Health & Wellness

Go Nuts for Peanuts

By Laura Armstrong, RD LD
June 3rd, 2013

Laura Armstrong, RD LD

Peanuts, Roasted Peanuts, Boiled Peanuts, Honey-Coated Peanuts, Peanut Hummus, Peanut Brittle, Peanut Butter, Spicy Peanuts, Peanut Oil, Chocolate Covered Peanuts, Thai Peanut Sauce, Peanut butter cookies (yum!) and Peanut Pesto.

There are almost as many ways to use Peanuts as Shrimp.

Peanuts are the most popular nut in the United States and that isn’t surprising considering its versatility and nutritional value.

They are a good source, meaning they contain at least 10% of the Recommended Daily Value, of Vitamin E, Folate, Niacin, riboflavin, magnesium, and Phosphorous.

Plus, like all other plant foods, they are cholesterol free.

That does not mean they are fat free, a 1 ounce serving contains about 14 grams of fat, but 11.5g of that is the “good fats” (monounsaturated or polyunsaturated).

Peanuts are the most popular nut in the United States.

So, there we go, they are tasty, used in lots of different ways, and have a solid nutritional backbone — now where can you go to celebrate their many positive attributes?

1.)    Dothan, AL National Peanut Festival will celebrate its 70th anniversary in fall 2013.  Over 200,000 people enjoy this fun filled event. Rides, games, hometown baking and arts/crafts competitions, plus the annual crowning of a Peanut Queen and her court are some of the many “peanutty” festival events.  Fun fact: 50% of USA peanuts are grown within 100 miles of Dothan.  Also, my hometown is Dothan; which explains my “nuttiness!” However, sad as it may be; I was never selected a Peanut Queen.

The author without her peanut fix!

2.)    Suffolk, Virginia will hold its 38th annual Peanut Festival this year with live music, big cookouts, parade, a motorcycle rally, and even a demolition derby.  They obviously know a good time in Suffolk.

3.)    The Georgia Peanut Festival is a home-grown, family friendly affair in Sylvester.  Host to the Annual Peter Pan Peanut Butter Parade and plenty of live music.  This event has vendors to meet all your peanut needs.

4.)    Grapeland, Texas a city with a name that certainly compliments Peanut Butter (grape jelly – - get it?) hosts its 68th annual Peanut Festival October 2013.  A fun town with a fun-filled pageant & parade.

Like we say in Dothan, “Go Nuts for Peanuts!”

Laura Armstrong, RD, LD is a Sodexo Clinical Dietitian at the Springhill Medical Center.

Medical Nutrition Therapy

By Susan Ramsey, MS RD CDE LDN
May 15th, 2013

Susan Ramsey, MS RD CDE LDN

In 2002, when the United States Congress passed the Benefits Improvements and Protection Act, most dietitians were still trying to figure out Medicare Part A from Medicare Part B.  However a very astute and savvy area nutrition manager saw the big picture and pitched a new idea.  Noralyn Wilson, RD knew that Sodexo, as the largest employer of dietitians, had a responsibility and an opportunity to act on the new legislation.  Ten years later her idea is not only thriving but has emerged as an industry leader.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics worked tirelessly in the late 90’s, collecting the evidence and demonstrating to Congress that Registered Dietitians (RDs) and medical nutrition therapy (MNT) can make a difference.  Their hard work paid off in 2002 when the Medical Nutrition Therapy legislation was written and expanded Medicare Part B coverage to include nutrition counseling to Part B beneficiaries with diabetes or kidney disease.   Medicare, the biggest and most influential insurer in the land, recognized the work of Registered Dietitians in disease management and began reimbursing for nutrition counseling.  As things go, this was the best thing to happen in nutrition therapy since the food model.

Immediately after the new legislation was written Sodexo dedicated resources to the development of programs to assist our clients and dietitians in addressing the new Medicare benefit.  Not only were there many new rules and regulations to follow, the risk of non-compliance had severe consequences.

