The evidence is now overwhelming that the root cause of so many chronic diseases of the modern age is directly linked to the quality, quantity, and access to nutritional dense and unadulterated food.
What is Nutrition?
When we hear the term nutrition it covers so many concepts, theories, cultures, dogmas, political and economic ideologies, it's difficult to keep up with what’s good and what's not so good. Is kale the "in food", or not? Are eggs awesome again? Should I eat throughout the day or fast every 3rd day, but only based on my horoscope when Mars is in the 3rd house? I know, that’s a little extreme, but we can quickly see how nutrition and the concept of staying healthy is all over the place.
If you are turning to more traditional trained Primary care physicians you’re out of luck, unfortunately. Medical students get around, wait for it. Just 20 hours over the 4 years of medical school! No wonder all of us grew up flailing around never knowing what food to eat and what to avoid.
Has anyone stayed overnight in the hospital over the past decade? What are they serving you? What do they tell you to eat after being discharged, if you are diabetic, or had a recent gall-bladder or cardiac surgery? Hospitals are definitely where you want to be in a medical emergency, but they should also be in the business of teaching their patients proactive and post-treatment nutritional strategies to maximize healing.
While lying in your hospital bed, most patients can choose from, juice, low-fat milk, and cereal for breakfast, maybe even a bagel. Lunch, spaghetti or a sandwich with soda, and dinner, small salad, with dressing and mac and cheese. Oh and pudding or jello.
The only guaranteed part of the meal is being assured you’ll be a repeat customer to the hospital. It’s sad really. Actually, it’s SAD that is causing it. SAD or Standard American Diet is the hallmark of cheap, mass-produced, nutrient deficient, processed, and fake-as-the-boxes-they-come-in, food that we in the Western world have come to believe is food.
What is Functional Nutrition?
If you are familiar with functional medicine then functional nutrition should come as no surprise as to what the main goals are. If we look at food as medicine, then taking in several factors in one's life should be evaluated. Functional nutrition, just like functional medicine, is a holistic based approach taking into consideration our genetics, environment, access to nutritionally dense food, and lifestyle.
So what does that look like in the real world? Well, for instance, if someone had an MTHFR genetic abnormality, and can not process folate properly, then just eating a normal-sized portion of leafy greens would be barely enough to even register on the folate scale. Now, let’s say if they can't produce folate efficiently and they are a vegetarian but they decide to have some wine with dinner, within minutes their face might be flush and the next day, a hangover. This may point to a trained clinician looking into histamine intolerance for this individual.
Understanding a patient's epigenetic profile can work wonders at reducing symptoms and preventing disease. This can be accomplished through a detailed medical intake or even specialized lab tests.
I eat those healthy breakfast bars and juice every day. I'm good.
Maybe not. One of the main drivers of chronic disease is sugar, and it's seemingly in everything! Some of those healthy bars and organic juices could have 4, 6, or even 10 tsp of sugar in each serving. Keep in mind, juice is just fruit and fructose with all the good fiber removed. Fiber slows down the absorption of fructose in the body. (that's a good thing)
The number of patients I have seen over the years doing their best to eat a healthy diet is often plagued by these little hidden setbacks that could be driving our health the wrong way. Sugar is highly inflammatory. It also can trick the body into storing fat, which is great if we needed to store up all of our food before winter. Today though with plenty of food year-round, sugar should mostly be avoided and leave the storage to the hibernating bears.
It’s so complicated, I don’t know where to begin!
Here’s something to get you started.
Stay on the outside of the Grocery Store isles. Why? Well, that’s where all the real whole food is located. If we narrow it down even further, we are going to be seeking out organic whole foods. In some stores, if you blink you’ll walk right past them.
Avoid foods grown with organophosphates. Commercial fertilizers and weed killers basically. These are devastating to our bodies, especially our good bacteria.
Grow and maintain a good gut environment with fermented foods. 70 percent of our immune system resides in our gut. Refer to number 2 on how to prevent their eradication.
Lose the “Vegetable and Seed Oils”. There is no such thing as natural corn, cotton, or soy oils.
Rediscover the natural oils found in butter, tallow, coconut, and olive oils.
Consume grass-fed, pasture-raised animal products and not factory-farmed.
Choose fresh-caught fish, never factory farmed.
Stop drinking out of plastic containers, try to look for glass.
Eat with all distractions taken away. Shut off the TV, put down the phone, chew, and appreciate your food.
Drink filtered water, fluoride, and chlorine removed, unless, of course, you have access to fresh spring water.
Ok, what's the best most awesomest diet in the whole world?
You’ve seen the ads, maybe even had one of your friends hit you up on social media to buy the latest shake or gummy that has everything a human being could possibly ever need to survive. Maybe your favorite celebrity swears by cave lichen harvested at night. Whatever the case may be, nutrition really is not that hard when you think about what food is and what is its purpose.
There is no magic diet that fits everyone at every stage of their life. Pregnant women may need more of certain nutrients than they do going through menopause. Just like there isn't one pill or one exercise that will do it. Now, are there certain foods that are harmful and should be avoided? Absolutely. Could you choose to be a vegetarian, vegan, or carnivore based on ethical reasoning or nutritional beliefs? Sure. Is there a proper way to do it? You bet.
Is there a time and a place to fast from eating? Is detoxing really a thing, and if so could food help or hurt with that process? Do genetics or epigenetics play a role in how we choose the foods we eat and how we process them?
I personally spent most of my life off and on different diets and ideas that have been handed down the ages. Infomercial giants like Richard Simmons, Slim-Fast and the Grapefruit Diet helped carve the way for people, like me, chasing an illusionary concept of health and wellness that I could never achieve.
Following the 10 steps listed above is a great start. It stems from thousands of years of human evolution. It really is the most time-tested food guide out there with the empirical data to back it up. Need more help and guidance? That’s where having a professional take a look at your medical history, current state of health, and goals might be something to look into. The time wasted over the years trying the dartboard approach just seeing what sticks might not be the best use of time and money.
How could you benefit from Functional Nutrition?
Functional Nutrition is:
Tailored to meet your unique needs
Prioritizes gut health
Anti-inflammatory (when done properly)
Food can be targeted to decrease symptoms or match a lifestyle goal
Patient is an active participant in their own health
Cost-effective long term
Integrative, science-based methodology
Focus on prevention, health, and wellness