6 nutrition questions you should be asking patients

February 29, 2016
During National Nutrition Month, and year round, talk to patients about proper nutrition.

Excerpted from the July/August 2015 edition of AOA Focus.

Americans are more conscious of all aspects of nutrition than ever before—from eschewing cholesterol and carbs to embracing Paleo and Mediterranean diets. March is National Nutrition Month, the perfect time to start a discussion with patients about their diet and lifestyle.

There is a lot of confusing misinformation out there about proper nutrition and supplementing for optimal eye health. Patients may be following useless, erroneous or even dangerous therapy programs of their own making. That is why it is critical for doctors of optometry to proactively talk to every patient—not just seniors or those with eye disease—about proper nutrition.

"The popular media has done a great benefit as well as some detriment in bringing the word to people about the need for specific nutrients for their eye health," says Kimberly Reed, O.D., director of the Ocular Nutrition Clinic at Nova Southeastern University Eye Care Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. "Media are interested in just the sound bite, so the general population is not getting the whole story. It's been an area of controversy not only in the media, but within our profession. There are different interpretations of even some of the highly respected study outcomes. So patients are often very confused about the mixed messages and which sources are reliable."

Questions you should be asking about nutrition

There is no one-size-fits-all nutrition fix. Patients are individuals; they have different demographics, diets, health concerns and lifestyles. "Every single patient needs to be evaluated with that in mind," says Dr. Reed.

"In my opinion, optometrists need to ask their patients specific questions concerning what damaging food stuffs they have in their diet as well as what they are missing, if we are going to have any hope of heading off degenerative eye disease. It's about diet, lifestyle and nutrition," says Stuart Richer, O.D., Ph.D., associate professor, Family and Preventive Medicine, at Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science.

Start with the following questions:

  1. How would you describe your diet?
  2. What does a healthy diet look like to you?
    This is the follow-up question if they say they eat a healthy diet. Dr. Reed looks for a good intake of Omega 3s and antioxidants and a low intake of sugars and highly processed carbohydrates.
  3. What did you have for breakfast?
    By asking this question, you'll not only learn the kind of foods patients are eating, but also whether they're eating breakfast at all.
  4. How many servings of fruits and vegetables do you have per day?
    Patients will often start to count aloud what they are eating during the day, so you can get a good snapshot. Most people eat more fruit than vegetables, but you want to see a balance and variety.
  5. How often do you eat fish?
    Once or twice a month? A week? Never?
  6. What medications are you taking?
    Get a full list of the patient's medications, including homeopathic supplements and vitamins, so you can be aware of possible interactions.

Visit the AOA's diet and nutrition page. Find tips on recommending the right nutritional supplements to patients.

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