Medical Assistants & Nutritional Education of Patients

Written by: 
Daymar College

Like helping others? Good at teaching others about how to live a healthy lifestyle? Part of a medical assistant’s job is to help educate patients on nutrition. The focus is on healthy living to increase the patient’s lifespan. The medical assistant will educate the patient on dietary nutrients, vitamins and minerals, related diseases and conditions of an unhealthy diet, eating disorders and food labeling.

Nutrition 

Nutrition is the field of study focused on food and the substances in food that help people grow and stay healthy. The food is eaten for energy and nutrients. Nutrients include protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water. Vitamins and supplements fill in the gaps for people that have deficiencies from dietary food intake. Some chronic diseases can occur with a poor diet. Eating disorders can also contribute to poor diet and issues with weight. Lastly, reading food labels is important to understand what nutrients are in the food we eat.

Dietary Nutrients

Dietary nutrients include the consumption of food to ingest and absorb vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids and essential fatty acids.

  • Protein – used to build bones, muscles and skin. Proteins from meat give us complete proteins that supply us with amino acids the body can’t make on its own.
  • Fat – gives the body energy and allows the body to absorb vitamins.
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  • Carbohydrates – changed into glucose by the digestive system to supply energy to the body’s cells, tissues and organs.
  • Vitamins – an organic compound of essential nutrients that is vital to prevent deficiencies that can contribute to chronic conditions.
  • Minerals – a solid inorganic substance of natural occurrence.
  • Water – the body uses water in all its cells, organs and tissues to help regulate its temperature and maintain other bodily functions.
  • Amino Acids – the building blocks of protein. The body absorbs amino acids through the small intestine into the blood.
  • Fatty Acids – used by the body for energy and tissue development.

Vitamins and Supplements

Vitamins and supplements are used to supplement food intake when vitamin or mineral levels are below normal. Vitamins and mineral supplements can help prevent deficiencies that can contribute to chronic conditions.

  • Keratomalacia – deficiency of vitamin A that causes an eye disorder. The deficiency causes a lack of specialized epithelia.
  • Beriberi – deficiency of vitamin B1 causing weight loss, impaired vision, weakness, pain and irregular heart rate.
  • Ariboflavinosis – deficiency of vitamin B2 causing stomatitis of the mouth, skin rashes, itchy eyes, and anemia.
  • Pellagra – deficiency of vitamin B3 causing inflamed skin, diarrhea, dementia and sores in the mouth.
  • Paresthesia – deficiency of vitamin B5 causing a burning or prickling sensation that is usually felt in the hands, arms, legs or feet.
  • Scurvy – deficiency of vitamin C that leads to weakness, weight loss and general pain. Without treatment scurvy leads to decreased red blood cells, gum disease, changes to hair and bleeding from the skin.
  • Rickets – deficiency of vitamin D causes the bowing of the femurs, bone fractures and decreased bone opacity.
  • Multiple Carboxylase Deficiency – deficiency of Vitamin B7 which can negatively affect fertility and hair growth.
  • Pernicious Anemia – caused by an inability to absorb vitamin B-12 that is needed for the body to make enough healthy red blood cells.
  • Megaloblastic Anemia – deficiency of vitamin B-12 that inhibits the DNA synthesis during the red blood cell production.
  • Subacute Combined Degeneration of Spinal Cord – also called Lichetheim’s disease, the deficiency of vitamin B-12 causes a degeneration of the posterior and lateral columns of the spinal cord.
  • Kwashiorkor – caused by inadequate protein intake resulting in a low concentration of amino acids which can cause swelling of the extremities and belly.
  • Marasmus – caused by inadequate intake of protein and energy causing a wasting away of the muscles and minimal subcutaneous fat.

Dietary Needs and Patient Education

Patient education should focus on the prevention of death and disability from major nutrition-related chronic diseases. Some of these chronic diseases include obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, cancer, osteoporosis and dental disease.

  • Obesity – the imbalance between declining energy expenditure and high energy intake from diet.
  • Diabetes – Type 2 diabetes caused by excess body weight and the body’s inability to balance blood sugar with insulin.
  • Heart Disease – can be caused by high blood cholesterol where arteries are damaged and narrowed resulting in the reduction of the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart or brain.
  • Hypertension – high blood pressure caused by excess salt, excess body weight, smoking and alcohol.
  • Cancer – maintaining a healthy weight will reduce the risk for cancer of the esophagus, colon, breast, endometrium and kidney.
  • Osteoporosis – fragility factures from deficiency of calcium and vitamin D.
  • Dental Disease – increased intake of sugars can cause the erosion of the teeth by dietary acids that may contribute to tooth decay.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are associated with extreme emotion, attitudes and behavior surrounding weight and food issues. The most common types of eating disorders include Anorexia, Bulimia and Binge Eating.

  • Anorexia Nervosa – self-starvation and excessive weight loss.
  • Bulimia Nervosa – bingeing and purging of food. The eating of excessive amounts of food in short periods of time then getting rid of food and calories through vomiting, enemas, laxative abuse or over-exercising.
  • Binge Eating Disorder – periods of compulsive, uncontrolled, continuous eating beyond the point of feeling comfortably full.
  • Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder – an inability for a person to eat enough to meet their daily nutritional needs caused by mental or emotional avoidance.
  • Night Eating Syndrome – a lack of appetite in the morning and overeating at night with agitation and insomnia.
  • Pica – the persistent eating of non-nutritive substances for a period of at least 1 month at an age that this is not appropriate (older than 24 months).
  • Diabulimia – an eating disorder where people with Type 1 diabetes deliberately reduce insulin treatment to lose weight.

Food Labels

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for assuring that foods sold in the United States are safe, wholesome and properly labeled. The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act are federal laws that govern food product labeling. The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) requires most foods to bear nutrition labeling and requires food labels to include nutrient content and certain health messages to comply with specific requirements.

When viewing food labels, check serving sizes and calories (and calories from fat), identify nutrients that should be and shouldn’t be consumed in large quantities, and check the percent of daily value for key nutrients.

Ready to pass on the knowledge of healthy eating? Interested in becoming a medical assistant? The Medical Assisting program at Daymar College is designed to prepare current and future employees for the fast-paced changes encountered in the health care industry, and to help develop training, skills and attitudes necessary to excel in medical assisting. Contact us to learn more about a great opportunity to become a medical assistant.