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What is a Dietary Assessment?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jan 29, 2024
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A dietary assessment is a process designed to determine what kinds of foods a person is consuming and in what amounts. This information is combined with the results of physical evaluations and diagnostic screening to come up with a complete nutritional assessment of a patient. Such assessments are used to find out whether patients are meeting their dietary needs, to identify health risk factors a patient may be experiencing, and to help people design appropriate diets.

There are a number of dietary assessment methods that can be used to collect this data. The best is direct observation, usually only possible in a hospital environment where food intake can be precisely monitored. Patients who agree to being taped can also be assessed outside the hospital, although this can make the patient self conscious and it may mean that accurate results are hard to obtain.

Other methods can include keeping a food diary to track all foods consumed or self-reporting in interviews with a care provider. Phone interviews and interviews in a clinic can be used to solicit information about what people are eating. Self-reporting for a dietary assessment can be a flawed data collection method, as patients may understate the amount of food they are eating, forget to note down snacks, or fail to measure portions properly, resulting in skewed data. Steps to help patients record information properly can include providing visual representations of portion sizes and providing patients with checklists they can use instead of writing out the details of their meals.

A dietary assessment can be used to explore the possibility of food allergies, identify nutritional deficiencies that may be contributing to health problems, or narrow down possible causes of weight loss or gain. At the conclusion of the assessment, a nutritionist, doctor, or dietitian can review the information and make recommendations. These can include changing food intake, adding in more exercise, eliminating certain foods, or adding supplements to the diet to meet nutritional needs.

Dietary assessments are more valuable when patients are honest, accurate, and detailed in their responses. The more complete the information, the better the recommendations from a practitioner will be. Patients will be taken through a detailed process to learn how to track and report what they are consuming and some find it helpful to do things like taking pictures, weighing, or measuring before eating to generate unbiased data. It's also important to remember that there are no right or wrong answers on a dietary assessment and that incomplete information can result in compromised care.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By SarahGen — On Oct 18, 2014

@literally45-- Well normally, if you go to a dietitian because you want to lose or gain weight, you will be given a dietary assessment chart. It's just a chart (usually for a week) where you have to write everything you eat every day and the timings. The doctor looks at it at the next appointment before giving a diet and exercise plan.

By discographer — On Oct 18, 2014

@literally45-- I'm not sure. My grandfather had to have a dietary assessment because he lost a lot of weight after my grandmother died and the doctor wanted to know exactly how much he eats in a day and what he eats. It turned out that he barely eats anything. He is living with us now and he's back to his normal weight with my mom's cooking.

So I think this assessment is done when it is suspected that the patient has abnormal eating habits but it is important to know to what extent that's true. So the elderly, those with eating disorders and other chronic illnesses probably require a dietary assessment.

By literally45 — On Oct 17, 2014

In what types of cases is a dietary assessment used? It's not routine for everyone who is underweight or overweight, is it?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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