As March arrives, we rejoice in the promise of spring sunlight and start planning ahead for summer and its associated clothing, which tends to be a bit more … revealing, shall we say. If we’re really motivated, we might dust off our (quickly forgotten) New Year’s weight-loss resolutions, adjusting our carb:veggie ratio to get beach-ready. Furthermore, March historically signified the start of farming season—making it a natural fit for National Nutrition Month.
In 1973, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) initiated a week-long campaign to educate the public about healthy eating, encouraging good dietary and exercise habits. The campaign became a month-long observance in 1980, in response to increased consumer interest in nutrition.1 Since then, AND has produced videos and other materials to assist the public in making better food choices and adjusting meal plans to fit individual energy needs.
This guidance is needed more now than ever before. About 75% of Americans follow a diet that is low in fruits, vegetables, dairy, and oils (compared to the recommended values)—and most exceed the recommended allotment for added sugars, sodium, and saturated fats.2 It’s no surprise, then, that two-thirds of US adults are either overweight or obese.2
It is imperative that we, as health care providers, provide our patients and their families with practical, evidence-based information about healthy food choices. But are we sufficiently educated to provide that guidance?
I admit, my confidence in my nutritional knowledge falls short of the mark. I vaguely recall nutrition being discussed in one of my basic nursing courses; diets designed for specific disease entities were introduced as I progressed in my education. But a specific nutrition course is not a requirement in the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education’s Essentials of Baccalaureate Education for Professional Nursing Practice—even though nutrition is directly linked to wellness and health promotion is an essential component of nursing practice.3 (This inconsistency in nutrition education holds true for our PA colleagues, as well.)
How, then, do we educate ourselves so that we can impart the necessary guidance to our patients? The plethora of articles—some more scholarly than others—on what we should and should not eat can be very confusing.
Generally, though, the soundest advice encourages a healthy lifestyle, with emphasis on consistent, enjoyable eating practices and regular physical activity. Of particular note: The word “diet” is not included in most guides. Rather, we are advised to make small changes to the way we think about eating.
Substituting fruit for added sugar, whole grains for refined grains, and oils for solid fats are just a few simple ways to transition to a healthier eating regimen.2 Another adaptation is to plan out meals and snacks prior to food shopping; this not only prevents us from making poor choices and purchasing items based on impulse or hunger, but also decreases food waste. These comparatively small adjustments can make a real difference over time.