I’ve been managing the Sodexo Medicare MNT programs for the past 10 (gulp) years.  During that time the Medicare MNT benefit has evolved and today it continues to provide Medicare beneficiaries with outstanding nutrition service.  Sodexo’s MNT programs are in over 160 hospitals in 29 states with hundreds of Sodexo and client dietitians enrolled as Medicare providers.  Sodexo itself is enrolled with 14 different Medicare carriers.  Over 15,000 individuals have received MNT from our program sites.  In 2011, Sodexo MNT was expanded to Senior Living when our first site in Tacoma, WA was added.

Sodexo’s MNT programs are dedicated to not only ensuring Medicare compliance but also assisting our clients and dietitians in developing outpatient nutrition but more importantly helping the public manage their chronic disease, their quality of life and their wellness.  Registered Dietitians are uniquely trained in deciphering medical science and complex nutrition research and delivering it to the people.  We are proud to report that our national clinical MNT outcomes are statistically significant for weight loss, a decrease in BMI and a decrease in hemoglobin a1c, a blood value that indicates the severity of diabetes.

Over the past 10 years, our Sodexo MNT programs have fully embraced Noralyn’s original vision, maximized the Medicare MNT benefit for our patients and allowed Sodexo to emerge as a leader in comprehensive nutrition services.   Congratulations to our Registered Dietitians and MNT programs who work so hard providing Quality of Daily Life Services.

Susan Ramsey, MS RD CDE LDN, is a Senior Manager for Medical Nutrition Therapy in Yardley, Pennsylvania.

Lovin’ Carrots

By Chef Remmi Smith
May 9th, 2013

Chef Remmi Smith

Hi Friends! It’s me again — Remmi of Cook Time with Remmi and Sodexo’s Student Ambassador for Health and Wellness.  This month we are going to cook up one of my easy and delicious carrot dishes and I’m going to share with you some great fun food facts about this incredible vegetable. But first….let’s talk about the 2013 Sodexo Future Chefs: Healthy Salad Challenge.

For the past three years, Sodexo’s national Future Chefs Challenge has encouraged kids to get in the kitchen and have some fun while creating their original healthy recipe.  So cool….that is what I am all about….getting kids into the kitchen and having fun experimenting with food.  So, in addition to being the Ambassador for Sodexo, I am also the representative for their Future Chef’s program.

I am so pleased to announce that Imran Mihas, an elementary school student from Grosse Pointe School District in Michigan, is the winner of this year’s challenge.  Imran’s fantastic Tortilla Cup Salad emerged out of an original pool of more than 5,000 healthy recipes nationwide and it received more public votes than the other four national finalists.

I was lucky enough to try out and taste Imran’s recipe and I can tell you that it is as yummy and as it looks.  Congratulations Imran, I cannot wait to visit your school and help you make the recipe for your classmates to try!  I will be sure to let you know how that visit went in a future post.

The ancient Greeks loved carrots so much they called them “philtron” which means “love charm.”

Ok, now back to food!  I have created a really simple dish that is so kid friendly.

Most kids kind of like carrots……..especially when they have a bit of sweetness to them.

My recipe-Glazed Carrots with Orange Sauce have the right touch of sweetness with honey.

It is subtle…………but it’s there!  I created this recipe just using carrots but carrots work well with other vegetables like cauliflower, summer squash and potatoes to name just a few.

Please enjoy this new episode and follow along with this easy recipe.

Sometimes I get a bit crazy…that’s OK…the kitchen should be a fun place to be.

I think of the kitchen as a science lab, a place to experiment.  What’s cool is you get to eat the experiment!

Ok…now for some fun food facts: Did you know that Holtville, California is the carrot capital of the world?  Every February they hold a week long festival and they even serve carrot ice cream!  Every carrot you consume gives you enough energy to walk a mile.

