I 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 for Nutricia Advanced Medical Nutrition, BDA Scotland Board member and a daughter who cared for my dad who lived with dementia. I feel passionate about the role good nutrition plays in overall health and well-being as well as the integral role it has in illness and disease. Food and water are essential for health. Good nutrition can help the body to maintain or improve strength, stay mobile and remain independent; 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.
Illness or recovery can put the body under stress and it may need more energy, protein, vitamins and minerals; even if someone is less mobile than normal. 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 improve 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. 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 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.
- 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
Limited amounts 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.
For more information on the Eat Well Guide, visit
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 additional practical tips to help improve nutritional intake include:
- Eat 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 outside or sit by an open window prior to, or during, eating
- Use smaller portions on small plates as large servings may be off-putting reducing appetite further
- Consume nourishing milk based drinks
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 important that those at risk of malnutrition are identified early and managed appropriately. There are various tools and resources now available to help sign post individuals and Health Care Professionals to identify the risk of malnutrition, and what to do 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 developed a range of resources for carers themselves on the importance of good nutrition within long term conditions, for example dementia, cancer, chronic obstructive airways disease 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.