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What Does "Nutritional Status" Mean?

By Susan Thomas ; Updated August 14, 2017

Your nutritional status generally refers to whether or not you are eating the correct amounts and types of nutrients. A doctor or dietitian can determine nutritional status by assessing several factors, including body composition and appearance, blood levels, existing conditions, and issues that may impact your access to or ability to consume and absorb food. Nutritional status is influenced by the amount of each essential nutrient that you consume.

Types of Nutrients

Your body needs specific nutrients to function correctly, known as the essential nutrients. The two main classes of nutrients are macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients provide calories, the energy that your body needs to fuel daily life and include carbohydrates, protein and fat. Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals that are part of the various processes that allow your body to function appropriately. Getting too much or too little of these essential nutrients affects nutritional status. Micronutrients are provided by food, drink and, in some cases, specific formulas and intravenous fluids.

Body Composition and Appearance

A doctor or dietitian can assess physical appearance and body composition to help determine nutritional status. The condition of your skin, hair and nails and the presence of fat and muscle show that you are well nourished. A healthcare professional can also help determine if your weight is appropriate for your height and body structure.

Blood Work

Blood levels indicate if you are well nourished and if you are consuming the right amount of the right foods. Albumin, your serum protein level, is typically low if you are malnourished, so it is commonly used as a nutrition marker. Other blood protein levels such as prealbumin and globulin also may be used to assess nutritional status. Additional blood levels help determine if any irregularities exist in body function that require special diet considerations; these levels are monitored as appropriate.

Nutrition Risk Factors

Some additional factors, such as access to food, existing chronic conditions and the ability to consume and absorb food, are also indicators of nutritional status. For example, you may be at nutritional risk if you do not have the means to purchase or prepare food, or if you do not have the ability to chew and swallow food. A medical condition that causes the inability to absorb the nutrition from ingested food, such as Celiac or Crohn’s disease, also put you at nutritional risk. Mortality and morbidity related to certain chronic conditions such as diabetes, osteoporosis and cancer are better managed with appropriate dietary intervention.

Ideal Nutritional Status

A good nutritional status means that you have a healthy body composition without physical signs of nutrient deficiency; your blood work indicates that you have adequate protein stores and all other levels are in balance; and you have access to regular balanced meals that you can eat without issue. Maintaining a healthy weight, a balanced diet and taking into any special diet considerations into account all ensure an ideal nutritional status.

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