Dietary Information or Nutritional Information?
When you discuss improving your patient’s health through dietary changes there are a couple of things that you should consider. The most important one is the difference between dietary information and nutritional information. To most patients and far too many healthcare providers the terms are synonymous. While there is some overlap of the two terms, they do not have the same meaning.
Strictly speaking, dietary information and dieticians refer to and are concerned with macro-nutrients: calories, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and perhaps hydration. Dietary counseling refers to counting calories, balancing carbohydrates with proteins and fats, and determining the best way to achieve these goals through food choices. The four basic food groups, the food pyramid, and now the nutrition plate have all been attempts to ensure that Americans get the proper amounts of macro-nutrients, as defined by the best understanding of nutrition at the time.
Nutritional information and nutritionists are more concerned about the micro-nutrients, specific vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and supplements to best ensure that each patient is as healthy as possible. Nutritionists aim to improve overall patient’s health through specifically targeting nutritional deficiencies within the patient’s dietary framework. A nutritionist takes the dietary habits that the patient currently practices, determines the nutritional deficiencies that are present, and supplies the patient with specific recommendations or supplements to alleviate the nutritional deficiency.
The difference is similar to the level of precision between a building framer and a finish carpenter. The framer uses large pieces of lumber and fastens them together with large nails in a fairly square and straight manner. The result is the framework around which the rest of the house is built. A finish carpenter uses finely sanded, premium wood which he fastens together with precision and puts a high quality finish on the surface so that the result is as pleasing as possible to the eye. The better the job that the framer does with his rough work; the easier it is for the finish carpenter to complete the project to a high quality.
If you think of the patient’s health as a house and their diet as the building materials for the house, then you can picture a better end result using higher quality building materials and more skilled craftsmen. The framer (the dietician) begins working on the project using the materials (food) they have available to them. The project can only proceed so far due to the skills of the framer. It will be a functional structure; it will meet all building codes (government guidelines) and will last a lifetime. But it will not be good as it can be.
You need to bring in a finish carpenter (a nutritionist) to put in the finishing touches. Using different products, and more refined skills, they will bring out the best in the finished product. Finely finished touches which will bring years of enjoyment to occupants will be the result of this increased attention to detail. None of these details are required by the building code, but they will bring much more enjoyment for years to come for who are living in the structure surrounded by these finishing touches.
Most patients can survive by following the advice of dieticians and following the government guidelines toward healthy eating. But, it is important to remember that the FDA guidelines are the minimum requirements to avoid disease, which is a much lower threshold than being healthy. Health is defined as optimum being, not merely the absence of disease.
A nutritionist can make the difference between being alive and living. Many patients need specific advice and supplements to achieve maximum health. Eating healthy and following the federal nutritional guidelines are the bare minimum to establishing a healthy lifestyle. Taking the extra step to maximize your health by ensuring that all necessary nutrients are available for the body to utilize is the job of the nutritionist.
Be the expert in nutrition that your patient’s need, or at least have one on your staff, and you will be able help your patients live in a finely crafted home—their own body.
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