Health and Fitness

How registered nurses can promote nutrition

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Good nutrition is important for good health at all stages of our lives. Gaining sufficient vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients can help keep the body healthy, while deficits may lead to health problems. Keeping a diet balanced is also important. Treats are there to be enjoyed, but too many can lead to weight gain, which in turn can cause a variety of problems.

However understanding how to maintain a healthy diet can be difficult, with plenty of misinformation easily accessed online. The diet industry is huge, but it is difficult for many to properly understand if what is being suggested is sensible advice or a quick-fix miracle diet that is unlikely to promote long-term health.

Additionally, dietary advice cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ approach. We have different dietary needs at different ages. Health conditions and allergies, too, can mean that dietary advice has to be tailored to the individual. Medical professionals are often the first port of call for anyone wanting the most up-to-date dietary advice. Registered nurses (RNs) are medical professionals who work closely with patients and play a key role in promoting nutrition.

Becoming an RN

An RN position is usually the first nursing position a newly qualified nurse holds after completing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Most nurses will work for at least two years as an RN before advancing their careers.

We often think of the RN as a hospital-based role, with RNs found in every department from neonatology to oncology and it is certainly true that a lot of RNs do start their careers in a hospital. However, it is far from the only place where they can work. There are several registered nurse work environments, such as schools, outpatient facilities, long-term nursing facilities, physicians’ offices, telehealth, and home care are also among their work settings. Gaining an online BSN from a good institution, such as Holy Family University, is a great way to become an RN with good program modules including medical surgical nursing and nursing care of children.

If you already have a bachelor’s degree in any subject, you may be able to do an accelerated BSN, which can qualify you as an RN in as little as two years. If you want to find out more about how an online course supports you in becoming an RN, a good place to start is Holy Family University. Their ABSN supports flexible study that is ideal for students juggling other commitments and who are looking to move into a nursing career.

Wherever RNs work, they usually work closely with patients, often being the ones who provide the greatest continuity of care. Through a variety of different ways, they can support patient nutrition, helping to maintain and improve the health of the patient even when no longer in their care.

Nutritional assessment

When patients are admitted to the hospital nurses must carry out observations, particularly to look for signs of malnutrition or poor diet. An obvious one is if the patient has a very high or low weight for their height, particularly if this weight has significantly changed recently. Other signs to look out for can be difficulty chewing or swallowing, skin integrity, edema, and hand-grip strength.

If the patient is showing signs of malnutrition, further investigation can take place and a dietary plan can be put in place. Even if malnutrition is not the direct cause of the condition that has led to a patient being admitted to hospital, not addressing it is likely to hinder their recovery and lead to further health problems, requiring further hospital admissions.

In-patient diets

While in the hospital, an RN can make sure the patient’s nutritional needs are taken care of. This may mean alerting hospital catering if any health factors mean a patient needs a particular diet. They may, for example, be lactose or gluten intolerant or have an allergy to eggs. If they are diabetic, their diet will need careful management to ensure the stability of blood-sugar levels, while if they suffer from Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, the foods that trigger flare-ups in this condition will need to be avoided. Additionally, if a patient is post-surgery, there may be a need for additional protein to aid recovery.

RNs often give patients more holistic care, treating the patient as a whole rather than simply focusing on their condition. In this way, they often get to know patients better than other medical staff. This means that they will understand if there are other factors that can restrict a diet. They will know the patient’s religion and will know, for example, that a Muslim requires a halal diet and a Jew a kosher diet, with people of neither faith eating pork, while someone of the Hindu faith will not eat beef. Other patients may make cultural or ethical choices to be vegetarian or vegan. As the person working closely with these patients, RNs can make sure those with dietary constraints get the appropriate food to meet both their nutritional needs and their cultural or religious beliefs.

Preparing for patient discharge

It is important for a patient’s ongoing recovery and long-term health that nutrition is continued when a patient is discharged. RNs can spend time with a patient in the hospital, going over a diet plan and answering any questions they may have about their diet. In this way, they can be certain the patient has fully understood the implications and they or their family understand how to continue to meet the patient’s nutritional needs.

If the patient has a condition that is going to require a particular diet, an RN can make sure they have information on this when they are discharged in the form of leaflets and booklets, links to helpful and reliable websites, and information on how to contact support groups. This will help the patient manage their ongoing nutritional needs themselves, reducing the likelihood of needing further hospital admissions.

Nutrition education

As noted earlier, not all RNs work in hospitals. But wherever they work, they can play a significant role in nutrition education, ranging from general advice to education tailored to a specific condition or stage of life. RNs who work in schools can provide advice and education to children and teenagers, promoting healthy eating habits and helping to establish healthy eating patterns while they are young, while those who work in elderly care and residential homes can tailor their advice and education to the specific needs of old age.

Telehealth is often used to monitor patients in between medical appointments, allowing an RN to check in with the patient without them needing to make the trip to a hospital or clinic. They are well-placed to answer any nutritional questions patients have between appointments and to give them further education on how diet can help them in the management of their condition.

Through effective nutrition education, RNs can empower patients to make the right choices and to find good dietary methods for managing their condition for themselves.

Patient plans

Patient plans require a lot of input, drawing information from everyone who works with the patient. In some conditions, such as diabetes or Crohn’s disease, diet will play a key role in the management of the condition and the team treating the patient will need to consider how to manage a diet so it is both nutritious and avoids exacerbating the condition.