The ancient Greeks loved carrots so much they called them “philtron” which means “love charm.” Beta carotene which converts into vitamin A is what gives carrots their orange color, and carrots have more beta carotene than any other vegetable. Vitamin A is important to healthy skin, bones, vision and teeth.

Did you know rabbits in the wild really do not eat carrots, but our most loved bunny character, Bugs Bunny loves them.  We always see him munching on a carrot before he delivers his famous catchphrase ”Eh, What’s up Doc?”

I guess you know by now I love to read about food and food history!  I think is makes food more fun when you learn about how it makes you healthy. It gives you something to think about when you are making food choices.

I hope you enjoy the recipe. As always, I encourage you to change it up and make your own creation.  I look forward to sharing my love of broccoli next month! It is one of my greatest recipes! I hope you are inspired to get in the kitchen and have some fun, enjoy life and the love of food. I’ve always wanted to be a cook star, and you can be a cook star too

Hugs and Veggies, Remmi

Chef Remmi Smith is Sodexo’s Student Ambassador for Health and Nutrition.

International No Diet Day

By Emily Decker, RD
May 6th, 2013

Emily Decker, RD

Have you ever tried a fad diet? Did it work for you? How long could you stick with the plan? The variety of fad diets ranges from no carbs, to only cabbage, to smoothies, and the list goes on and on. Most Americans have tried some outlandish craze to drop those 5 or 10 pounds to look good in a bathing suit, wedding dress, or suit for a high school reunion only to soon regain the pounds they suffered to shed, plus some.

May 6th is International No Diet Day. Who would have thought a Registered Dietitian would encourage Americans to not follow a diet?! This day is an opportunity to encourage people to follow one of most RDs favorite words, moderation! That’s right. Moderation means there is no food you have to avoid. The goal is to focus on how much and how often you consume higher calorie and/or fat foods.

This May, focus on lifestyle changes rather than looking through the latest magazine for the new popular diet celebrities are advertising or trying. The plate method is a fairly simple and realistic way to balance meals without feeling deprived or confused all day. Instead of worrying about the number of grams, milligrams, or calories to consume at each meal, the plate method encourages individuals to have a wide variety of foods from each food group at each meal.

The USDA’s website has multiple interactive tools and printable materials to help you make healthier choices on a daily basis. The basics of the plate method include making half of your plate fruits and vegetables, a quarter grains (choosing whole grain products half of the time) and the remaining quarter a lean protein source with a low-fat dairy product on the side.

Try to use smaller plates, bowls, and cups as this will help you follow recommended portion sizes.

For example, a healthy plate lunch could consist of a kiwi, chicken stir-fry with 3oz grilled chicken, ½ cup brown rice, ½ cup cooked mixed vegetables in a low sodium sauce, and 8oz skim milk.

Portions tend to be one of America’s biggest problems. In today’s society, bigger is better. Unfortunately for our health, bigger portions are not the best. Try to use smaller plates, bowls, and cups. This will help you follow recommended portion sizes without feeling robbed. Also, using measuring cups to portion out your serving sizes can help prevent mindlessly eating larger than needed portions.

Try to remember there are no “bad foods”. You do not need to feel guilty for eating a high fat/calorie meal or snack, but make a conscious effort to make a healthier choice at the next meal. For example, if you know you are going to have a cheeseburger at your Memorial Day cookout, try to leave off the mayo, add extra lettuce, tomato, and onion, and choose a whole wheat bun.  Or if you ate ribs for dinner, try to skip dessert or choose a piece of fruit versus a piece of cake. Eating healthy is about moderation and making compromises. Overall, try to focus on which food is healthier and go with that option a majority of the time. But remember we are all human…I have yet to meet a Registered Dietitian that doesn’t love a piece of chocolate every now and then.

Emily Decker is a Registered Dietitian for Sodexo at Center for Nutrition and Diabetes Health affiliated with Wayne Memorial Hospital in Goldsboro, NC.

