Food is one of the most basic resources our bodies use for growth and energy, tied intricately to our well-being. Not only can what we eat affect our health, but certain conditions can affect how well our bodies process food. Nutrition is the study of this complex interaction, and when patients seek the advice of an expert to help them manage food in their life, it is called nutrition counseling.
At the most basic level, nutrition counseling can be simply a talk with a family physician. Doctors receive training in nutrition as part of their education, and they are generally qualified to make recommendations about diet for their patients. Some doctors take a professional interest in nutrition and become experts by taking extra classes or studying nutrition in their practice. In general, however, complex nutrition guidance will be referred to a nutrition specialist, generally a dietitian.
Registered dietitians are nutrition experts that have passed specific higher education, accreditation, and internship requirements. They may work in hospitals, nursing facilities, or private practices to provide nutrition therapy and advise patients about their health and diet. Like dietitians, nutritionists also work to counsel patients about food and health. Some nutritionists have degrees in nutrition or food science, but the title ‘nutritionist’ is not protected by law. In the United States, anyone is allowed to call themselves a nutritionist, regardless of their education level.
Nutrition counseling can be useful for anyone who is looking to get to a healthy weight, manage a chronic illness through diet, or simply lead a healthier lifestyle. Some examples of issues that benefit from nutrition counseling include:
High blood pressure
Digestive disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome
Pregnancy or lactation
Participation in competitive sports
During a nutrition counseling appointment, the provider -- doctor, nutritionist, or dietitian -- typically will look over your medical history and talk to you about your current diet, your goals, what kinds of food you like, and any problems that you are currently struggling with in your health or diet. Then the specialist will help you set food goals and create a customized plan to help you meet your nutritional needs. Nutrition specialists may also offer classes, workshops, cooking demonstrations, and more. Their role is not to lecture you about what you should be eating, but to offer education and resources to make eating healthy foods easier.