April 25, 2012

Barbara Kravets, who began working as a nutrition counselor more than 40 years ago, was instrumental in writing the Illinois law that enabled nutritionists to become licensed practitioners.

Ms. Kravets also worked closely with physicians and health food retailers to elevate the level of science, documentation and professionalism in the field.

As a counselor, she was exceptional in her presentation of information and her ability to help others make better dietary choices, colleagues said. Patients credited Ms. Kravets with helping them.

"Combining the information and the presence to be able to actually make the change, that's the key in nutrition counseling," said Michael Stroka, president of the American Nutrition Association. "And she had it."

Ms. Kravets, 76, died of complications from leukemia and lymphoma Wednesday, April 11, in Villa Marie Claire Hospice and Palliative Care in Saddle River, N.J., said her daughter, Laura Kravets.

She started studying nutrition in 1968, when her husband, Leonard, was diagnosed with diabetes. To help her husband manage his condition, Ms. Kravets developed a high-nutrition, low-sugar plan for her entire family, using sugar substitutes in the meals she prepared and adapting recipes found in cookbooks.

The couple was featured in an "Action Plan" column in the March 31, 1974, edition of the Chicago Tribune.

"The diabetic exchange diet is nothing more than a well-balanced, high nutrition diet that includes the proper balance of the major and necessary food groups," Ms. Kravets told the paper. "What is great about it is that the nutritionists have done all the work for you. Everyone can adapt it to his own needs."

Dr. Denny Zeitlin, Ms. Kravets' brother and a psychiatrist, said his sister "became a self-taught expert, and this was the spur that would launch her career in clinical nutrition and dietetics."

Ms. Kravets was born Barbara Zeitlin and grew up on the North Shore, where she attended Highland Park High School. She received a bachelor's degree in psychology from Northwestern University where she graduated summa cum laude.

She became a board-certified clinical nutritionist in 1986. In 1991, she co-drafted the Dietetic and Nutrition Services Practice Act. The law required anyone practicing dietetics and nutrition in Illinois to be licensed through the state's Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

"Illinois-licensed nutritionists owe Barbara a huge debt of gratitude for her tough negotiations on several occasions to craft a fair licensing law," said Jim Golick, president of Better Health Nutrition Services.

"There are pioneers in the field, but she was one of the handful in Illinois who made a difference," said Neil Levin, Nutrition Education Manager of the NOW Health Group.

Ms. Kravets' ideas were often questioned by the medical community and her family. She read obscure medical journals from all over the globe to stay on top of developing health trends, said her son, Jim. She horrified her children by using wheat-germ bread for their school lunches, said her daughter Linda Kravets. 

"She was, literally, so avant-garde for her time," Linda said.

She was fiercely protective of the interests of her patients. She "earned their trust and kept it," her son said.

Ms. Kravets first counseled Kristin Cortina, of New York, a year ago. Cortina considers her "one of the most life-changing people I've ever met."

"She helped me far better than any medical doctor ever had," she said. "I wish I had met her earlier in my life."
Ms. Kravets also is survived by two grandchildren.

No services are planned.

Those wishing to help celebrate Barbara Kravets’ life are encouraged to share spirited remembrances and photos on this website; see the links below.