Love a Mushroom

By Chef Remmi Smith
April 30th, 2013

Chef Remmi Smith

Hi Friends! I am Remmi of “Cook Time with Remmi™.”  I am also the “Student Ambassador for Health and Wellness” for Sodexo in all of North America.  I am so excited about being a guest blogger for Sodexo!  Let me tell you a little more about me and what you can expect.

I just turned 13 years old and I’m so excited about being a teenager!  I am Chinese and I was adopted by my family when I was 10 months old.  I am number 6 of 7 children in my family. I love creating recipes, reading about food history and eating food (the best part of course!)  My interest in the kitchen began when I was 4 years old helping my mom and doing simple things like washing vegetables and assembling salads.  By the time I was 7, I was preparing complete meals for my family.  I was about 9 years old when I heard about the childhood obesity epidemic and that is when my mom and I decided to create a fun cooking show as my creative way to link the skill of cooking to improved nutrition. The show took off and that’s how Sodexo found me.

In my role with Sodexo, I represent the Sodexo students and I get to work with executive chefs in school districts nationwide. I work with their “Fresh Pick” Program and my recipes are served in their cafeterias all over the country. With this program, Sodexo features new veggies and fruits to the students with recipes and fun food facts.

Mushrooms are full of potassium making them good for the heart.

I really, really love fruits and veggies.  My favorite all time food is strawberries and I eat them every day!  When I create my recipes I try to think about kids tastes and that wasn’t that hard because I’m a kid, too!  My recipes use a big variety of veggies and I sometimes combine them with fruits to add natural sweetness…..we kids like our sweets!

I also go pretty light on spices as that makes it easier for kids to try new foods. I minimize ingredients and steps to make it easier to tackle the recipe. I always substitute with low fat ingredients and the results are still amazing. I also love to research the foods I am using in my recipes — that’s what makes food interesting!

Along with my recipes being served, Sodexo also produced a series for the “Fresh Pick” Program. Each month in this blog series, you will have the opportunity to see one of the new episodes and I’ll talk about the recipe creation. This month’s pick is mushrooms and my featured recipe is my mushroom and snap peas dish. A lot of kids aren’t crazy about mushrooms, but this vitamin D packed veggie can create a jaw dropping taste experience when paired with other veggies.

Check out the below video – this is a simple stir fry with a little soy sauce. The mushrooms add a subtle greatness to the dish!

And…now for some fun facts and food history behind mushrooms…..

Did you know the Egyptians loved the flavor of mushrooms so much they declared them to be a royal food and no commoner was allowed to eat them?  And, in early European folklore, mushrooms fields were referred to as “fairy rings” (mushrooms grow in rings), and they believed this is where fairies and pixies danced and played…how fun!!

On a more serious note….mushrooms are full of potassium so they are good for the heart and they help with blood pressure. They contain riboflavin which is a vitamin that’s good for our eyes and skin. Did you know many of the vitamins found in red meat are similar to mushrooms?  A famous dish created by Julia Child called “Boeuf Bourguigon” was full of mushrooms..YUMMY!

Hope you will try my recipe. I encourage you to change it up and create your own. I look forward to sharing my love of carrots next month!  I hope you are inspired to get in the kitchen and have some fun, cook healthy, and enjoy life and the love of food. I’ve always wanted to be a cook star, and you can be a cook star too!

Hugs and Veggies!

Chef Remmi Smith is Sodexo’s Student Ambassador for Health and Nutrition.

Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day

By Nicole M. Moore, MS, RD, CNSC, LD
April 16th, 2013

Nicole M. Moore, MS, RD, CNSC, LD

This year the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics invited us to “Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day” during National Nutrition Month®. What are some steps we can take this month to eat a little bit better within our lifestyles?

