Approximately 70 percent of all causes of death in the United States are related to lifestyle. This means food choices, exercise habits and tobacco exposure largely determine one’s health. Diet is a large piece of this puzzle. We know that healthy food choices can help lower an individual’s risk for many chronic diseases such as heart disease, certain types of cancer and stroke. Despite this information, many Americans do not eat a healthy diet. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2005, only 25 percent of adults in Illinois consumed the recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

Many people will agree that making healthier food choices would be a good idea, but they may be confused about where to start. Americans receive mixed messages on healthy foods and fad diets in the media, which can make it difficult to select healthy foods even when they want to. Making healthy food choices to prevent health conditions is challenging enough. What if you already have high blood pressure or cholesterol or are overweight? Perhaps all of the above apply to you. This is when it can become overwhelming at the grocery store. Should I focus on sodium or calories? What about carbohydrates? It is easy to become frustrated and give up all together.

Individual nutrition counseling may be the answer. Working with a registered dietitian is an effective way to obtain dietary advice and suggestions based on your individual, changing needs. Individual nutrition counseling takes your medical history, food preferences and lifestyle into account and then provides you with recommendations tailored to your personal health concerns.

What can you expect when meeting with a dietitian for the first time? First, the dietitian will complete a comprehensive review of your current health conditions and lifestyle habits and address your specific concerns and questions. He or she may also ask you to complete a 24-hour food recall. You indicate all foods and beverages consumed in a 24-hour period in this detailed questionnaire. It helps the dietitian to determine current food choices and meal patterns. Next, the dietitian will provide guidance in developing healthy food choices and positive lifestyle changes on which to focus. Together, you develop specific goals that are realistic and achievable to work on for the future. Finally, the dietitian provides ongoing support to help motivate and guide you toward your goals. Goals are continually re-evaluated and updated based on the progress you make.

Nutrition therapy has the potential to save money as an alternative to more expensive treatments. It may prevent the need for medication, surgery or even hospitalization. Nutrition therapy can have a significant impact on various disease conditions, such as cholesterol, diabetes and hypertension.


Cholesterol
High cholesterol levels can contribute to the development of coronary artery disease, which can often lead to the need for costly surgeries. National recommendations for the treatment of elevated cholesterol levels recommend dietary changes before starting cholesterol-lowering medications. Studies indicate that individuals who receive nutrition counseling from registered dietitians experience a significant cost savings compared to those who choose to take cholesterol-lowering medication without nutrition therapy.

Diabetes
Diabetes is a progressive disease than can lead to expensive treatments and long-term medications. Medical nutrition therapy has the potential to decrease or eliminate oral medications that work to decrease blood glucose levels in individuals with type 2 diabetes. The Diabetes Control and Complication Trial, which was a thorough investigation of the disease, indicated that maintaining blood-glucose levels within an ideal range reduced the complication of diabetes by 60 percent.

Hypertension
High blood pressure is a disease that affects millions of Americans. The goal of treatment for individuals with mildly elevated blood pressure is to attempt to improve blood pressure with lifestyle modification before starting medications. Nutrition therapy for high blood pressure includes counseling for weight loss, if indicated, and reducing sodium in the diet. By working with a registered dietitian, many individuals with hypertension are able to prevent the need for medication, which can result in significant cost savings.

The benefits of nutrition therapy extend even beyond the cost savings. It is difficult to put a value on the years gained from leading a healthy lifestyle. Many people are amazed how small lifestyle changes such as drinking more water or eating plenty of fruits and vegetables can add up and result in big improvements in one’s health. iBi