NIDDK Director's Update Fall 2020

Health Information Updates

Transforming COVID-19 food challenges into opportunities

Dr. Holly Nicastro shares advice for healthy eating at home

By Heather Martin

During a pandemic, recommendations for healthy eating may be the same, but the ways in which we follow them likely look different and pose new challenges. Nutrition scientist Dr. Holly Nicastro, a program director in the NIDDK Office of Nutrition Research, shared how the pandemic has affected her and her family and provided advice during a NIH #CopingWithCOVID19 livestream on healthy food choices at home.

“There's no special diet food or dietary supplement that will prevent or treat a COVID-19 infection, but it is more important than ever to follow a generally healthy diet,” said Nicastro.

With increasing evidence pointing to greater disease severity and complications in those with chronic diseases related to diet, Nicastro recommends following a dietary pattern based on science, one that meets nutritional requirements and importantly one that is achievable for the long run. Examples are the DASH eating plan or a dietary pattern based on the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, which were developed with food costs in mind.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made groceries difficult to find, changed how food shopping is done, and has unfortunately changed the budget for many. To complete essential errands including food shopping during the pandemic, CDC recommends using online services when available, practicing social distancing, and limiting trips to the store.

Many of these challenges can be an opportunity to develop new strategies to maintain or start healthy nutrition habits. Nicastro shares some tips to consider:

Challenge Opportunity
Scarcity of some groceries Trying variations or new foods, such as red lentil or black bean pasta that have higher fiber and more protein than typical pasta
Shorter trips to the grocery store Making a detailed list before you go, which removes some factors like hunger, stress or boredom that may result in less healthy decisions
Fewer trips to the grocery store Meal planning can help you stick to a list and with pre-portioning meals to get the right-sized food portions while many are home all day
Budgeting and buying items in bulk Properly storing bulk fruits and vegetables, which are often more affordable, so that they can be stored longer and eaten after more perishable items are used 

Cooking one large batch at the beginning of the week of a lower-cost bulk vegetable, rice, lentils or beans will mean there will be healthy meals ready to serve at any time.
Family at home for more time during the day Plan ahead and pre-portion meals to have healthy choices available and set meal and snack times and stick to them

Going to the supermarket less also means getting more groceries at once, which could result in food waste. Nicastro suggests, “When you're unpacking your groceries, organize and use them according to shelf life. Bananas might last only a few days on your countertop, so put them out in a prominent location where they'll be seen and eaten first.”

The countertop tip worked for Nicastro; she bought 10 bananas to use for the background of the livestream, and only three were left that day after her family saw them out and ready to eat. “I have one entire section of my countertop and the entire top shelf of my refrigerator dedicated to foods that need to be eaten within the next 24 to 48 hours, so anyone in my family now knows to check those two places first before preparing or asking for meals or snacks,” Nicastro said.

Above all, Nicastro calls for viewers to give themselves a break during this tough time and to reach out to health care professionals for support.

*Editors' note: NIDDK chairs the Nutrition Research Task Force, which recently released the strategic plan for NIH nutrition research. NIDDK Director Dr. Rodgers and NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, recently published a Viewpoint article in JAMA about the strategic plan. The plan aims to develop the science leading precision nutrition, giving us the answer to what individuals should eat to be healthy.

Continuing health education with NIDDK

New kidney health training available for health care professionals

By Matthew Oldham 
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Communicating complex messages and keeping up with the latest information in an ever-changing health care field is not easy. To help, NIDDK launched a new education course on NIDDK’s Professional & Continuing Education (CME & CE) webpage with tools for pharmacists to identify and manage chronic kidney disease (CKD) in patients. The new course joins three other accredited kidney disease-related courses on NIDDK’s website, providing tools to diabetes educators, physicians, registered dieticians and other members of the health care team.

NIDDK experts in the Division of Kidney, Urologic, and Hematologic Diseases (KUH) worked with related organizations to create and produce all four courses. The courses are co-hosted on NIDDK’s website and by accreditation partners, and include training on counseling patients on nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) use to prevent kidney injury, helping diabetes educators care for patients with kidney disease, and CKD nutrition management.

“This training is an important addition to our continuing education tools for health care professionals,” said Dr. Robert Star, director of KUH. “We hope our collection of courses contributes to awareness, screening, prevention, and early treatment of kidney disease.”

The NIDDK courses are free and available to the general public. Those seeking to earn CME & CE credit will find links to partner organizations listed in the course information page on the NIDDK website, as NIDDK does not issue CME & CE credits. Additional kidney-related trainings available on the NIDDK website include non-accredited courses on CKD nutrition for dietetic educators, kidney disease education lessons, and glomerular disease.

NIDDK’s diabetes resources now available through MedlinePlus Connect

Doctor visiting with patient

NIDDK health information is now available to those who use many popular electronic health record (EHR) systems, patient portals, and other health information technology systems through MedlinePlus Connect.

MedlinePlus Connect is a service of the NIH’s National Library of Medicine (NLM) that maps more than 170,000 diagnostic, drug, and lab test codes to relevant health information, also called patient education. NIDDK-specific information and links can be retrieved with more than 1,000 medical codes.

MedlinePlus Connect is unique among health information resources for EHRs in that it is free and does not require any licensing or registration, unlike other similar services. MedlinePlus Connect links to vetted health information from the NLM, NIDDK and elsewhere at the NIH.

To learn more about how an organization can implement MedlinePlus Connect and access other helpful tips and tools, visit the NIDDK Diabetes Discoveries & Practice blog and subscribe.

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