The Pulse on Pulses

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot about pulses – that they’re the new “it” food of 2016. I’ve heard that they provide ample health benefits and are replacing things like quinoa, kale, and other exotic-sounding foods (that are bound to be hard to find and expensive) as the new life-changing power food. The word itself is ugly, and reminds me of a beating heart, and something that I definitely do not want to eat. I will be the first to admit that I actually had no idea what a pulse is. Have you heard of them? I was additionally reluctant to research them to find another nutrition fad that seems utterly ridiculous to me (sorry, Bulletproof coffee fans). But, I must say, I was pleasantly surprised to learn what pulses actually are, and to find that I’ve actually been eating them fairly regularly throughout my entire adult life.

What is a pulse?

A pulse is the dried seed portion of a legume. A legume is a plant whose fruit is enclosed inside a pod. Common legumes include soy, peanuts, and peas. Therefore, examples of a pulses are basically dried legumes. The most common types of pulses include dry lentils, chickpeas, dried peas, and dried beans.

What are the nutritional benefits?

Pulses are a filling part of any meal due to their high fiber and protein content. They are also very low in fat, so they’re a good choice to incorporate into your daily life if you’re looking to lose weight. The high fiber content helps protect against cardiovascular disease by lowering blood cholesterol levels. High fiber also helps to stabilize blood sugar levels by preventing spikes in blood sugar (which will later cause you to crash). Pulses contain a lot of protein for a plant source. For instance ½ cup of lentils contains approximately 9 grams of protein – more than an egg, which contains only 6 grams. Pulses are also nutritionally dense; they pack in a lot of different vitamins and minerals that are essential for energy production and metabolism in a very small package and for not a lot of calories. Pulses deliver a high amount of B-vitamins, folate, thiamin, and niacin, which are all important for neurological function and for energy fuel. The one downside to pulses? They may cause some gastrointestinal discomfort when eaten in large amounts, or if you’re not used to eating them all of the time. If you want to increase your pulse intake, add them into your diet slowly, and make sure to drink plenty of water to help things move through your digestive system smoothly.

How can I eat more pulses?

If you don’t feel like eating straight up beans, you can incorporate more pulses into your diet by eating foods that already contain them! Good sources include hummus, bean spreads, chili with beans, lentil soups, and dips. If you don’t care to be adventurous, you can add lentils, peas, and beans straight into your salad in place of higher-fat meat toppings. I personally love making a baked sweet potato and topping it with black beans, plain Greek yogurt, shredded cheddar cheese, and salsa for a cheap and SUPER filling dinner.

So, there you have the new, fabulous, exotic, and trendy food of 2016. As you can see, they’re really not so scary! Do you normally eat pulses? What’s your favorite way to get in these nutrition superstars?

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What a Clinical RD Does

Well, it’s been a quick minute, and in honor of National Nutrition Month, I thought there was no better time to resurrect the blog. I additionally thought it would be a good idea to talk about what exactly a clinical dietitian does. I wanted to write this post for students who are thinking about applying to a dietetic internship and/or a career in nutrition after they graduate. Or I thought this would be helpful for anyone looking to make the switch into dietetics. I know when I was in school I would have found a blog like this helpful in letting me know what to expect.

So, a lot of people ask me what I actually do, and a few have asked me to walk them through a typical work day for me. Here’s how it goes….

what-dietitians-do

I come into work around 8:00 AM and log onto a program called CBORD, where I print out the floors that I’m assigned to. This is basically a roster of patients who are admitted, their diet orders, and when they’re due to be seen for a nutrition assessment or a follow up. I make up my list of patients that are due for that day and then log into the electronic medical record. Then, I look up my patients’ past medical histories, their labs, their weight histories, and their medications, and basically try to get a big picture about what’s going on with each individual patient. I take note of anything pertinent to their nutritional status and what may be interfering with their food intake. Then, once I have all of my patients’ information, I go up to the units and attend interdisciplinary rounds with the doctors, case managers, physical therapists, and social workers. There, I can figure out which patients have pressing nutrition issues, who should be seen by a dietitian, and can give recommendations to the doctors about my patients. Then, I’ll go around to each patients’ room and interview them. I find out how their appetite is, how they’ve been eating, if they’re having any nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation, any chewing/swallowing issues, any weight changes, etc. etc. etc. There’s surprisingly a lot of talk about bowel movements with strangers, so you really cannot be shy if you want this job.

If it’s necessary, I will give diet education to the patient and family members. I cover a cardiac unit and give a lot of heart healthy and diabetic diet education. I also cover a surgery unit so I talk a lot about appropriate diets for gastrointestinal surgeries. If a patient is having issues with eating or are likely not meeting their estimated calorie and protein needs (which can lead to weight loss, trigger pressure ulcer development, and impair the ability to fight off infections, among many other medical complications), we help the patient figure out how to increase their intake. If necessary, we may have to calculate tube feeds, which is a specialized formula consisting of calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals and is delivered to the patient via a tube through the nose or directly into the stomach. If the GI tract isn’t functioning, then we will write something called total parenteral nutrition, or TPN, which is basically a solution of dextrose, amino acids, lipids, and electrolytes that is infused via an IV.

There’s a lot more to being a clinical dietitian than it may initially seem. There’s a lot of math involved if calculating a TPN, tube feed rate, or even a calorie count (where the nurse writes down everything the patient eats to determine if a patient requires alternate means of nutrition). There’s also a lot of patient advocacy and explaining to doctors why we are recommending what we’re recommending, and getting them to implement your recommendations. Also, at least where I work, there’s a lot of camaraderie amongst my fellow RDs, and we work together as a team on interesting patient cases to determine the best solutions to nutritional problems.It’s a challenging and rewarding job, and you get to see and learn about a lot of very interesting medical conditions and procedures.

So that is what I do on a day-to-day basis. In the meanwhile, if you are a student currently applying to dietetic internships, good luck! If you’re thinking about becoming a dietitian, feel free to reach out with any questions, I would be happy to answer them!