Generally speaking, you probably haven't learned a ton of in-depth nutrition information unless you've gone out of your way to study it yourself. Sure, you know what an overall healthy diet looks like (lots of vegetables, water, lean proteins, fruit, whole grains), but there's still a lot that most people might not know about nutrition and healthy eating. Eating healthfully and developing an equally-healthy relationship with food is really important, however, and dietitians are some of the people that can help with that. However, some of the clever things dietitians learn in school that everyone should know are things that you might not expect.
It sometimes seems like popular diet and nutrition advice changes at hyper-speed. First fat is bad, then it's good, then carbs are bad — or are they? The experiments that sparked these different suggestions and recommendations are important because they're helping researchers learn more about how food actually impacts obesity, chronic disease, inflammation, and more, but it can all be pretty confusing for the general public who's just trying to figure out what's healthy and what's not. Some of the things that dietitians learn, whether in school or in practice, can help you sort through it all and feel like you have a better grasp on your own diet and your own health.
1. You Need To Eat Differently Based On Your Different Phases In Life
You might think that healthy is healthy, no matter the other circumstances, but that's unfortunately not the case. You have different nutritional needs based on where you are in life.
"'Nutrition across the lifespan' is a very important course that I think everyone can benefit from," Toni Marinucci, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and owner of Diet Tips With Toni Marinucci, MS, RD, tells Romper by email. "In this course, a dietitian learns about the nutrition requirements for a pregnant mother in all trimesters, infants, toddlers, adolescents, adult, and elderly populations. We learn about common/potential disease states that may manifest in these populations if adequate nutrition is not provided and how to overcome the barriers they may face in each stage of life."
2. There's A Right Way To Hold A Knife
If you've taken many cooking classes or worked in a professional kitchen, you likely already know that there's a right way to hold a knife, but if you've never spent much time in the kitchen before, you might not realize that holding the knife a certain way will give you more control and can help you cut things in a safer way. This is something else that many dietitians learn while they're still in school.
"We also take culinary classes that incorporate food science," Marinucci says. "In these courses we learn everything from how to properly hold a knife and make fancy knife cuts to make the dish atheistically pleasing, to how to cook dishes from scratch like roux for soup and noodles for pasta."
Since cooking can be a very important part of eating a healthy diet, knowing the basics is good for both the general public, as well as professionals.
3. How Much You Should Really Be Eating
One of the pieces of information that can sometimes be difficult for people to understand is that it's not just about what you're eating, but how much. Marinucci says that dietitians learn about how much someone should eat while they're still in school. That helps them make recommendations and things to guide people to eat in a way that will hopefully improve their health and their life.
4. You Know More About Your Body Than They Do
Dietitians and the like are considered experts — and for good reason. But one of the other things that many of them learn over the course of their training is that, ultimately, you know more about your body and your life and what makes sense for you than they do. In a post that she wrote for her blog, Australian dietitian Lyndi Cohen said that while dietitians are nutrition experts, you know your body better, so working together is super important.
5. Dietitians Have Specialties
Dietitians learn a foundation while they're in school, but they can learn things in a more specialized way during their supervised practice and internships. "Dietetics is like medicine. There are so many specialities that there’s no way every dietitian can be an expert in every area. What’s so great about the dietetic internship program is that it is lengthy, comprehensive, and exposes students to serious medical matters in clinical, community, foodservice and other settings," Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, a dietitian, chef, and co-founder of The Modern Loaf, tells Romper by email. "While we each can’t be an expert in every speciality, we do have the toolbox to at least identify the concern and then properly refer to colleagues who do specialize in the area of need."
So while the dietitian you see initially might not be an expert in the area that you're looking for, they might be able to refer you to someone who knows almost everything there is to know on the subject, which can be comforting when you're dealing with something like your health.
6. Sometimes You Can Swap Out Less-Nutritious Ingredients For Something Else
You've likely seen the avocado pudding and brownie swaps before, and things like this are another thing that dietitians can learn about in school. "When I was in college I tested the gum of the okra as a fat replacement in homemade brownies and they were delicious," Marinucci says.
7. Healthy Eating Is Different For Different People
Dietitians also learn that healthy eating isn't the same for everyone. In a post that she wrote on her blog, Kirstie Bylenga, RD, a Canadian dietitian, said that people define healthy eating differently and their definitions are influenced by factors ranging from income to schedule to allergies and conditions and more. What works for one person won't necessarily work for someone else.
Dietitians spend lots of time during their training learning all about food and science and health. But some of the things that they learn are things that, really, everyone should know, not just people whose job it is to help others figure out how to eat for health. Knowing these sorts of things yourself can help you learn more about what healthy eating means for you, as well as how a dietitian might be able to help.