Back to Basics
Six-and-a-half years, and more than 1,200 hours of supervised practice later, I made the transition . . . goodbye dietetic intern, hello working professional!
I work as a clinical dietitian at a local hospital and absolutely love what I do. Each day brings new stories, patients, and opportunities to educate, improve, and transform people’s lives with the power of food.
Now, you may be thinking, “That’s great and all, but isn’t a Registered Dietitian (RD) the same as a nutritionist?” My answer: “NO!” As the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states, “All RDs are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are RDs.” Allow me to explain—anyone with an internet connection, credit card, and little to no [nutrition] education can purchase a certificate and call themselves a nutritionist.
On the other hand, RDs are the only professionals that can legally call themselves nutrition experts and give specific medical nutrition therapy. Treatment of some diseases are very nutrition-dependent. While MDs are allowed to give nutrition advice, they typically only have one class of nutrition education during their entire learning experience. At minimum, a registered dietitian will have completed a Bachelor’s of Science in nutrition and dietetics, a Master’s degree (as of 2024 and beyond this will be a mandatory requirement for all incoming dietitians), and at least 1,200 hours supervised practice in a variety of dietetic settings. Perhaps most importantly, we sit for (and pass!) a national registration exam to earn those coveted credentials, RD or RDN (Registered Dietitian or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist).
Now that we have that cleared up . . .
Dietitians get asked a lot of questions, but the one I hear most frequently is, “What should I eat?” Yes, that’s it! The burning question on everyone’s mind is simply, what should I eat? I am serious and sincere when I respond with, “Food, the fresher the better.” Now sometimes I get a blank look, other times a laugh or a smile, but every time—I elaborate.
There are three macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids (fats). Macronutrients are essential for proper body functioning and all macronutrients must be obtained through diet, as the body cannot produce macronutrients on its own.
Think of carbohydrates as the gas needed to fuel a car. Without gas, a car won’t run. Likewise, without an adequate intake of carbohydrates, our bodies won’t have the fuel they need to function properly. Carbohydrates break down into glucose, which is the body’s preferred source of energy. Glucose can be used right away, or it can be stored in the liver and muscles for future use. Don’t be fooled: carbs are more than just bread and pasta. All fruits and vegetables contain various amounts of carbohydrates, and dairy counts, too! Whole grain sources of carbohydrates will also provide more fiber, and serve as important players in bowel regularity.
Protein is an important component of every cell in the body. Your body uses protein to build and repair tissues. Proteins help make enzymes and hormones, and are important building blocks of muscles, skin and blood. Similar to the frame of a car, huh? Protein provides structure! Meats like chicken, turkey, beef and pork, fish/seafood, eggs, seeds/nuts, soy, and legumes like chickpeas and lentils are all great sources of protein.
Lipids (fats) are an essential part of our diet. The body uses lipids to store energy; regulate and signal hormones; insulate and protect vital organs; rebuild cell membranes; and increase absorption of vitamins. Increased consumption of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (think avocado, olive oil, salmon, etc.) and decreased consumption of saturated fats (fatty cuts of meat, cream, etc.) has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and high cholesterol. Be aware: fats are more calorie-dense than carbohydrates and protein, so go easy on them. A little goes a long way.
In an ideal world we’d all be eating meals from home, we’d all get the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables in a day, and we would drink more water. Realistically, this is not the case. So what can you do to eat food, the fresher the better?
Aim to eat at least two meals prepared from home each day. Meal prepping is a wonderful tool that makes healthier eating much easier. Take ten extra minutes the night before to prep an easy and nutritious breakfast. Overnight oats is a great place to start! Planning some quick dinner ideas on Sunday night takes the guesswork out of, “What’s for dinner?” Meals don’t have to be extravagant. Pair a lean protein (baked chicken breasts) with some vegetables (a side salad or steamed veggies) and a whole grain of choice (I like a hearty slice of fresh bread, like those from Crust & Crumbles, or some brown rice). Keep a list of quick meals everyone can agree upon and get them involved in the prep!
The more fresh foods we incorporate into our daily diet, the better. It’s not reasonable or realistic to say you shouldn’t eat out or can’t have a slice of cake once and awhile. The point is to find fresh foods you like, eat more of them on a daily basis, and allow yourself to enjoy the treats without guilt. When shopping for canned goods, opt for the low- or no-sodium versions. Look for frozen items and meals that are low in sodium and saturated fats. Check the label for whole grains and fiber. Drink more water and move in ways that bring you joy. There is no magic bullet, no magic combination of foods that will bring us perfect health. Optimal health comes from eating fresher foods more often, moving in ways we enjoy, and stressing less. Small changes make big differences!
By Sara Mattillion | MS, Nutrition & Dietetics