By Maria Muro
Leave it to a nutritionist to say that much of
wellness and disease management relates to the nutritional intake of a patient.
But for Leigh Anne Kamerman Burns, MS, RDN, after 27 years in nutrition
healthcare (the last 25 at LSU) she has worked in the field long enough to
experience its truth.
"I believe it’s the building block of all
medical care,” Burns says. "In many diseases, such as diabetes and
hypertension, if patients don’t change their eating habits, then it is really
hard to control their disease.”
Poor nutrition leads to worsening conditions,
increased medication and often new medical issues.
As a result, her main goals as a nutritionist focus on wellness and quality of
"I learned really young that if we could
improve nutrition and could help people understand how to be well, that we
didn’t have to see as many sick people,” she says.
As for quality of life, she teaches that
eating habits including foods too high in sugars, fats and salts can wreak
havoc with a patient’s wellness goals and their ability to stay active. An
obese patient will have a harder time getting around; a diabetic might have
eyesight or circulation complications. At the very least, these patients are
going to spend more time in their doctors’ offices.
But with so many gastronomic delights in the
New Orleans area, encouraging healthy eating can be a tough sell. "You have to
meet people where they are in their willingness to change,” Burns says. "You
can’t come in and say, ‘You cannot eat that,’ but maybe they would be willing
to find changes that work for them. Make it realistic. If you’re going to eat
fatty food today, then tomorrow you might want to make better selections.”
Burns specializes in nutrition challenges —
like with cancer and HIV patients — and nutrition for critically ill and
chronic disease. She understands that what a very sick patient eats can make a
lot of difference in how well they tolerate their treatments and manage the
She also gets a great number of referrals from
endocrinologists and internal medicine physicians. "I see a tremendous amount
of support from my LSU colleagues in medicine and surgery as buy-in on
nutrition to improve disease management and improve healing in surgical
outcomes,” Burns says.
On choosing a career in
nutrition: "I didn’t want to give shots,” Burns jokes. "My mother was a
nurse; my dad’s a doctor. I was raised eating the four food groups. I wasn’t
raised eating Southern. It stuck with me for the most part. I had an interest
in health as a young woman … I played many sports. I learned early that fitness
and nutrition are a very important part of the healthcare scene.”
Proudest accomplishment: A
cancer screening program (now 24 years running) called Partners in Wellness
through LSU Shreveport now provides mobile mammography and wellness in north
Louisiana. She also speaks to patients and providers across the country and in
Canada about nutritional management of neuroendocrine tumors. "Like many of us
at LSU, I have worn a lot of hats,” she says.
Success in numbers: "In
St. Charles, I’m offering nutrition classes where we work together as a group
and give each other support,” Burns says. "Hearing how others have made changes
or been successful … I even learn things sometimes! You don’t have to be 100
percent all 100 percent of the time. We can reach some of these goals
Other tips for healthy
eating: Burns says that each patient has specific requirements, but,
in general, we can all benefit from the basics:
your food groups and how much of each to place on your plate. (choosemyplate.gov)
about portion control and preparing ahead to make better decisions on busy
more plant-based food items, especially foods that are deep green, yellow or
orange like spinach, acorn squash and sweet potatoes.
lean choices of protein. Seafood this time of year is an especially good
choice. With meats, the cuts like rounds or loins tend to be leaner. Nuts,
beans and meatless meals are a good way to cut back, while still getting
blood sugars by knowing about better carbohydrates — and the right amount of
them — for your body.
how to use herbs, spices, fruits and veggies to season food without using all
drink all your calories. Alcohol and fruit juices are concentrated sugars.
food without frying. Not only is it more healthful; it’s easier and less mess.
your children healthy eating while they are young. "The best place to start is
before it becomes a problem,” Burns says.
Undergraduate: Northeast Louisiana University,
BS Home Economics and Nutrition
Graduate School: Louisiana Tech, Master’s in Nutrition and Human Ecology
Fellowship: Docere Teaching Excellence focusing on Academic Education, LSU
School of Medicine New Orleans
St. Charles Clinic 3rd floor
3700 St. Charles Ave., 3rd floor
New Orleans, LA