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How much nutrition advice did your doctor dole out at your last checkup? Chances are, none. Most appointments last less than 15 minutes, which doesn’t leave time for a thorough diet assessment, but that doesn’t mean that physicians shouldn’t broach the subject at all.
Here are 10 things your doctor may not tell you about nutrition, and what you need to know if they don’t.
1. Nutrition is important. Eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight are two of the most effective ways to prevent the most common chronic diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers, and good nutrition can also optimize treatment and reduce complications in people who already have these conditions. Yet, most doctors spend little to no time addressing these issues with patients. Although doctors need to prioritize their time during frustratingly brief office visits, spending just one to two minutes emphasizing nutrition and physical activity is feasible and much-deserved, given food’s broad impact on health.
2. I didn’t receive professional training in nutrition. According to a 2010 survey, medical schools dedicate on average about 20 hours of student’s 4-year training to nutrition education, and much of that instruction focuses on biochemical pathways (shockingly, memorizing the steps in glucose metabolism isn’t all that useful when it comes time to counsel patients on foods that can lower cholesterol). Groups of dedicated physicians are now (finally) championing the issue of comprehensive nutrition education as part of doctors’ medical training, but these changes are happening way too slowly. Doctors must get up to speed on basic nutrition science and guidelines in order to offer the best care possible.
3. Calories aren’t the only thing that matter. In the interest of efficiency, many physicians address nutrition and weight control using the simple mantra, “calories in, calories out.” Energy balance is indeed essential, but the quality of calories is just as important as quantity. Choosing nutrient-dense, whole foods, including vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains will help you meet your micronutrient needs, improve digestive health, and feel full on fewer calories, among other benefits.
4. There is no “best” diet. Some physicians advocate one particular diet because it has performed well in research studies or worked well for other patients (or even for themselves), and they can be pretty rigid in their beliefs. However, research shows that a multitude of different eating styles can be healthful, and the one-size-fits-all-approach often backfires. Nutrition counseling should be individualized in order to make lifestyle changes sustainable.
5. Losing weight isn’t easy, and I understand that. Behavior change, whether losing weight, modifying eating habits, or incorporating a fitness routine, takes tremendous effort and discipline. There is no simple solution, despite how matter-of-fact your physician’s advice may be, and a little empathy from your doc can go a long way towards building rapport and trust. Doctors who recognize the challenges associated with healthy living and encourage and troubleshoot rather than scold are more likely to break through to patients.
6. We need to set some nutrition goals. Your doctor may generically encourage you to “eat more fruits and vegetables” or “eat less red meat”, but blanket statements like that are easily forgotten. A better approach is to work together to set one to two specific health goals to conquer before your next visit, like eating 3 cups of vegetables a day or swapping your afternoon snack for a heart-friendly handful of nuts.
7. Eating better can improve your mental and emotional health. Doctors tend to focus on the physiological benefits of a healthier diet, like lowering blood pressure or blood sugar, but the psychological rewards can be just as powerful. Making smart food choices can boost mood, energy, and mental focus.
8. You’re wasting your money on that multivitamin. Most physicians breeze over the topic of supplements, but some may suggest taking a multivitamin as a way to fill in nutritional gaps. However, if you are a generally healthy person who eats a relatively varied diet, a multivitamin is unlikely to provide any benefit. A growing body of research shows that that a “prophylactic multivitamin” doesn’t reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, cognitive decline, or other chronic disease in the general population.
9. Your diet is low in X — you should eat more Y. Your doctor may tell you to eat more foods high in calcium, folate, iron, or fiber to help with a particular health condition, but many (understandably) don’t know which foods actually contain these nutrients in the highest amounts. You’ll want to consult a reputable source or work with a registered dietitian to identify specific foods to increase in your diet.
Related: 6 Foods Nutrition Experts Won’t Eat
10. You’re not drinking enough water. In serious and critical settings, doctors are laser-focused on patients’ hydration status, but they rarely ask about it during routine visits. Chronic, low-grade dehydration can cause fatigue, headaches, and constipation and contribute to more serious problems like kidney stones and kidney disease, so make sure you’re sipping enough water and other low-cal liquids to produce pale, straw-colored urine.
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This article originally appeared on EverydayHealth.com: 10 Things Your Doctor Won’t Tell You About Nutrition