Ever since COVID-19 started spreading around the world, immunity became the buzzword, and eating foods that strengthen the immune system became an obsession. Everyone started adding every possible nutritional food or drink they could find to their daily meals. However, nutrients can have varied impacts on different people, especially if they have lifestyle disorders like poor cholesterol, high blood pressure, and coronary heart diseases. To find the root cause of such health concerns, people need to consult not only doctors but diet and nutrition specialists as well. Doctors are experts in medicine, not in creating personalised diet plans.
Lack of proper nutrition can weaken the body's immune system. Deficiency of essential nutrients can lead to a range of health problems such as compromised gut health, fatigue, obesity, hormonal imbalance, insomnia, and other eating disorders. As a precaution, most people prefer to visit doctors for preventive healthcare check-ups and nutrition advice because they are supposed to know best about health-related problems after all. However, doctors are experts in treating diseases through medicine or surgical procedures. Unless trained separately, they are not adept at giving thorough suggestions about diet and nutrition.
Some doctors include dietary advice in their treatment and provide a broad set of suggestions for the patient to recover quickly, but providing individualised diet counselling and creating meal plans for every individual is not their area of expertise. This is where qualified dietitians come into the picture as they have formal and professional training in the specified sphere of food science, where they learn all about nutrition and how the different elements work together towards health and disease improvement.
Why are qualified dietitians more adept at offering food-related advice?
Qualified dietitians have spent at least four years learning about nutrition and various other aspects of food science, followed by standardised testing. They also have to do a minimum of six months' internship at a hospital or medical facility where they get hands-on experience under a dedicated supervisor.
Over this period, dietitians get a thorough grounding in subjects like molecular biology, biochemistry, and genetics to understand the effect of nutrients on the human body. It is pertinent to note here that a considerable part of a dietitian's job is to provide a detailed diet plan taking into consideration the patient's health and lifestyle. Dieticians often also take into account the patient's mental health and provide guidance and support in following a specific diet plan. Doctors are usually not in a position to spend hours with a patient and explain the intricacies of why the patient needs to stick with a certain diet plan.
The difference between nutritionists and dietitians
Every dietitian is a nutritionist, but not every nutritionist is a dietitian. They are similar but not the same.
Nutritionists offer a more generalised approach towards weight management, sports nutrition, gastrointestinal disorders, and food behaviour. It is possible to become a nutritionist after doing a three or six-month certificate course in nutrition science.
Dietitians require a more thorough and formalised form of education. Dietitians can help provide nutritional support in cases of underlying diseases like diabetes, hormonal disorders and obesity. They are also qualified to give medical nutrition therapy to patients with chronic kidney disease and cancer.
Role of dietary experts in our lives
A sedentary lifestyle can often lead to various so-called "lifestyle diseases" such as diabetes, obesity, anaemia, osteoporosis, PCOS and hormonal disorders. In such cases, a doctor might be able to provide a one-time solution to your concerns, but only a qualified dietitian or nutritionist can help you manage these health concerns in a more holistic way. A professional dietitian will study your physical statistics,, test reports, medical history, family history, eating and lifestyle habits before charting nutritional requirements. Medicines can treat the symptoms, but a correct diet and lifestyle can fight against the root cause of such problems.
If you want to improve general health or lifestyle disorders and don't know where to start, the first step should be improving your diet. One can only achieve the goal to improve health and immune system by adapting to a well-balanced diet. As a dietitian understands how different food groups play their role in an individual's body, it is best to connect with a well-qualified dietitian or nutritionist to improve your relationship with food and get on your path to wellness.
Lavleen Kaur is a Chandigarh-based dietician and co-founder of Diet Insight, a nutrition and weight-loss clinic.