How to discuss nutrition with patients

March 9, 2015
Tips on talking diet and nutrition in the exam room

Excerpted from the March 2015 edition of AOA Focus.

Ask your patients what foods are best for their eyes and they're likely to name carrots. According to AOA's American Eye-Q ® survey, only 1% of people know that spinach is the best food for eye health. That's where ODs come in. Use these tips on talking diet and nutrition in the exam room.

  1. Make the connection.
    "It can be difficult to bring up the topic of diet and nutrition in the office, especially since many patients do not make the connection between diet and ocular health," says Diane Russo, O.D., AOA Health Promotions Committee member. I often start the conversation by linking their diet to overall health. I explain that the eyes are a part of the body and are affected by how well you take care of the body. It seems to 'click' for many patients by approaching the topic this way."

  2. Don't be afraid to ask.
    "I always ask about patients' weekly consumption of plant foods—especially dark green, leafy vegetables—letting them know that increased variety of plant foods is associated with lower risk of both diabetes and heart disease. I also like to ask about consumption of refined carbohydrates and added sugars, as these have been linked directly to diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration and cataracts," says A. Paul Chous, O.D., AOA representative to the National Diabetes Education Program of the National Institutes of Health.

  3. Cover the essentials.
    "We cover AREDS [Age-Related Eye Disease Study, sponsored by the National Eye Institute] and make specific recommendations for that patient's particular needs, keeping in mind their current medication list and medical history. I always make sure to communicate my findings and recommendations with the patient's primary care physician," says Brad Lane, O.D., AOA Health Promotions Committee member.

  4. The '.com' effect.
    A 2014 Pew Research Center survey found 7 in 10 adult Internet users search online for information about a range of health issues, but 9 in 10 prefer insight from health professionals over any other source. "With all the information readily available online, it is very important that patients have information based on reliable studies," Dr. Lane says.

Educate your patients about the impact of diet and nutrition on eye health with materials from AOA Marketplace.

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