Start with small steps for making healthier choices. Set a goal and work on it until you reach it. Want to make your goal to eat more fruits and vegetables? The recommendation for a healthy diet is making sure half of your plate is fruits and vegetables. Seems overwhelming? Start with adding a piece of fruit with breakfast today. Once you have the habit of eating that one piece of fruit, add a vegetable to dinner or lunch. Keep increasing over time and before you know it you may be eating enough fruits and vegetables. You can also try keeping fruits and vegetables in your line of sight. A basket of fruit may remind you to eat a piece for snack instead of cookies.  Keep cut up vegetables in the fridge, so you don’t have to wash and chop every time. It can make it easier to throw some vegetables in for a salad, if they are already prepared.

The recommendation for a healthy diet is making sure half of your plate is fruits and vegetables.

Another idea is to try a new food or recipe. Consider occasionally taking a vacation for dinner and try a recipe from a different culture. You may find you like beans when they are cooked in curry. Not feeling too adventurous? Maybe try cooking foods a different way. You may find you like asparagus roasted when you didn’t like it steamed.  Baking, broiling, grilling, roasting, and steaming are all potentially lower fat and calorie cooking methods.

Busy? Many of us are and find it challenging to eat healthy every day. To make it a little easier, try planning ahead. Consider writing out a shopping list to remember to buy the healthier foods to keep in your home. Compare food labels to find a product that may work for you and is a little bit healthier. You can also help with portion control by packaging snacks into one serving containers or baggies to grab and go during the week. You can also cook a little extra when you have time and fix up portions to freeze, so during the week you have a healthy meal to heat up.

Take the time to think about your diet and lifestyle. Consider your habits a work in progress and add small changes to make your eating just a little bit better step by step. If you need some extra help, consider making an appointment with a Registered Dietitian. A RD can help you look at your diet and think about ways to make your diet a little better, so you can “Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day.”

Nicole M. Moore, MS, RD, CNSC, LD is a registered dietitian for Sodexo at Georgia Regents Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia.

Fighting IBS with Your Diet

By Amanda Langford, RD, CSP, LDN
April 11th, 2013

Amanda Langford, RD, CSP, LDN

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is estimated to affect 3 to 20 percent of the population; affecting about twice as many women as men. It is most often found in people younger than 45 years. Athletes may find IBS particularly challenging as they must find ways to control their symptoms during training and events. Symptoms may lead to stress and anxiety and may compromise performance. Learning tools to minimize symptoms and prevent flare ups will surely lead to a more enjoyable race season!

What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

Irritable bowel syndrome is a functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder, meaning it is a problem caused by changes in how the GI tract works. People with a functional GI disorder have frequent symptoms, but the GI tract does not become damaged as it does in Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis). People with IBS experience abdominal pain or discomfort, often reported as bloating, abdominal distention, wind, altered bowel habits and even lethargy. IBS is diagnosed when a person has abdominal pain or discomfort at least three times per month for the last 3 months without other disease or injury that could explain the pain.

How is IBS treated?

Though there is no cure for IBS, many people find relief with a combination of dietary changes, medications, probiotics and help from a mental health professional when needed.

Nutrition Therapy

Certain carbohydrates are becoming widely recognized as a factor in the diet that, when poorly absorbed, induce IBS symptoms. FODMAPs is the acronym for Fermentable Oligo-, Di- and Mono-saccharides And Polyols. These carbohydrates are sugars, starches and fibers in food that some people cannot fully digest and absorb. They pass in to the large intestines where they are fermented by the gut flora (bacteria) and draw in water which in turn causes gas and bloating. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that diets limiting FODMAPs carbohydrates can reduce symptoms for IBS patients.

The key principle is that FODMAPs exert additive effects. This may explain why one day a person may tolerate ice cream and bread but the next day they don’t. Perhaps they ate too many other FODMAPS that day and the same serving size of ice cream they tolerated yesterday pushed them over the edge today.

Eliminating FODMAPs from the diet can be tricky and would best be explained in a one-on-one consultation with a Registered Dietitian; however, patients may want to trial a FODMAP elimination diet to determine if these dietary changes may be beneficial. Individuals who are indeed FODMAP sensitive will generally experience an improvement of their symptoms within a week or two.

Where are FODMAPs found?

