Nurses wear many hats -- and not just the classic folded-up white ones. Preventive and whole-body education are vital to a nurse's role, which can range from care provider to teacher. An understanding of nutrition and healthy food choices for patients is a vital part of a nurse's career because giving valuable health advice can help a nurse promote wellness.
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In the Hospital
In a hospital setting, physicians will issue orders for a diet type just as they write orders for medications or treatments. Knowledge of nutrition plays a role for the nurse because she must be aware of the significance of each diet. A nurse must know the component of each diet because if a patient asks for a carton of milk on a clear-liquid diet, this is not permitted. A full-liquid diet permits dairy products, however. Knowing low-sodium and low-sugar choices for cardiac and diabetic patients, respectively, also is important for ensuring that the patient does not eat foods that would adversely affect his health.
Nurses are constantly engaged in teaching moments, particularly for preventive care. For example, if a patient has a family history of high blood pressure, a nurse may wish to teach her about healthy choices, such as a low-sodium diet, that can slow the onset of high blood pressure. Nurses also can help to review a patient's current diet to pinpoint areas where she can make healthier food selections.
Nutrition Knowledge and Medications
Nutrition plays a further role in nursing when it comes to reviewing a patient's medication list. For example, patients who are on therapies to prevent blood clotting may need to avoid leafy, green vegetables and other vitamin K-containing foods. This is because vitamin K can decrease the beneficial effects of blood thinners. Some foods such as grapefruits and foods containing tyramine, an amino acid or building block of protein responsible for regulating blood pressure, can interfere with medication therapies. Examples of tyramine-containing foods include aged cheeses, soy sauce and draft beer. When educating a patient on a new medication, nutrition must be a key component discussed to ensure safe drug administration.
Taking a nutrition class can be a common component of nursing school prerequisites, according to the "Nursing Times" journal. Nursing school students also can expect nutrition to be frequently emphasized as a key component of patient care. When nurses receive their licenses, they also may seek special certifications in nutrition-related capacities. For example, a nurse can become a certified diabetes educator, which requires her to have an understanding of nutrition as it relates to the diabetes disease process.