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Why whole-food nutrition matters: A conversation, Part 2

Assorted vegetables on a table

In the first part of this three-part series, Dr. Peter Nickless, dean of the School of Health Sciences and Education at Northeast College of Health Sciences, clarified the definition of whole-food nutrition, especially as it applies to preventive and therapeutic care. As we continue this wide-ranging discussion, he speaks to why whole-food nutrition will play such a significant role in the future of healthcare.

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The role of whole-food nutrition in the future of healthcare

Dr. Peter Nickless headshot

That growing significance can be seen in the rapidly expanding need for licensed nutritionists -- the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that demand for nutritionists will increase by 8% by 2029, much faster than most other job categories. Dr. Nickless took care to explain, however, that realizing the full potential of whole-food nutrition will require more than just a new generation of highly educated individual practitioners. It will also depend on a new spirit of collaboration.

He said, "When we look at noncommunicable and chronic disease, and to some extent communicable disease in general, what we start to see is a picture where nutritive status plays a vital role. This extends beyond the prevention of specific diseases, to the prognosis and even the treatment of specific conditions. In the prevention realm, we're dealing with diseases associated with obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, diseases of inflammation -- what some might call diseases of modern society. Our goal is to limit the number of people who get these conditions, through nutritive changes. The target audience is ideally as young as we can get people started; the earlier we get someone on a good nutritional track, the better the outcomes as they age.

"When we get into treatments, the ideal would be to have everyone working with a nutritionist along with the other healthcare practitioners they're seeing. So, say someone is having a musculoskeletal issue. They could have a nutritionist working with a chiropractor to use diet to help control the inflammation that might be limiting their musculoskeletal healing."


The ideal would be to have everyone working with a nutritionist along with the other healthcare practitioners they're seeing.

The growth in cross-discipline collaboration in whole-food nutrition

A nutritionist pointing toward vegetables

Collaboration among providers is improving, but still not a given, particularly where nutritionists intersect with traditional healthcare. Dr. Nickless notes that, "As more research presents itself, we're seeing a greater level of collaboration. The newest generation of doctors are being taught with an eye toward interprofessional collaboration." But progress in collaboration with nutritionists will take more than just research -- he says it's a matter of creating relationships, too.

"Nutritionists need to help educate their community. They need to reach out and work with the medical professionals outside of the nutrition world. And part of that is reaching out personally, saying, 'We share a common patient. Let's talk about the situation, let's collaborate. Here's what I'm doing -- let me share my latest notes and report.'"


Nutritionists need to...reach out and work with medical professionals outside of the nutrition world.

The general public needs to be educated, too, as we still live in a world where the meaning of a nutritionist can vary state to state and situation to situation. Dr. Nickless pointed out that, "Something that really hurts us is that the term nutritionist means different things in different states. There's no standardization. And what you'll find is people who take a weekend course and call themselves a nutritionist. Or you'll meet a guy at the gym who's got a great six pack, who calls himself a nutritionist. And then you'll get somebody from our program who's got a master's degree in nutrition, has passed a national certification exam, and in many states is licensed to perform nutrition care. These are completely different ends of the spectrum; but, unfortunately, if the general public doesn't know that, it doesn't do us much good."

Why whole-food nutrition and chiropractic are such a powerful combination

Chiropractic is one healthcare arena that is leading the way in collaborating with nutritionists, and to Dr. Nickless that's only natural. As he says, "Chiropractic care is a drug-less therapy. It's a hands-on modality where we're interacting with a patient's musculoskeletal system, specifically the spine, with the goal of achieving some outcome. But there's a problem if we assume that that's all we need to do. We may know we need to do some rehabilitative exercise or, say, some targeted muscle work. But biochemically, how are we going to address the underlying conditions, as when we're confronted with inflammation when it's a by-product of the condition that brought them into chiropractic? If someone gets a lower back injury, odds are there's going to be a tremendous amount of inflammation there.

But also, what about the predisposing factors that led them to that injury? Perhaps we're presented with a gentleman who's carrying 30 extra pounds of abdominal weight. That predisposes him to a lower back injury, which is then exacerbating the condition. So, what we would see is poor nutritive status, processed foods, high-sugar foods, etc., all of which will slow down recovery and quite possibly hinder the effectiveness of chiropractic. But since chiropractic is a drug-less therapy, we want to impact these factors without medication -- and we can get that impact from how they eat."

Since chiropractic is a drug-less therapy, we want to impact these factors without medication -- and we can get that impact from how they eat.

Why whole-food nutrition matters to your future

In the next installment of our conversation, Dr. Nickless will address, with a very compelling personal example, how nutrition can transform any medical professional's practice and career.

Did you miss the first installment in this series? Read Why whole-food nutrition matters: A conversation, Part 1.

Non-interview references:
Occupational Outlook Handbook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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