A recent merger of several nutrition-focused organizations is highlighting the need for a new attitude about what people eat and drink. The opportunity for nurses to bring this into their daily practices is huge as they can help patients with the food choices that will have the greatest health impact.

The newly formed nonprofit American Nutrition Association is a merger of the American College of Nutrition; the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists; the Center for Nutrition Advocacy; the Accreditation Council for Nutrition Professional Education; and the American Nutrition Association Foundation. The new group sees better nutrition as a broad-sweeping problem that requires a broad scope of experts to help fix it. From the people who grow and distribute food to the policy proponents who can bring change into schools and neighborhoods to the funders who can support new initiatives, the group aims for an ecosystem approach to change.

The driving factor behind the new association is the enormous health risk poor nutrition brings to human health including those that are greater than known health-wreckers like smoking or a sedentary lifestyle. Food, in essence, is a nonpharmaceutical medicine people can use to improve their health.

Nurses are proponents of good nutrition because they know the direct result it can have on all ages—from children’s development to chronic illness in adults. A lack of proper nutrition has far-reaching impacts where it can create problems in both physical and emotional health. Nurses also know some of the barriers patients face in having access to or preparing healthy meals. Personalized nutrition is one of the new group’s pillars, and nurses can use this as a way to talk with and help patients choose food that nourishes their bodies and is affordable and attainable. They can help them explore alternatives for their usual diet.

In addition to access, education is an essential part of a proper diet. For nurses, who are well-informed and educated about the benefits of kale over crackers, helping patients understand their choices and how that can fit into their lives provides an important foundation to build on. Showing patients what good nutrition looks like is a starting step.

Nutrition is also important because it is something people can change when they think about a healthier lifestyle. People can’t choose their genetics, but they can change what they eat for dinner or what they snack on. And it’s simple to make small changes. Patients don’t want to hear they have to make an entire overhaul of their diets (unless their illness forces that kind of top-to-bottom change). In fact, many people who think they have to cut out everything they love will find that kind of plan too overwhelming to even begin.

Hearing that you can still have a big impact on health with small modifications is often motivating. Patients can swap out a serving of pasta for a salad or a serving of vegetables. They can bring a lunch instead of relying on a takeout lunch that’s generally higher in fat, salt, and calories and lower in essential nutrients.

What kind of changes can you help your patient population with?

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil is a freelance writer based in Bolton, Massachusetts.
Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

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