Aug 102010

Years ago when I became a LVN, I was pleasantly surprised to know that nutrition was one of the required courses to become a LVN/LPN.  Fortunately nutrition is still being taught in LVN/LPN schools with a minimum requirement of 32 theory hours in California.  The significance of good nutrition and health was even conveyed back in the days of Hippocrates (460-370 BC) who was the father of medicine known to say, “Let thy food be thy medicine, and thy medicine be thy food.” Today LVN/LPN students learn about the basic principles of nutrition to create a foundation for learning about the functions of protein, carbohydrates, fats and water.

With this knowledge the LVN/LPN may be the first one to notice that their patient is not eating adequate amounts of protein, which is essential for their patient’s wounds to heal and tissue to grow.  In addition, carbohydrates, such as glucose is essential for the brain to function, as this is the brain’s fuel.  Patients are sometimes not permitted to eat food prior to diagnostic tests and surgery.   This time of fasting can be very dangerous when the lack of food disrupts the blood sugar level and nutrients.  A patient may become disoriented and confused by having their diet withheld too long.  Fortunately for the patient, the nurse acts as a detective by keeping an eye out for all contributing factors that can be managed to prevent further problems with their patient.  Nutritional needs not only vary with different diagnosis, but also throughout the lifespan.

For instance, a pregnant woman’s food intake varies throughout her pregnancy as she typically gains a total of 25-35 pounds.  It is recommended that during the first trimester the new mother is to eat an additional 150 calories more per day, and then increase an additional 350 calories per day in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. In contrast an infant under 6 months only needs approximately 438-645 total calories for the whole day.  On the other end of the age-spectrum, is the older adult who needs less calories because their body muscle mass usually decreases with age.  According to the Dietary Guidelines For Americans 2005, a sedentary woman over 51 years of age only needs 1,600 calories per day. With diabetes and obesity on the rise in the U.S., nurses more than ever play an important role in educating the public about healthy food choices.

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