There are 5 different types of FODMAPs described in the table below.

What are some foods that are allowed on a FODMAPs elimination diet?

What are options for athletes during endurance events?

To learn more

The low FODMAP diet was developed by internationally recognized dietitian, Dr. Sue Shepherd, in Australia. Further information can be found here. Another excellent resource within the USA is www.ibsfree.net. The editor is Patsy Catsos, a registered, licensed dietitian in private practice, and author of IBS–Free at Last!

Please take note: If you have any medical condition or take any medications it is always a good idea to consult your health care provider prior to making any changes in your diet.

Amanda Langford, RD, CSP, LDN works with West Jefferson Medical Center and Sodexo as a Clinical Nutrition Manager.

Meal Replacement Bars

By Amy Autuori, RD, LDN
April 2nd, 2013

Amy Autuori, RD, LDN

The fast paced lifestyle that many of us lead is causing a rapid increase in the consumption and dependence of meal replacement bars. Popularity has grown due to the need for portable, convenient, shelf stable items that we can enjoy when sitting down for a meal is not an option. While there are some benefits to occasionally turning to a meal replacement bar for nourishment be careful not to make it a daily habit.

Some bars on the market may provide upwards of 400 calories per serving while sporting names like “almond fudge brownie” or “cookie caramel crunch”. When viewing such an item, I have to wonder; “Are people are trying to truly replace a meal, or sneak in a dessert?”

So, what is the best approach to conquer these bars? Dismiss the catchy names and flashy wrapping and turn the bar over to view the nutrition fact label. This is the only way you can make the best decision. Avoid bars that contain excessive ingredients. Choose a bar that contains complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains; a small amount of added fat and sugar, and a moderate amount of protein. Avoid bars that have syrups listed as their first three ingredients. Reading the back of the label should not be reminiscent of a high school chemistry class.

"There is no true meal replacement. The best option is to sit down and try to have a simple meal."

What to look for in a meal replacement bar:

  • Calories: If the bar is counting as a meal choose one that is 250-300 calories per serving.
  • Protein: Look for bars that contain 10-15 grams of protein.
  • Fat: Choose one that is 7 grams of fat or less. Avoid products that contain trans fats and limit your intake of saturated fat.
  • Fiber: Be wary of high fiber bars that are marketed to provide “35% of your daily fiber intake”. Sometimes too much fiber can cause gastrointestinal distress. The safe bet is to aim for a bar that has 3-5 grams of fiber per serving.
  • Vitamins & Minerals: Choose a bar that is fortified with a third of your daily vitamins and minerals.

There is no true meal replacement. The best option is to sit down and try to have a simple meal. There are many healthier options that are portable, convenient and shelf stable. Try fresh fruit such as apples, oranges, or bananas. Plan ahead for the week and prepare graham crackers with peanut butter or fresh veggies such as carrots, celery and sugar snap peas. Low-fat yogurt is a great grab and go snack and it is also an excellent source of calcium. These options are not only lower in calories but more affordable than those costly bars. Whole foods are the best choice. Meal replacement bars should be treated as the last resort.

Amy Autuori is a Registered Dietitian for Sodexo at Memorial Health Care Systems in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Create Your Own Wellness Program

By Patricia Guay-Berry
February 21st, 2013

Patty Guay-Berry

Do you have bad habits that you just can’t seem to break?  It could be skipping breakfast, eating too much, smoking, being inactive, drinking too much alcohol –- the list goes on.

We are not perfect; we all have something we could improve upon.  Helping to motivate people to make small changes over time can be very rewarding.  That said I am in a position at work where I have the opportunity to provide wellness programs to our employees.

We started six years ago by providing a weight loss challenge during National Nutrition Month.  We assessed employee’s weight, BMI, waist circumference, % body fat and supplied them with a folder of information with healthy eating plan suggestions.  Lunch & Learn seminars were offered throughout the challenge and prizes were awarded at the end to the employees.  Employees and Human Resource loved it and -that was just the beginning!

