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How Nurses Can Help Patients Practice Good Nutrition

One of the roles a nurse plays in a patient’s life is to shed light on the importance of good nutrition.

Eating well is a vital illness-prevention tool. This is especially true when it comes to avoiding chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease.

Because nurses work in a variety of healthcare settings, individual patients might need to monitor the nutritional value of their diet for different reasons. For example, nurses working in the hospital are generally more focused on the dietary concerns of patients who are recovering from illnesses. Community nurses are often more focused on nutrition as it relates to disease and illness prevention.

Nutrients are the fuel the body needs to heal. Healthcare organizations can’t always hire full-time nutritionists, so nurses are primarily responsible for educating patients about healthy eating habits. And in some cases, nurses oversee the creation of diet plans for patients to take home and use after they are discharged.

No matter the setting, there are many ways nurses can teach their patients about proper nutrition and health. For instance, presentations given at community health centers have the potential to educate many people at one time. School nurses are also uniquely positioned to educate pediatric patients – they can present students with the facts about proper nutrition during a school assembly, in addition to giving them brochures to take home.

Taking it one step further, nutrition should be a priority for nurses, not just their patients. Nurses typically work long shifts and may have awkward schedules, which can make it hard to maintain a healthy diet.

However, according to The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, patients often are aware of the health habits of their nurses, and will be less likely to take their advice if they feel a good example is not being set.

Beware of Fad Diets

Those who maintain a balanced and nutritious diet, whether they are a nurse or a patient, generally have an easier time maintaining a healthy weight. These days, there are a plethora of miracle diets promising great results with little to no effort. WebMD refers to them as “quick-fix diets.”

Most of these diets result in weight loss, initially, but make it hard to keep the weight off in the long-term because they create unrealistic daily expectations. Losing weight the healthy way almost always requires a lifestyle change, which can take a good amount of effort and self-control.

According to WebMD, some “miracle” diets can cause people to gain more weight, because they deprive the body of necessary nutrients. They also typically have a laundry list of requirements, which can easily discourage people and cause them to revert to their previous, unhealthy habits.

Quick-fix diets can cause dangerous side effects. Here are the five categories fad diets usually fall into:

  1. Diets that restrict you to only a few foods or food groups – Any diet that rules out entire food groups should set off a red flag. A balanced diet gives the body the nutrients it needs. Restrictive diets typically force people to eat the same foods every day, which can make it easier to succumb to cravings leading to former bad eating habits. Examples of these diets include: cabbage soup diet, grapefruit diet, strict vegan diets, raw food diets and some low-carb diets.
  1. Detox diets or cleanses – These diets often call for extreme procedures like liver flushes, bodily cleanses, colonics and hormone injections. Pamela Peeke, chief medical correspondent for Discovery Health, told WebMD, that these types of diets are nonsensical and are not backed by science. The body is made to cleanse itself naturally. Organs such as the liver and kidneys, in addition to the immune system, all help to rid the body of toxins. Examples include: Master Cleanse, the Hallelujah Diet and the Martha’s Vineyard Diet Detox. 
  1. Diets with “miracle” foods or ingredients – People are always looking for a “superfood,” slimming pill or magic concoction that will help them drop the pounds, but there is no such thing as a miracle ingredient. Diets that recommend a shelf full of supplements, enzymes or potions should be treated with caution, especially if the person or company promoting the diet stands to benefit from the purchase of those products. Examples: supplements, fructose water, bitter orange, green tea, apple cider vinegar. 
  1. Diets that require extreme calorie restriction or fasting – Fasting for cultural or religious reasons has been around for centuries, and when practiced for a day or two has very few risks, but fasting for the sake of losing weight is dangerous and counterproductive. Consuming too few calories makes the body think it is starving, which causes the body’s metabolism to slow down to account for your eating habits. However, the metabolism doesn’t adjust back to normal when the fasting is completed. The weight lost while fasting is usually a combination of fat, fluid and muscle, but the weight that is gained back tends to be all fat. Examples: “Skinny” vegan diet, Hollywood Diet and Master Cleanse. 
  1. Diets that sound too good to be true – If a diet sounds too good to be true, it most likely is a fraud. Any diet plan that claims to have the secret to weight loss that makes dramatic statements against respected health authorities or makes recommendations that contradict what scientific organizations are saying should not be trusted. Example: The book, “The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About.”

Finding the Right Diet

When you know how to determine whether your diet plan is healthy, it helps to ask yourself these questions to determine which diet best suits your lifestyle:

  1. Does it match my eating style?
  2. Does it match my exercise level?
  3. Can I live with it forever?
  4. Does it include foods I like, can cook and can afford?
  5. How quickly will I lose the weight?
  6. Does it get rid of my bad habits?
  7. Will I still be able to eat my favorite foods?
  8. Does it call for small gradual changes?
  9. Does it require supplements, cleanses or detox formulas?
  10. Do I want a structured plan or one that is more flexible?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides healthcare professionals resources related to food safety and nutrition. This information includes modules on foodborne illness, nutrition facts labels, dietary advice and more.

 

In addition to giving sound guidance about diet, nurses should be motivated to follow their own advice when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet. The profession can be physically and mentally demanding, and proper nutrition is necessary to maintain nurses’ health, and in turn, their patients’.

Good nutrition can affect stress levels, weight management and energy levels. Nurses that practice good nutrition have the opportunity to inspire their patients to follow their lead.

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