How Can I Tailor My Diet To My Needs?

HYANNIS – What’s the best way to lose weight? Where can you turn for help with your child’s lactose intolerance? Who can show you how to enjoy your favorite foods while following a diabetic diet?

Registered dietitians (RDs) and licensed dietitian nutritionists (LDNs) are food and nutrition experts who are committed to improving the health of their patients, clients and communities. Their work is diverse and often specialized.

To call attention to what these healthcare professionals can do for you and your family, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics created national Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day, which is celebrated each year in March. Courtney Shea, MMHC RD LDN, clinical nutrition manager at Cape Cod Healthcare, manages a staff of eight registered dietitians who provide inpatient care.

Registered dietitians work in a wide variety of settings throughout the community, she said, such as:

Cape Cod Hospital, Falmouth Hospital and JML Care Center
The Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) of Cape Cod
Schools
Public health clinics
Long-term care facilities
Fitness centers
Private practice
“Whatever the setting, when you see an RD or an LDN, the last thing you’ll get is one-size-fits-all diet advice,” said Shea. “We read test results, ask you about your health history, favorite foods, eating and exercise habits, and then we work with you to create a very tailored plan. You should be able to enjoy food while eating a healthy diet.”

Shea advises consulting an RD or LDN for the best medically-sound consultation on diet.

“One of the most important things to remember is that, in Massachusetts, virtually anyone can call him or herself a nutritionist, regardless of education. The term ‘nutritionist’ is not regulated by a licensing body. When working with an individual on nutrition, diet and wellness, ask about their education and credentialing,” she said.

RDs and LDNs have completed the education and training established by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). Each has earned a bachelor’s degree, passed a national registration exam, and completed at least 900 hours in an accredited, supervised practice at a healthcare facility, food service organization and community agency.

According to Shea, registered dietitians in the inpatient setting can help you with the following and more:

The highest level of nutritional counseling
Help managing chronic diseases (high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, kidney disease or other chronic conditions)
Weight management (losing or gaining weight)
Tube feeding management
Living with food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances
Nutrition care for babies, children, as well as pregnant and nursing mothers
Malnutrition, especially among the elderly
Special dietary needs of nursing home residents
Many of these services are also provided outside the hospital setting.

Amy Rose Sager, RDN, LDN, CLT, digestive health specialist is one of many Cape Cod RDNs who provide outpatient services. As a visiting dietitian with the VNA, she makes home visits on and off-Cape.

“These patients have congestive heart failure, diabetes, cancer, kidney disease and other conditions. I help educate them using what they have in their cupboards. They learn how to understand ingredients and make healthy dietary choices. I do a lot of teaching,” said Sager.

She also consults on menus at assisted living centers, does nutritional counseling with patients at a psychiatric hospital as well as counsels individuals on digestive health in her private practice, Leap Into Wellness.

There are RDs and LDNs who specialize in kidney disease, kidney dialysis, pediatrics, eating disorders and more, she said.

Shea became a dietitian because she loves food and has always been very focused on staying healthy.

“I found out that eating better made me feel better, and I wanted to share that with others,” she said.

Sager’s inspiration is similar.

“I took a cooking class and started realizing that how I ate would affect me when I get older. That’s when I went back to school to be a dietitian. I was into junk food at the time, but am now into plant-based eating, and I like to share that with others who think they might be interested,” she said.

By BETH ANN LOMBARDI, Cape Cod Health News

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