Similar to nutritionists, dietitians are health professionals who use their expert knowledge in the field of food and nutrition to help people make positive lifestyle changes. These practitioners have training in the science of nutrition, which they translate into practical solutions for clients to assist them in reaching their health goals. This may mean supporting any health concerns or conditions, losing weight, addressing nutrient deficiencies, and more.1
A wide range of people can benefit from the help of a dietitian. For example, the science-based advice of these professionals may help if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or digestive problems; if you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding; if you want to improve your physical performance or are an athlete; or if you are having trouble with your weight.2 3
In order to support their clients, dietitians use a wide range of techniques, principles, and tools. Whether you are a dietitian wanting to enhance client care or you just want to learn more about dietitian tools that a practitioner might use, here are a few to consider.
1. Food plates or food pyramids
One of the most common dietitian tools is the food plate or food pyramid. These are visual aids that help to show what a balanced diet should look like and how much of each food group a person should be eating. The purpose of plates or pyramids is to encourage you to choose a healthy ratio of the different food groups—for example, making half of your plate fruits and vegetables.
The current standard is called MyPlate, put out by the USDA.4 MyPlate is a colorful image of a plate that is divided into suggested portions of vegetables, fruits, grains, protein, and dairy. There are accompanying resources such as the MyPlate Plan which can give you personalized food group targets based on factors like age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity level.5
2. Food models
Some dietitians and nutritionists may use food models as a teaching aid. These fake food replicas (often made of plastic or wood) can be used as a hands-on, visual representation of healthy food choices. A dietitian might use these replicas to show what a balanced dinner looks like or to show proper portion control of certain foods, for example.
3. Food diaries or trackers
In order to get a clear picture of a client’s current food and dietary habits, dietitians will often ask the person to keep a food diary or to track their food intake with other types of tools. That might mean using tools such as food tracking apps or food logs.6
These diaries and tracking tools help to give the dietitian a baseline of the person’s current dietary state. From there, they can give recommendations of positive changes that can be made to the diet. Additionally, the act of tracking what one eats can be beneficial for the clients themselves—helping them to become better aware of their own eating habits.7
4. Nutrient databases
Much of a dietitian’s work involves providing specific dietary recommendations based on a person’s unique nutrient needs. For example, someone may have a chronic condition that requires certain nutrients to be better managed. In order to provide proper food and meal recommendations, dietitians must understand the nutrient composition of foods.
For that reason, dietitians often rely on databases where they can search for specific foods and see their nutrient composition. For example, FoodData Central is the USDA’s database, which lists the amounts of things like calories, vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids in a serving size of any given food.8
5. Daily recommended intake calculators
Nutrition science has determined the ideal amount of nutrients that people should, on average, eat every day. These are called daily recommended intakes, or DRIs.9 Dietitians can use calculators such as the USDA’s DRI Calculator10 to input factors like weight, height, activity level, and age and get specific recommendations for their clients. The results show how many calories, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, water, etc. a person should be aiming for every day.
These calculators are an easy way to help dietitians design specific meal plans and recommendations for their clients, so that they can get as close to their DRIs as possible.
6. Meal plans
Meal plans are at the heart of a dietitian or nutritionist’s toolbox. After gathering information about their client (background, health history, daily habits, etc.), the dietitian will work to design a meal plan that is in line with their nutritional needs and preferences. It will be carefully created with certain portions of foods that will provide that person with the proper amounts of nutrients they need to reach their health goals.
Meal plans guide the person on what to eat throughout the day and week, with ingredients and portions laid out clearly. These meal plans might also come with shopping lists, cooking instructions, and more, depending on what the dietician offers. Eventually, the goal is to help the client to learn to do healthy meal planning for themselves, so that they can maintain a healthy diet on their own.
7. Nutrient and calorie calculators
Dietitians also rely on nutrient- and calorie-calculating tools for client success. Sometimes, they use these tools themselves to help design meal plans. Additionally, they may suggest these tools to clients to help the person learn about the nutrient contents of certain meals or foods.
This can be particularly useful when it comes to learning how many calories, fats, carbs, sugars, etc. are in prepared foods and drinks—such as fast food, restaurant meals, or packaged meals. For example, one can type into the search bar the term “macaroni and cheese,” select their favorite brand, and then learn about the nutrition content of that particular food item.11
8. Measuring cups and spoons
Oftentimes, physical tools can be very useful for a dietitian’s clients. That is where measuring cups and spoons can come into play.
Dieticians can show clients how to actually measure out portions according to serving size recommendations with measuring cups and spoons. For example, they can show how to measure out a specific amount of popcorn to put into a bowl as a snack, or how to use teaspoons to measure out salad dressing before putting it on a salad.
9. ZYTO biocommunication
Many dieticians and nutritionists use ZYTO biocommunication to help their clients make better nutrition choices. Utilizing galvanic skin response technology, a ZYTO scan can tell you the supplements, foods, and lifestyle choices for which the body showed a strong positive response, or what we call biological coherence.
ZYTO technology can not only help with nutrition choices, but can also address the emotional component of eating. With EVOX perception reframing, clients are able to change the way they think about the behaviors that are leading to poor diet choices and poor health outcomes.
Other ways dietitians may work with clients
In addition to the tools listed above, dietitians and nutritionists may lean on a wide range of techniques and strategies.
Some additional things that a dietitian might do with their clients include:
- Taking their client on a grocery store tour, helping them to learn how to make healthy food choices when shopping.12
- Going through a client’s pantry and refrigerator with them, educating the person on healthy ingredients to keep and which unhealthy ones to throw out.13
- Doing a cooking demonstration with the client, teaching the client how to prepare healthy, nutritious meals on their own with easy techniques.
- Talking with the client about what might be at the root of their dietary struggles, helping to uncover blocks and working through solutions.
Each dietitian and nutritionist’s approach will be different, and their toolbox of resources will vary depending on how they prefer to work with their clients.
Use tools help create better results
If you are a dietitian or nutritionist, then you are likely familiar with many of the tools listed above. And if you aren’t, you may want to consider adding them into your care plan for your clients.
And if you are a client looking to begin work with a dietitian or nutritionist, be sure to ask what types of tools and resources the practitioner uses. This can help you to get a clearer picture of how the person works, what to expect, and how they plan to best support you and your goals.
About Chelsea Clark
Chelsea Clark is a writer and certified health and wellness coach who is passionate about supporting others along their own health journeys. She enjoys helping people make positive, lasting changes so that they can live the happiest, healthiest life possible.
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13. “Clean out your pantry, clean up your health.” Harvard University. Health.Harvard.edu.