Managing Diseases With Diet

Chronic disease is defined as a condition or disease that develops slowly over time, eventually having a significant impact on health. Chronic diseases are often incurable but can be managed with the help of medication, treatment, and lifestyle changes. Statistics show that over 50% of Americans have at least 1 chronic disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States. Managing such conditions is critical not only to the individual suffering but also to the long-term health of society. Science has shown that diet and chronic disease management go hand in hand. Food experts like nutritionists or registered dietitians (RDs) can provide the guidance and resources necessary to survive and thrive.


The chronic disease and nutrition connection

Common chronic conditions include diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, obesity, arthritis, and cancer. Some mental health conditions like depression or anxiety can also be classified as chronic diseases. All the body’s organs and systems work together, and chronic diseases often damage this balance. Dietary choices can further damage the body’s ability to manage chronic diseases. A poor diet, for instance, leads to insulin resistance, increased inflammation, hypertension, and obesity. These changes lead to worsening symptoms and an increased risk of episodes like heart attacks and strokes. Conversely, a healthy diet improves all these markers while providing the nutrients necessary for optimal function. The right foods can be instrumental in providing the support needed to manage chronic diseases.

So, eat more greens?

If diet is the issue, shouldn’t eating more fruit and vegetables be the solution? Simply ramping up intake of greens is not enough to manage chronic diseases. Each chronic disease presents different challenges and often needs a specific diet solution. For a diet to support chronic disease management, the foods must align with the medication and treatments to prevent unwanted side effects. Furthermore, the diet will need specific foods to meet micronutrient needs while lowering the risk of developing other diseases. There are also factors like age, current weight, allergies, and overall health goals to consider. A nutritionist and registered dietitian can both help sort through the confusion about diet and create a plan based on individual needs, but which professional is best?

What is a nutritionist?

People looking for a subject matter expert on food, nutrition, and the overall impact on health should turn to a nutritionist for help. Nutritionists have varying levels of expertise and roles, combining formal and informal training. A competent nutritionist provides accurate dietary advice encouraging healthy eating and improved well-being. Working with a nutritionist means developing a dietary strategy to help with healthy weight management, including losing, maintaining, or gaining weight. Some address specific chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. Nutritionists work in various spaces, including sports, hospitals, schools, and communities. The goal is to coach, motivate, provide nutritional guidelines, and help address specific dietary needs, especially for people with chronic diseases.

Calling all registered dietitians

A licensed healthcare professional in the space of nutrition is known as a registered dietician. These experts undergo extensive training, supervised practice, and certification extending to food science, nutrition, and clinical care. That training affords an RD a broader scope of practice. A dietitian can help treat chronic diseases and symptoms through diet. As a result, patients feel better, and there is a reduced dependence on medication. RDs can also provide medical nutrition therapy (MNT) by assessing and diagnosing the nutritional problems behind conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and digestive disorders. The patient receives nutritional advice, specific diets for treatment, management, and supporting healthy eating habits. The overarching goal is to see a significant improvement in health through diet.

Expert support for chronic disease management

Registered dietitians and nutritionists can be instrumental in chronic disease management. Both professionals can provide nutritional advice and personalized meal planning, considering factors such as food allergies and medication. Patients can also get coaching advice on lifestyle changes that can support nutrition. While there are similarities, there are differences. Dietitians can diagnose nutritional issues and provide specific plans. There’s also MNT, allowing dietitians to treat and manage certain conditions with food. Dietitians can also collaborate with doctors, becoming part of the medical team.

Choose your expert

Healthy eating is essential for chronic disease management. Both nutritionists and registered dietitians can provide valuable information and support needed to achieve better health outcomes. However, choosing the best option depends on multiple factors. The type and severity of the medical condition may require an RD. Some patients may have specific needs, such as managing a severe chronic disease. An RD skilled in this area can provide more experience and strategies to improve symptoms in the long term. Other factors include availability, insurance, and cost. Managing chronic disease is a lifelong challenge. Adding a nutritional expert to the treatment plan is a no-brainer.