition, like heart disease or diabetes. Here are some examples of who should consider counseling:
- Patients trying to lose weight – This is likely the number one reason why people opt for nutritional counseling, but there are many reasons why someone might want to lose weight. It could be as simple as wanting to feel secure and comfortable, or wanting to improve energy levels. Weight loss, though, may also be a matter of life and death, particularly in patients who are extremely overweight or obese. As added weight can increase the chances of numerous disorders, including heart disease, diabetes and sleeping disorders, doctors make it a priority to help their overweight patients make the right nutritional choices.
- Patients moving to a vegetarian diet – Transitioning from an omnivorous diet to a vegetarian or vegan diet may seem simple, but it merits attention from a physician. The chief fear in patients overhauling their diet is a lack of important nutrients. It is, of course, possible to meet all nutritional needs consuming a vegetarian or vegan diet, but it often takes alternative food sources or supplements. A physician can help their patients maintain proper nutritional balance after making the move to becoming vegetarian.
- Patients suffering from hypertension or heart disease – As people age, the likelihood of suffering from high blood pressure, heart attack or stroke increases. This risk is made much worse with a poor diet that leaves fatty deposits in the patient’s arteries. Nutritional counseling can help people either prevent the onset of heart disease or control risks if hypertension or heart disease is already present. For example, a physician can offer an exhaustive list of foods that are low in saturated fats and sodium, and provide resources in how to best incorporate those foods in day to day life.
- Patients suffering from diabetes – the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes can be lowered substantially with proper diet and exercise, but even people who have developed the disease can benefit from improved nutrition. The goal in controlling diabetes is maintaining safe blood glucose levels, and doing so means strict control and vigilance over the patient’s diet. A physician can show the patient what foods to avoid to keep blood sugar levels from surging or diving, and the resulting complications that come with it.
- Patients suffering from gastrointestinal disorders – It seems obvious that nutrition and diet interact strongly with various GI disorders. Conditions like Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel disease or various food allergies are generally chronic, which means long-term nutritional adjustments are needed. With physician guidance, patients can better weather the ups and downs of their disorder, as GI conditions are notorious for their tendency to flare up at times.
- Patients at risk of high cholesterol – If cholesterol testing demonstrates potential risk factors, dietary changes will likely be required. Specifically, doctors pay attention to whether LDL cholesterol is too high, HDL cholesterol is too low, or if the patient’s triglycerides have climbed to dangerous levels. As unhealthy cholesterol levels can be a precursor to heart disease, dietary changes are a standard recommendation to patients. The aim of nutritional counseling is to offer the patient a number of dietary and recipe options to help in making healthier decisions. Long-term adherence to this dietary regimen will be essential in controlling cholesterol levels.
- Patients who have been diagnosed with cancer – Cancer is a devastating disease to contend with, and nutrition may be the furthest thing from the patient’s mind. But nutritional counseling can help patients maintain ideal nutrition levels and manage their nausea, which is a common side effect of chemotherapy treatment. As cancer treatment regimens change, nutritional counseling will as well, to adjust to the patient’s changing nutritional needs.
What to expect at nutritional counseling
Nutritional counseling proceeds much like any consultation, in that the patient drives the conversation. The first part of the appointment will concern the patient’s family medical history and the patient’s own medical history. It is during this part of the consultation that the patient should inform the doctor about any food or supplement allergies they have.
The appointment will be more effective if the patient brings in a recent food diary. The diary should include what every meal consisted of, when it was eaten and if there were any negative effects following the meal. Food diaries are especially important for patients suffering from GI conditions, as these conditions can be triggered with seemingly little pattern.
The focus, though, is what the patient wants to talk about. This involves setting goals, bringing up any concerns or potential obstacles and coming to a consensus on the best way forward. By the time the patient leaves the doctor’s office, they should have a plan in hand for meeting those goals.
Further nutritional consultations will likely be scheduled following the initial visit. These additional consultations are needed to check the patient’s progress and to address any concerns or complications they are experiencing with the new regimen. Putting together an optimal nutritional regimen takes time and patience, and physicians are in it for the long haul with their patients. With enough discipline and guidance, anyone can see improvements in their health with better nutritional management.