Why don’t doctors ask about your diet?

Over the course of my long 20 mile training run last Sunday I listened to a couple of podcast episodes geared towards health, nutrition, triathlon and well-being. I can’t even remember which episode I was listening to, but someone on Rich Roll’s podcast brought up how doctors don’t often associate diet with a patient’s health problems. Most of the time doctors just treat the symptoms your body is showing without getting at the root cause, which could very likely be linked to diet. This really got me musing about why this is true.

With the exception of a sports specific trainer helping me recover from a stress fracture last year, my doctors have never really asked me about my diet. The only reason he asked me was to make sure I was aware of getting some extra calcium to help the fracture heal. Why isn’t “what have you been eating lately?” one of the first questions the nurse practitioner asks you? Why aren’t doctors required to take nutrition courses beyond just knowing the symptoms of vitamin or mineral deficiencies? Think about it, doctors ask about sexual history, alcohol consumption, drug use, whether you smoke, etc. but unless you come in to a doctor’s office complaining about gastrointestinal issues or to ask about allergy testing for gluten, egg, dairy sensitivities, there isn’t much talk about what you eat.

Doctors may talk about healing foods, whether hot soups and tea during a cold, or pepper to clear sinuses, and may talk about immune boosting foods like anti-oxidant rich berries and pro-biotic filled yogurts and fermented foods. Rarely though, do they ask about the “well-roundedness” of your diet, namely if you are eating vegetables. We know vegetables are good for you, we know sugar is bad. We may have different opinions on carbohydrates in the form of grains and the sugars in certain fruits, and we also might have athletic performance-based arguments on high-fat versus low-fat in our diets, but what we all agree on is the positive contribution that an abundance of vegetables can have on our health.

Maybe a doctor will half-heartedly tell you to make sure to eat your vegetables, but shouldn’t they do something more like prescribing them? Imagine if all doctors said something like the following:

– “Oh you’ve seen me several times in the past months for cold like symptoms, let’s look at your normal meals and see if we can add a serving of greens and high in vitamin C food like red bell peppers to your dinner every night?”

– “You’re feeling a loss in energy at the end of the day? Let’s examine your typical day of meals and make sure you aren’t starting your morning off with any sugary foods that will lead to a crash later in the day, also here are some easy breakfast recipes that you can try out.”

– “You have trouble falling asleep? Before I prescribe any medication, why don’t you try drinking a sleepytime tea for a couple of weeks and try getting some extra magnesium into your diet, which helps regulate sleep, through pumpkin and sunflower seeds.”

I have quite a few friends who are going through or are about to go through medical school. Wouldn’t it be nice if their education included more of an emphasis on food’s impact on the human body so that the next generation of physicians can treat more than a patient’s symptoms? What we ingest is just as important as other environmental factors that effect our health, so let’s start talking with our doctors about our diet and the foods we eat.

If we can all move away from a treatment based healthcare system and toward a more preventative health care system that is inclusive of all of our health care professionals, then I believe we will be on track for a healthier overall population.

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2 responses to “Why don’t doctors ask about your diet?

  1. This has been a huge issue of mine, too. It makes me very upset that so few doctors ask anything at all about food and diet. I’ve been trying lately to seek a good balance between traditional and naturopathic medicine. I think traditional medicine is so important, but the fact that naturopaths actually consider nutrition (and so many other factors) is so reassuring.

  2. I completely agree with your post! Doctors are also all about taking vitamins and other supplements. I had to explain to my doctor that I don’t take a multi-vitamin because I eat plenty of raw fruits and vegetables everyday.

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