However, good nutrition is key to better health in any condition. As nurses generally take a more holistic view of the patient, they can provide input on the patient beyond the condition being treated and can find ways to incorporate nutrition into a patient’s treatment plan to help boost their general health and immune system which in turn is likely to help improve the condition they are being treated for and help prevent any recurrence.

Dietary constraints

Just as when working with patients in hospital, an RN working in schools, care homes, or in the community, must be aware of any dietary constraints, whether they are health-related, such as allergies, cultural, such as veganism, or religious, such as requiring a halal diet. RNs working in the community can get to know the cultural background of the community and so will know if many in their community follow a specific faith or cultural tradition. As well as understanding the general restraints, RNs may also need to know about particular traditions that can impact a diet, such as Muslim fasting during Ramadan.

Getting to know patients and their cultures is key to being able to tailor nutritional advice. Often, RNs in community-based settings get to know their patients well and are the best-placed medical professionals to ensure that nutritional and dietary advice will also meet the religious and cultural needs of patients.

Working with other medical professionals

Patients are often cared for by teams of medical professionals and one of the roles of the RN is to work with these professionals to create coordinated care for the patient. Although it is likely to be another medical professional, such as a consultant or advanced nurse practitioner, who is overseeing the plan, it may be that an RN is the one who works most closely with the patient and provides the greatest continuity of care. This means they play a key role in the team.

Among those working with the patient may be dieticians and nutritionists and they can provide guidance on aspects of nutrition such as whole foods, sufficient fruit and vegetables, and lifestyle choices. The RN can support the dietician and nutritionist in implementing this advice. As someone who works closely with the patient, they can make sure the patient understands the advice and ask questions on the patient’s behalf if there are aspects that the patient has not understood. They will also make the dietician and nutritionist aware of any cultural factors that can impact a dietary plan.

Diet and nutrition can also play a key role in many other medical specialties. An obstetrician or nurse-midwife will need to consider the different nutritional needs during pregnancy or during the postpartum period, while a gerontologist will understand the dietary needs of old age and a pediatrician will need to know about the nutritional needs of children. Diet can also play a role in mental health conditions, particularly in the case of eating disorders. Psychologists, counselors, therapists, and mental health nurses may all play a part in the team treating mental health conditions.

No matter which professional is working with the patient, the RN is often the one who implements the care or who puts together the necessary information for the patient and their families to manage their nutritional needs themselves. They can also take on the role of the patient advocate to ensure that the patient is able to make informed decisions, receives care of the highest safety standards, is able to ask questions, and that all information is passed on so that the patient receives effective, joined-up care.

Community programs

Education on nutrition, diet, and lifestyle does not need to be delivered on an individual basis. RNs who work in a community-based setting can direct their nutritional guidance toward the community as a whole. In the community, RNs can run health and wellness programs, providing dietary guidance with an aim to encourage the community as a whole to adopt a more nutritious diet, benefiting several generations of a family at once.

They can also make sure information such as leaflets with nutrition guidance are easily accessible through a coordinated mail drop, ensuring the information is available in publicly accessible places such as a library or using schools and colleges to reach whole families. As community-based RNs are familiar with the local community, they will understand if there are likely to be any barriers to accessing the information. For example, if a community has a large immigrant population, they can make sure any written information is in a language they will easily understand and any outreach programs have a translator available.

RNs may also have a good insight into the reasons behind poor nutrition if it is common in a community. It is easy to assume that poor dietary choices leading to malnutrition or obesity are a result of ignorance. However, this may not be the case. Poverty, too, is a barrier to healthy eating as it limits choices both in what is bought and where to shop. RNs who know the community can tailor their advice to ensure that their advice is relevant and accessible. They can also provide information to ensure that people are claiming all the assistance they are entitled to or signpost initiatives that can offer support, helping all in the community to have access to sufficient nutritious food.


Research into the reasons behind poor dietary choices remains ongoing, as is the research into the impact and benefits of certain food groups. The results of these studies will be used to inform future nutritional advice, treatments, and programs. RNs who choose to work in a research-based role will play a part in implementing these studies, and in doing so, help in the imported nutrition of future generations.

Even those not involved directly in research can gather information on the health of their local community and distinct groups within that community such as rates of childhood obesity. This information can be used by researchers to inform their studies. It is also useful for local, federal, and national governments to inform their policies and decision-making as they look for ways to improve the health of the nation.

Healthcare through nutrition

When delivering healthcare through nutrition, RNs can, in different ways, benefit individual patients, communities, and the nation as a whole, both now and in the future. From ensuring the food served in the hospital meets a patient’s needs to empowering them with the knowledge needed to use nutrition to manage and improve their health to implementing programs that will use nutrition to promote all-round health, an RN can play a key role.

If a job where you can make a difference in people’s health and improve lives every single day appeals to you, then nursing could be a good career option. It does not matter if you are already working in a different career. People enter nursing at all stages of their lives, and thanks to more flexible online courses, training has never been so accessible. If you are considering nursing as a second career and already hold a bachelor’s degree in any subject, you may be able to complete an accelerated program that allows you to qualify in as little as two years. On a BSN course, you will start to gain the knowledge that prepares you for nursing. Many courses take a holistic approach, where diet will be one of the key components to improving health as a whole. Take the time today to look at your training options, as that new nursing career could be a lot closer than you expect.


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