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Why whole-food nutrition matters: A conversation, Part 3

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In this final installment of our three-part conversation with Dr. Peter Nickless, dean of the School of Health Sciences and Education at Northeast College of Health Sciences, we'll look at how higher education in nutrition can dramatically impact any healthcare practice and career -- including yours.

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A wide range of medical professionals are interested in nutrition education

Dr. Peter Nickless headshot

In Part 2 of our conversation, Dr. Nickless emphasized the need for a collaborative approach to nutrition across disciplines. That raised the inevitable question of what type of medical professionals are actually pursuing an education in nutrition. Even at a college with chiropractic in the name, it turns out that the interest is broad and growing. As Dr. Nickless said, "The nutrition program at Northeast isn't geared to just chiropractors; it's geared to pretty much anybody who wants to increase their knowledge and education in nutrition.

"A good percentage of our students are chiropractors who are getting a specialty in conjunction with their chiropractic degree, earning both degrees simultaneously. They're planning on integrating nutrition heavily into their practice, so they're adding this 500- plus hours of nutritional education in with their chiropractic education so that they can better integrate these disciplines.

"Additionally, we have about a third of our students who come from other healthcare backgrounds looking to integrate nutrition into what they do for better outcomes. We have mental health professionals, physical therapists, athletic trainers, massage therapists. We even have dietitians who want to get more into a holistic or personalized nutrition background.

"And then about another third of our students, and it's the final group, are people who are looking to enter nutrition as a primary profession. And that's where, although we are Northeast College of Health Sciences, our program is separate and distinct, so that while we are a great benefit to the chiropractic students, we are also a benefit to those students who are entering nutrition for the first time and are going out into the world and practicing as nutritionists."

 

We have mental health professionals, physical therapists, athletic trainers, massage therapists, dietitians...

What is the future of nutrition in healthcare practice and education?

A person reviewing notes on an iPad

While Dr. Nickless, as mentioned above, currently sees a world where "nutritionist" may mean a guy at the gym or a graduate of a respected program, he also looks forward to a near future of much greater professionalism. As he said, "Nutrition as a profession is going to start gaining a lot more stability within the healthcare world. Advances in genomics and metabolomics, along with more educated practitioners, will positively impact the field. But more importantly, as more healthcare professionals get savvy to the role that nutrition can play as an adjunctive therapy to what they do in support of and preventing some of these diseases or conditions, nutrition is only going to grow. I think the world is very, very well versed in the impact of obesity on many of these more chronic conditions than some of the acute ones. People are more in tune with how we eat and the role of inflammation in long-term disease progression. So, from a prevention standpoint, I see an increase, but I also see it as a good adjunct."

 

"Nutrition is only going to grow."

Why does whole-food nutrition matter in your healthcare practice?

In addition to being an academic expert on nutrition, Dr. Nickless has also been a practicing chiropractor, with a unique perspective on the power of nutrition in any healthcare practice. As he reflects on his own story, "I was a practicing chiropractor, but I was also competing in Olympic weightlifting. I was a sports performance-based chiropractor, only concerned about rehabbing injuries and getting people to perform as well as they can -- but I never even considered looking at nutrition.

"I weighed about 430 pounds, was still actively competing at a regional and national level -- and I was getting injured constantly. At the point when injury was becoming so frequent that I was injured more often than I was able to compete, I started to look to nutrition as a means of saying, 'OK, well maybe that's the thing I'm overlooking.' I knew, much like every other competitive weightlifter knew, that if you eat enough protein, you're going to build muscle. But I didn't really know about reading the right types of foods, eating healthier foods, maybe not eating some sugar, maybe not consuming so many calories. And perhaps I didn't need to be as big as I was -- all of that.

"I've seen some amazing things just from changing diet."

"So, I started looking at nutrition as a means of selfishly improving my own performance. Then, much like Pandora's box, once it was opened, I couldn't talk to a patient without asking them how they were eating, without asking them a little about their diet. Over time, that morphed into an interest beyond the sports into general nutrition. And I've seen some amazing things just from changing diet; not only with patients, but with my own family, and even with myself."

Is there a new passion for whole-food nutrition?

It turns out that Dr. Nickless isn't the only one passionate about the potential of nutrition in modern healthcare -- he sees it in all of his students, too. "I interview every student that comes into the program, and almost everyone comes in with some kind of a personal story or personal connection with food and how nutrition has impacted their life. That's why they pursue it -- why our student population is extremely passionate about what they do."

So, does whole-food nutrition matter in modern healthcare? Increasingly, the research says yes. The FDA says yes. And, perhaps most important of all, collaborative, dedicated, passionate medical professionals are saying yes, convinced that nutrition is a healthcare game-changer.

Did you miss the previous installments in this series? Read Why whole-food nutrition matters: A conversation, Part 1 and Part 2.

Non-interview references:
FDA nutrition innovation strategy (2018)

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