Why Nutrition Should Be in Your Primary Care Plan

Sara Gopsill, NP-C

The role of nutrition in our overall health becomes increasingly important over time, influencing our energy levels, immunity, and the management of chronic health conditions. Living in senior communities can pose unique challenges and opportunities to maintain a balanced diet too. Primary care providers who value this holistic approach can help you maintain your well-being and enhance quality of life. 

As a primary care provider with a background in nutrition science, I've seen firsthand how nutrition can act as the first line of defense against a variety of health issues for my patients. Listening to your preferences, understanding your story, and integrating nutrition into primary care can help us lay the foundation for a healthier, happier journey. 

Understanding Your Unique Nutritional Needs 

As we mature, our bodies adapt and our nutritional needs do too. Our metabolic pace gently slows, subtly altering our caloric needs. Our digestion also changes, sometimes making it a bit trickier for us to absorb essential goodies like vitamin B12. These shifts make a few dietary tweaks all the more valuable: 

  • Bone Health: Increased calcium and vitamin D are needed to help maintain bone health.
  • Heart Health: Reduced sodium intake helps lower risk of hypertension and heart disease.
  • Digestive Health: Greater fiber intake helps regulate the digestive system.

Knowing these changes and responding to them is a powerful way to maintain our overall health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Your primary care provider should help guide you through these changes, recommending small but important shifts to help ensure that your days are filled with energy. 

Overcoming Nutritional Challenges in Senior Living Communities

Residing in a senior living community, while full of opportunities for socializing and convenience, can present its own unique set of challenges when it comes to meeting your specific nutritional needs. The meals offered, although typically delicious, diverse, and balanced, are often planned ahead of time, which might not always align perfectly with your personal preferences or specific dietary requirements. 

But there are creative and proactive ways to address these little hurdles:

  • Add yogurt or other dairy to your morning routine to add calcium to your diet for strong bones. Yogurt also has protein! 
  • Consider eating whole grain wheat bread or oatmeal a couple of times a week to add fiber and avoid constipation. 
  • Snack on fruit or protein snacks (like cheese or nuts) to provide necessary vitamins and proteins.
  • Replace trans fats with “good” unsaturated fats to help lower cholesterol disease risk. Foods high in good fats include vegetable oils (such as olive, canola, sunflower, soy, and corn), nuts, seeds, and fish. 
  • Begin your meal at the salad bar with fresh vegetables. This not only fills your plate with nutrient-packed produce but also helps you manage the portions of the rest of your meal. 
  • Drink a glass of water with each meal to keep well hydrated and avoid urinary tract infections and prevent constipation.
  • When you can, aim for 10 minutes of sun exposure at noon, which produces the daily recommended amount of vitamin D. 

If mobility presents a challenge in shopping for fresh produce and groceries, a range of grocery delivery apps are ready to bring your shopping right to your doorstep, making the quest to maintain a healthy diet that much simpler. Many senior living communities have recognized these challenges and are partnering with grocery delivery services, making sure you have easy access to fresh food.

Meeting the Dietary Needs of Chronic Health Conditions

When faced with common conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or hypertension, dietary management becomes even more essential. When I meet with patients, I take a look at their health conditions, listen to their concerns, understand their goals, and make nutritional recommendations that work best for them. For example, I might consider the following:  

  • Living with Diabetes: Keeping an eye on your carbohydrate intake becomes more important when you have diabetes. Opt for foods that are high in fiber and low in processed sugars. This simple change can help keep your blood sugar levels stable and well-managed.
  • Caring for Your Heart: Heart disease often calls for a diet lower in sodium. Not to mention, foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like fish, become important. 
  • Managing Multiple Conditions: It's not uncommon for us to manage more than one health condition as we age. Balancing dietary needs in these instances might seem like tricky, but it's absolutely manageable with a bit of careful planning and guidance from your healthcare team.

The Advantage of Primary Care in Nutrition

Primary care providers play a pivotal role in addressing the complex relationship between nutrition and health. In our practice, we integrate nutritional support into primary care, treating it as a vital part of personalized health management for each patient. Because we spend time getting to know you, your history, and your preferences, we often have the opportunity to make recommendations that align with your needs. 

  • Personalized Care: We take into account your unique needs, health conditions, and personal preferences when providing nutritional guidance. 
  • Regular Monitoring: We routinely monitor health conditions and adjust dietary recommendations accordingly. 
  • Proactive Approach: Instead of treating diseases as they occur, we use nutrition as a preventative measure, mitigating potential health issues down the line.

The integration of nutrition into primary care can lead to improvements in patient health. For example: 

  • Managing Diabetes: A patient can see an improvement in blood sugar levels when we incorporate dietary changes into their care plan. Their dependence on medication can be reduced significantly, improving quality of life.
  • Controlling Hypertension: In a case with a patient who struggles with hypertension, dietary adjustments, primarily a reduction in sodium intake, can contribute to a drop in blood pressure levels.
  • Balancing Multiple Needs: Patients managing multiple health conditions, can experience an improved quality of life when we tailor their diets to address their complex nutritional needs.

Primary care providers have a unique opportunity, and indeed a responsibility, to integrate nutritional health into their care strategies. As patients, engaging with a primary care provider who understands the nuances of senior nutrition can make all the difference in managing your health. 

Your nutrition matters. Your health matters. And amazing primary care providers are those who are committed to supporting you every step of the way in your journey towards better health. So, the next time you meet your primary care provider, ask questions about your nutritional needs. You'll find that it's a discussion worth having, one that can light the path towards healthier years ahead.


Sara Gopsill, NP-C

My passion for helping others on their life journeys led me to pursue a career as a nurse and nurse practitioner. With a strong background in nutrition and a personal commitment to an active lifestyle, I combine science, evidence, and compassion to provide comprehensive care. I approach patient care through a holistic lens, treating individuals uniquely and advocating for their needs to preserve what is most important to them. My primary objective is to meet each individual where they are and support them in living their best life possible.

Originally from the Seattle area, I now reside in the Bay Area and enjoy soaking up the sunshine. When I'm not working, I love spending quality time with my husband and three children, relaxing on the beach, and going for runs.

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