The idea of “nutrition” has gone through several evolutions over the last century. There was a time when just getting enough to eat was a major concern among much of the population, particularly during the Great Depression. People weren’t counting calories or worrying about saturated fat — they were just trying to survive.
We’ve also seen multiple renditions of diet fads — some of which were more damaging than helpful. Remember the grapefruit diet or canned peaches with cottage cheese? How about the so-called “low-fat” processed cookies and other treats? In recent years, the ketogenic diet has been all the rage.
We can’t blame medical experts for not knowing what they didn’t know in previous decades. Today, there is ample research surrounding nutrition and its impact on the human body, and individuals seek nutritional advice for various reasons beyond just weight loss. For those passionate about nutrition and helping individuals achieve overall better health, a Master of Science (M.S.) in Nutrition with a Specialization in Applied Nutrition is the perfect fit.
Rising Demand for Nutritional Counseling
The critical role of nutrition in maintaining good health and preventing diseases is undisputed. As more people look to improve their eating habits and maintain a healthier lifestyle, the demand for nutritional counseling rises. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that the demand for nutritionists and dietitians is an expected 7% through 2031.
However, for counseling to be effective, nutrition specialists must be adept at communication and offer individualized guidance that accounts for cultural backgrounds and personal histories. Programs such as Lamar University’s online M.S. in Nutrition – Applied Nutrition are designed to train future nutritionists on how best to conduct nutrition education in diverse settings.
Key Practices to Ensure Effective Nutritional Counseling
One course offered in Lamar University’s program is Nutrition Education & Counseling. As the name suggests, this course aims to equip students with the necessary skills for effective counseling.
According to an article by the American Academy of Physician Associates (AAPA), some of the best skillsets to possess include:
- Use active listening and open-ended questions and prompts (such as, “Tell me about diets you’ve tried in the past”).
- Avoid “blame speak” when discussing patients’ needs.
- Request patients to record a 24-hour log of everything they eat and drink.
- Highlight foods individuals should eat rather than what they shouldn’t.
- Set goals and follow-up expectations, particularly if nutritional shifts support a medical condition (like diabetes and high cholesterol).
These practices ensure that the nutritionist can understand each patient’s unique needs and provide personalized advice.
Top Benefits of Nutritional Counseling
Effective counseling has an extensive impact on nutrition. People seek nutritional counseling for a number of reasons, such as weight loss, speedier recovery from injury, improved mental health, better athletic performance and a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Nutritionists must provide education that helps individuals make informed decisions about their diet.
Furthermore, effective nutritional counseling plays a significant role in disease prevention and management. The nutritionist is in a unique position to educate patients on how specific dietary choices can either mitigate or exacerbate certain conditions.
For instance, nutrition counseling is instrumental in managing medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes and other blood sugar-related issues, metabolic disorders, food allergies and eating disorders. By helping patients understand the implications of their dietary choices, nutritionists can guide patients toward healthier alternatives that can prevent or alleviate these conditions.
Importance of Cultural Competence
Another course offered in Lamar University’s online M.S. in Nutrition – Applied Nutrition program is Food, Culture, & Health, which emphasizes the interplay among culture, food and wellness. People’s food choices are often deeply rooted in their cultural backgrounds, and these choices may not always align with general nutritional recommendations. Understanding these cultural factors is crucial for nutritionists, as it helps them provide culturally sensitive advice — which is more likely to be followed by patients.
Understanding and respecting cultural dietary practices is vital for establishing rapport with patients. The knowledge acquired in the Food, Culture, & Health course enables graduates to approach counseling from a more holistic perspective, accounting for not just the nutritional content of food but also the cultural significance and personal relationships individuals have with their diets.
Ready to Get Started?
Anyone interested in pursuing a career in nutritional counseling has a tremendous opportunity with the online M.S. in Nutrition – Applied Nutrition program at Lamar University. As students come to understand the science behind nutrition and the cultural aspects of food, they can provide personalized, culturally competent advice to patients. Through future counseling, they will improve awareness and outcomes for patients and play a vital role in preventing and managing diseases associated with dietary choices.