The integral role of nutrition in health care: Raising awareness in Nutrition and Hydration week

nhw2017-compressedI am delighted to have this opportunity to raise the importance of Nutrition in Health Care during Nutrition and Hydration week.

I am Lynne Stevenson, Dietitian and External Affairs Advisor – Nutricia Advanced Medical Nutrition, BDA Scotland Board member, and a daughter caring for my dad who has Dementia.  I feel passionate about the role good nutrition plays in overall health and well-being, as well as the integral role it plays in treating illness and disease. Food and water are essential for health. Good nutrition can help the body to maintain or improve strength, stay mobile and keep up independence; however illness and old age can put a strain on the body. Many people, when living with a medical condition, recovering from an illness or operation, or even as they get older, may find they cannot eat as much as usual and sometimes lose weight.

During illness or recovery the body can be under increased stress and may need more energy, protein, vitamins and minerals; even if someone is less mobile. These nutrients are essential to maintain weight, improve recovery and maintain independence, as well as helping to support the response to medical treatment.

It is therefore important to understand what good nutrition is and how to achieve it.

What is good nutrition?

Eating a healthy, balanced diet is vital for maintaining good health for us all. This includes eating foods from all the different food groups, to provide us with the nutrients we need. Sometimes it can be a  struggle to eat the right amounts of certain food groups.

The Eat well Guide shows the portions of the different food groups we need to eat each day to have a balanced and healthy diet. Eatwell Guide

Based on the Eat well Guide we  should try to eat:

Plenty of starchy food

  • Bread, breakfast cereals, potatoes and pasta are a good source of energy
  • Always choose wholegrain varieties where you can.

Plenty of fruit and vegetables

  • Aim for at least five portions a day to provide you with a good source of vitamins and minerals.

1 portion is equivalent to: 1 apple, 1 medium banana, 1 handful of grapes, 150ml glass of unsweetened orange juice, dessert bowl of salad.

 Some protein

  • Meat, fish, eggs, beans, pulses.

Some milk and dairy foods

  • Including cheese and yogurt; choose low-fat options if trying to reduce fat in your diet.

Limit the amount of foods high in fat or sugar

  • Crisps, chocolate, sweets.

The amount that we need to eat of the different food groups will vary depending on how active we  are and if we are trying to lose or gain weight.

Hints and tips for improving nutritional intake

If someone is struggling to eat enough food, meals and snacks should be based on the following foods, as they are high in energy and protein.

Food which provides protein and energy:

  • Meat, oily fish, eggs, nuts, and full fat dairy (such as milk, yoghurt or cheese).

Foods which are a great source of energy:

  • Pasta, potatoes, bread, rice, crackers or oatcakes, and snacks (such as biscuits, cakes, chocolate or crisps).

Some practical tips to help improve nutritional intake include:

  • Eating small, frequent meals and snacks every 2-3 hours
  • Avoid drinking fluids with meals which may reduce how much is eaten
  • Get some fresh air, go outside or sit by an open window prior to, or during, eating
  • Serve smaller portions as large servings may be off-putting and reduce appetite further
  • Consume nourishing milk based drinks between meals.

During illness some people may find it difficult to eat enough food, which can result in unexpected weight loss. If the body is not provided with enough food over a period of time it could result in a nutrition gap, also known as ‘undernutrition.’ Healthcare professionals may also refer to this as malnutrition. Unexpected weight loss and poor dietary intake can further decrease energy levels, reduce physical strength and can weaken the immune system.

It is therefore important that those at risk of malnutrition are identified early and managed appropriately.  There are various tools and resources now available to help individuals and Health Care Professionals to identify the risk of malnutrition, and signpost them to information which can help them to manage it. For example there is a simple nutrition checklist to help identify malnutrition and offer suggestions on what to do next:


Carers UK in partnership with Nutricia have also developed a range of resources for  carers themselves on the importance of good nutrition within Long Term Conditions, for example Dementia, Cancer, COPD and Stroke:

The British Association of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (BAPEN) have developed a malnutrition self-screening tool which can be filled in and appropriate advice is offered:


Why not take the opportunity during Nutrition and Hydration week to see what is happening in your Health Board to promote Good Nutrition and Hydration? I would love to hear what activities are planned.




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