Top 3 Nutrition Tips PTs can Give their Clients


Top 3 Nutrition Tips PTs can Give their Clients

By Dr. Sean M. Wells, DPT, PT, OCS, ATC/L, CSCS, NSCA-CPT, CNPT, Cert-DN

Physical therapists (PTs) are unique healthcare providers that are positioned to have a major impact on the healthcare systems. PTs are now doctorally prepared, trained in differential diagnoses and imaging, and work with clients directly from the street (e.g. direct access). More importantly PTs often see clients sometimes daily or at least several times per week, depending on the client issue and clinical setting. As such, PTs can be utilized as a major agent of change for health and wellness, and one of the ways they can do this is through nutrition!

One major barrier, as we have highlighted in other articles, for PTs to offer nutrition advice is their education. Another limitations for many PTs is time. A PT may ask: how can I juggle all of these clinical pieces, notes, and still talk about nutrition with my clients? Well, our team at Nutritional Physical Therapy would like to offer you 3 evidenced-based nutrition tips that can significantly improve almost any patient’s health and outcomes. Let’s dive in and get started!

#1 Focus on Plants

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past 2 years, plant-based diets have soared in popularity and efficacy. As I write this article in late April of 2019, 4 studies were just published this week alone on the benefits of whole-food, plant-based diets and their health improvements. The one study showed that a whole-food plant based diet reverses many of the issues with congestive heart failure (CHF). Can you imagine telling a patient to eat more plants, less meat and animal products, and suddenly they have more endurance and less hospital readmissions? How perfect!

How about just keeping your patients alive? A recent study out of Finland highlighted how a diet focused on animal protein (meat, dairy, fish) increases the odds of men dying significantly. Those eating more animal products were 23% more likely to die than those that stuck with eating plant-based protein, fruits, and vegetables. Now that is powerful!

You might argue that keeping someone alive is not a “physical therapy” related outcome. Some foods can be “functional foods” which confer a positive benefit to the physiological function of the body. For instance, did you know that blueberries can improve balance? How about the fact that  cherries can reduce inflammation after a hard workout? Studies covering functional foods and more are covered in our third course, Specialized Nutrition for PTs. Bottomline, fruit and vegetables are functional and can improve your patient’s functional outcomes.

#2 Drink More Water and Tea

Water is the best source for hydration. Basic tap water or reverse osmosis water from the tap is ideal. Most bottled water is tap water, or it is unregulated (e.g. not screened for toxins and pollutants). Plus drinking from a plastic bottle may expose you to harmful hormone-interrupting chemicals.

Although the number of sugary beverages consumed are coming down, most Americans still over-indulge on beverages like soda, juice, and sweetened teas and coffees (think Starbucks). The added sugar is mostly not needed calories and these beverages offer little nutrition benefits. In contrast, unsweetened green tea is noted be very healthy. In one literature review they found daily green tea consumption may be linked to lower risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease! Chai tea is also chock full of spices like cardamom, cloves and cinnamon, which also confer reductions in inflammation through their strong antioxidant powers. Black coffee can help the average patient stay moving and protect their liver from cancer. For our sport physios, coffee can help athletes squeak out extra performance based on speed and endurance measures. Moreover, patients with Parkinson’s move better based on the UPRD when they consume coffee, so here’s a great piece for our neuro PTs to talk about with their clients! In the end, counseling clients that water is best, followed by unsweetened teas and coffee is best practices.

#3 Switch the Dessert for Fruit

One of the major contributors to chronic, preventable diseases is processed food. Many processed foods intentionally contain large quantities of fat and sugar to make the food more marketable and tasty (we cover the food lobby and marketing in our Introduction to Nutrition Course for PTs). The issue with such chemistry is that when fat and sugar are combined you often see high calories, little nutrients, and higher rates of diseases when such products are consumed. The best available current theory regarding Type 2 diabetes is that excessive fat consumption does two things: first, it gunks up insulin in the serum rendering it useless; second, studies show that a high fat diet increases myocellular fat concentrations, which prevents our muscles from utilizing glucose in the muscle (it stays in the blood, cause high blood sugar). To better understand this, please see Dr. Greger’s amazing video and peer-reviewed sources on What Causes Diabetes?

Fat alone can cause these changes but the person must also being eating carbohydrates, particularly refined carbohydrates, for the body to begin to spike its serum sugar levels. As such, the perfect duo for diabetes would be a nice cake, a milk chocolate bar, or a jelly filled donut: they pack both the high fat and the sugar. The fat is the mechanism and the sugar is, well, the sugar that spikes the serum glucose.

An alternative to processed desserts that are chock full of fat and sugar would be whole fruit. Fruit is naturally high in fructose so your patient will still get some “fix” to that sugar craving. Fruit is jammed pack full of fiber, which helps to mitigate, according to research, much of the insulin-spiking sugar in the fruit and health issues. Again, our team at Nutritional Physical Therapy must highlight that it is whole fruit, not juiced or canned fruit; the prior referenced systematic review above shows that whole-fruit is king of desserts!

Want more? 

If you like our content and want more, please check out our blog or enroll in our courses.  There is much more to be found in our evidenced-based, board-approved online continuing education courses for physical therapists. Refer a friend, share this blog post on your Twitter or Facebook page, and we hope to see you again soon!


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Keywords: online courses, physical therapy ceu, nutrition, PT, continuing education


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