If the term "dietitian" makes you think of healthy eating tips, weight loss goals, and meal plans, then you're probably not alone. But there's a lot more to it than that.
Dietitians are stewards of good nutrition - helping kids grow and thrive, athletes perform and recover strong, and adults age healthfully and manage illnesses. In addition, they also research and develop important nutrition products.
Ever swapped breakfast for a nutrition bar or protein shake? A dietitian was instrumental in creating those products.
Beyond product development, they conduct research, counsel patients, and provide crucial education and resources to countless doctors, hospitals and other organizations.
In honor of Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day, we spoke with two Abbott dietitians, clinical researcher Kathleen Thrush, RD and diabetes and pediatric nutrition specialist Rachel Johnson, RD about how they got their start, what they love about their jobs and their favorite health tips for living a nutritious life.
Q: What Inspired You To Pursue A Career In Nutrition And Dietetics?
KT: In fourth grade I read about Marie Curie and the influence of her work, and I fell in love with science. Fast forward a few years and I was in college majoring in chemistry. Then, I took my first nutrition class and everything changed. I saw how a career in nutrition could combine my passion for science with a goal to help people. After that class, I changed my major and went on to get my masters in nutrition and dietetics.
RJ: When I was a kid I was always interested in the science of cooking — measuring, mixing, and turning liquids into solids. But, as I got older I started to think about food differently. I began to see the impact it can have on body, mind and overall health, and I was inspired to learn more about nutrition and to share what I learned with the people around me.
Q: What Accomplishments Are You Most Proud Of?
KT: I started my career in oncology researching nutrition's impact on patients who were at risk of malnutrition. Many people don't know that one in two adults are malnourished or at risk of being malnourished when admitted to the hospital. It's a proud accomplishment knowing our work in this area has led to the improvement of nutrition care protocols in hospitals to help patients maintain the strength and energy needed to manage their illness and treatments.
RJ: Diabetes has long been a passion area for me - and whether you are newly diagnosed or living with diabetes, nutrition is critical for management of the disease. I'm most proud of my involvement in providing diabetes education and developing nutrition products that people turn to help manage their blood sugar spikes and satisfy hunger.
Q: What Is The Best Thing About Your Job As A Dietitian?
KT: My ultimate goal as a dietitian is to help people improve their eating habits. Over my career, I've seen the effects of poor eating habits. There is nothing better than to see our clinical research give doctors the insight needed to help patients better manage a chronic disease or help kids improve their eating habits.
RJ: For me, it comes down to helping people understand that nutrition is the foundation of good health. I want to inspire people to make small changes, learn the basics of nutrition and think in terms of moderation so they can make good choices every day.
Q: How Do You Teach Your Kids To Eat Healthy?
KT: When they were really young, we talked about eating the colors of the rainbow, which was a great way to teach them about getting nutrients from an array of bright, colorful fruits and vegetables. As they've gotten older, we talk more about the specific nutrients in those foods. In the end, I tell my girls to listen to their bodies. If you want candy, eat a meal first and see if you still want it afterward.
RJ: Recently I've started specializing in pediatric nutrition - which really helps me at home! My kids are young and I work to expose them to a variety of nutritious foods — yogurt, fruits, and vegetables. Sometimes they'll hold up a food and ask if it's good for them. I explain that it is about your overall nutrition and not a single food because too much of anything can be unhealthy. It's solid advice for any age!
Q: What's Your All-Time Favorite Nutrition Tip?
KT: Moderation. A lot of diets out there right now are about extreme changes, but nutrition is a slow and steady process. Be patient and focus on moderation for the best results, whether you're trying to lose weight, build muscle or fight a disease.
RJ: Read labels. It's really important to understand food labels before you buy. Reading them takes practice, but you get a wealth of information to make informed choices for you and your family.