Our most popular challenge has been the Healthy Destinations Exercise Challenge.  Employees record their exercise on tracking sheets.  Time spent exercising equates to miles.  Each year, we have specific destinations the employees are working towards.  Prizes are awarded to all participants who make it to their destinations and the ultimate prize is a drawing for a weekend stay at the destination!  This past year, we had close to 300 employees sign up.  Whether among colleagues, at work (or even with friends in your neighborhood), these tips may helpful:

Making small changes over time can be very rewarding.

  1. Find a wellness champion – For us, our Human Resource leaders were very interested in providing wellness programs.
  2. Establish a wellness budget – Even with a very limited budget, you can still provide challenges.
  3. Show your passion – If you have passion around wellness and practice what you preach in a non-judgmental spirit, people will want to join in.
  4. Accept help – Assistance can mean volunteers trying to get experience, or experienced wellness professionals offering their time.
  5. Know your workplace – If in a computer savvy workplace, offer electronic communications and wellness challenges.  If not, you can always hand out paper worksheets and tracking paperwork.
  6. Plan things out well in advance – Since starting our wellness committee, we refer to a wellness calendar to offer small activities (example: apple & pear tasting in cafeteria during Fruit and Vegetable Month) and larger challenges offered quarterly.

Our hospital recently won the Washington Business Journal’s Healthiest Employer Award, which was very exciting for us. This makes us even more motivated to continue our wellness efforts.  Once you get started, you will realize there are so many healthy challenges that can translate into a fun social activity!

Patricia Guay-Berry is a Clinical Nutrition Manager for Sodexo at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland.

Are You Health Literate?

By Laura Cason, MSEd, RD
February 15th, 2013

Laura Cason, MSEd, RD

Do you understand what it means when your physician says to take your medication BID? What about when you have just been told that you had a Myocardial Infarction? Do you feel comfortable when you are asked to make a medical decision regarding end of life care for a loved one? All of these statements deal with one’s health literacy.

“Medical jargon” or hearing a medical professional speak to you in medical terms or words one may not understand can often lead to poor communication and ineffective or inappropriate health decisions.

Communication is an essential piece between the speaker and the listener.

If health communication is ineffective or misunderstood serious complications can arise. Maybe you take too much of your medicine or do not have a follow-up test; maybe you do not use the exercise machine correctly and injure yourself. All of these things can be prevented when health information is properly taught and understood by your patients.

How should health professionals ensure patients are health literate?

-          When developing education materials we must pay attention to ensuring the font is large enough, medical terms are appropriately defined in layman’s terms, and any pictures make sense or further explain the information expressed in the material.

-          When speaking to your clients, make sure you speak in terms they comprehend, look for body language that indicates they understand, and explain further what the medical information is that you are trying to relay.

-          Ensure you properly teach how to use specific equipment (i.e. example of how to use the glucometer in your newly diagnosed patient with diabetes). Also make sure clear instructions are properly given on how to take any prescribed prescriptions.

-          In our current age of the Internet we need to stress to our clients where credible health information can be obtained and not believing everything they read on the Internet. With many languages being spoken in our country, we must also ensure that our materials are available in a multitude of languages. It is also a good idea to have a resource available such as Language Line or Interpreters. Remember it is not a good idea to have family or friends interpret since information can often be misrepresented.

-          The Center for Disease Control & Prevention and National Network of Libraries of Medicine have great websites to use as tools for improving communication and health literacy.

My college textbook “Health Literacy in Primary Care” made a profound statement that has allowed me to look at my interactions with patients diligently. It said “Health Literacy is about access to care.” Can healthcare providers make communication so effective that we allow all, regardless of level of education, status, etc., the ability to have access to exceptional healthcare, improving health literacy levels for both practitioner and patient?

Laura Cason is a Registered Dietitian for Sodexo Senior Living at Bridgewater Retirement Community in Bridgewater, Virginia.