From “No Way” To “Okay!” – My Experiences with Nutrition Support Supplements

By: Becky Handley

Imagine the last time you were sick with an upset stomach or a sore throat; then try to remember what foods sounded appealing to you. Did you have a hankering for a well-balanced meal of fruits, vegetables, protein, and whole grains that would meet your nutritional needs? Most likely not. I assume all your stomach could tolerate was sipping on soup, nibbling on toast, or chewing on some crackers – anything that could make you feel better.

Now imagine you’re in the hospital with a critical illness or complicated condition where adequate nutrition is essential for your recovery. Trying to meet your caloric and protein needs through whole foods sounds impossible, right? This dilemma affected nearly all of my patients in my clinical rotations, and it was my job to think of creative alternatives to help meet their nutritional needs.

Throughout undergrad, it was ingrained in our minds to promote “getting your nutrients from whole food sources.” This motto, I thought, would apply to all of my future clients. As I entered my clinical rotation, I was totally inspired and ready to educate all of my patients on the importance of a well-balanced meal. But I soon realized this type of education was inappropriate for the inpatient setting. The majority of my patients had serious conditions such as lung diseases with chronic coughing and labored breathing, digestive conditions with malabsorption, cancer along with side effects from treatment, and eating disorders accompanied by food aversions. With most of my patients presenting with low appetites, greatly diminished intakes, and higher nutritional needs, I needed to find something they could tolerate that would also help them avoid malnourishment. Then, I discovered this magical resource called the formulary!

The majority of my patients had never tried nutritional supplements before, so I explained both their increased needs and the merits of these supplements to them. Some willingly accepted my recommendations, enjoying the product as is. But others shared an aversion toward these products, disliking the taste or perceiving these products were only for babies or the elderly. So I took a step back and put myself in my patients’ shoes. How can I present these products in a way that sounds appetizing? Then it clicked – appeal to their taste buds! For those who like milkshakes, I added some ice cream and ice and blended it into a milkshake. For those who prefer sipping on cold beverages throughout the day, I poured it over ice with a straw in a Styrofoam cup.  For those looking for a slight nutritional boost at each meal, I added it to their favorite milks.

It was amazing to see how much of a difference these products made to their health. Weight loss began to decrease, appetites began to return, energy levels began to increase, bowel regimens began to regulate, and soon, the patient was ready for discharge! Although the motto of “getting your nutrients from whole food sources” continues to help guide my approach to nutrition and health, my experiences in the inpatient setting made me a appreciate the benefits of nutrition support supplements. Now, I don’t hesitate to recommend one of these products when one of my patients needs a little nutrient boost.

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