March is Nutrition Month. As we pay tribute to the important role healthy nutrition plays in a healthy lifestyle, we are delighted to introduce you to Samantha Maas, clinical dietitian at Shriners Hospitals for Children ─ Northern California.
“I am truly grateful to work at Shriners as part of the medical team, says Samantha. “Being a dietitian encompasses everything I love – food, fitness and helping others.”
Samantha earned her bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Food Sciences at Chico State University. After completing a 1-year dietetic internship, she took the national exam to become a Registered Dietitian. While she has provided nutrition counseling to people of all ages, Samantha is passionate about her work at Shriners where she is able to focus on the nutritional needs of children.
What inspired you to become a dietitian?
Growing up, I played several sports. High school swimming and water polo were a huge part of my life. I went to Chico State and played for their water polo team. Being a collegiate athlete, I knew that nutrition was really important! When it came time to picking a major, I found Nutrition and Food Science to be very interesting. I learned that this academic path could lead me to becoming a “nutrition expert” and would open up doors to many different types of nutrition-related careers.
Have you always focused on children?
Prior to working at Shriners, I was doing nutrition counseling at a health clinic for both adults and children, and it was there that I realized I love working with children and families. I started focusing on pediatrics. When I became a RD (registered dietitian) at Shriners, I knew that I wanted to become a specialist in pediatric nutrition. I am now on my way to becoming board certified as a Specialist in Pediatric Nutrition this May!
Can you describe a typical day at work at Shriners Hospital?
A typical day involves visiting patients and families to discuss any issues with meals, food allergies, or food preferences. I also share with them the importance of nutrition for healing. When families know that adequate protein, calories, and vitamins will speed up the healing process, they will do what it takes to encourage their child to get all the nutrients they need. I look through patients’ medical charts to gather the information I need to recommend the most appropriate nutrition therapy – this includes their medical condition, lab values, medications, gastrointestinal issues, weight, and percentage of oral food intake. It’s a busy job, but I love all aspects of it!
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
The most rewarding aspect of my job is being able to make a positive difference in a child’s hospital experience, whether by recommending the right nutritional therapy or just by bringing them ice cream! Knowing that adequate nutrition can accelerate the healing process makes me feel like my role is important.
Do you have simple advice / recommendation for people interested in a healthy diet?
I think it’s important for people to have healthy relationships with food, so my general advice is “everything in moderation.” A balanced diet with protein, vegetables, fruit, whole grains, healthy fats, dairy (or non-dairy like soy/nut milks), and a few fun foods in between creates a healthy balance. Most important, you won’t feel restricted. Enjoyable movement ─ doing physical activity that you ENJOY ─ creates a sustainable, healthy lifestyle when paired with a balanced diet. If you’re thinking about food restriction or limitation (for reasons other than allergies/intolerances), ask yourself: “is this something I can do for the rest of my life?” If the answer is “no”, then it’s not sustainable and will not enable you to create a healthy relationship with food.