Dietary counseling provides individualized nutritional care for encouraging the modification of eating habits. It may also assist in prevention or treatment of nutrition-related illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, and hyperlipidemia.
Effective dietary counseling includes a comprehensive evaluation that considers presence of disease, lipid profile, blood pressure, and weight history and goals. In addition, factors such as lifestyle, time available for food preparation, work schedule, and personal food preferences must be considered. Food choices are driven not only by the physiological necessity for nutrients, but also by the social aspects of food consumption, for example, gathering with friends at a restaurant. This complex relationship concerning food choices often makes dietary counseling a challenge for managing specific nutrition-related disease or conditions. For example, a patient with cardiovascular disease may need to select low-fat foods when attending a social dinner or party.
Today’s major health care problems are increasingly the result of acute and chronic conditions related to poor nutrition and/or overconsumption. A large proportion of coronary disease and cancer can be attributed to unhealthy eating habits and obesity. Chronic diseases continue to increase due to such factors as the rise in obesity in the American population.
Individualized nutritional counseling can provide the patient important insight into food-related illnesses and education regarding how various nutrients (protein, carbohydrate, fat, alcohol) affect illnesses or obesity. Alternatively, dietary counseling can assist in prevention of nutrition-related conditions such as the need for weight management. Dietary counseling can be tailored to meet the treatment needs of patients on diagnosis of specific illnesses, can help reduce complications and/or side effects, and can improve general well-being. Prevention at all levels: primary (preventing disease), secondary (early diagnosis), and tertiary (preventing or slowing deterioration) requires active patient participation and guidance and support from the dietician or physician. Education, motivation, and counseling are needed for effective patient participation. In addition to patient education, dietary counseling often includes meal planning.
Consumption of too little or too much of certain vitamins and minerals may lead to a nutrient deficiency or a nutrient toxicity respectively. A guide to the amount an average person needs to remain healthy has been determined for each vitamin and mineral as well as macronutrients. In the United States, this guide is called the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI). Dietary counselors may use the DRI as a guide when providing counseling. A dietitian can advise the patient about any vitamin or mineral inadequacy concerns during the dietary counseling session. The DRIs have replaced the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), but encompass both the RDAs and the upper intake limits for each nutrient.
When providing dietary counseling, registered dietitians and nutritionists should recognize the benefit of individualizing nutritional care and that a “one-size-fits-all” approach to modifying eating habits cannot be effective. There are many goals that need to be considered when planning appropriate dietary counseling. When considering the appropriate counseling approach for an individual with a specific illness, particular attention needs to be given to usual food choices, food likes and dislikes, learning style, cultural issues, and socioeconomic status.