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What is Functional Nutrition?

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Modern nutrition science likes to pretend that it simplifies the age-old question of what’s for dinner. In reality, most of us are more confused than ever. If you’re sick of struggling to sift through contradictory advice about optimal eating plans, it’s time to adopt a different framework- functional nutrition.

But what is functional nutrition, and how can you put it into practice? The answer isn’t as complicated as you think.

What is Functional Nutrition?

Functional nutrition is the practice of considering every aspect of one’s health, diet, and overall lifestyle when giving them nutrition recommendations.

In this way, functional medicine follows a systems approach to healthcare that takes into consideration how interrelated every part of the body is. This strategy seeks to look at the big picture of health by restoring physiological functioning.

With functional nutrition, symptoms are seen as clues for diagnosing your primary health problems, whether they are related to diet, illnesses, medications, lifestyle factors, exposure to toxins, antibiotic use, or other factors.

While standard healthcare will try to suppress these symptoms with medication, functional nutrition instead sees them as clues for understanding the underlying issues within your body. By considering the impacts of seemingly unrelated factors on your health, functional nutritionists will put together a holistic health plan that takes every aspect of your health into consideration.

For these reasons, functional nutrition is never one-size-fits-all. Instead, it is a highly customized holistic health perspective that takes your unique specifications into account to trigger healing from the cellular level.

Function Medicine Verse Functional Nutrition

While the terms ‘functional medicine’ and ‘functional nutrition’ are often used interchangeably, they aren’t technically the same. Functional medicine is a broad medical approach that treats health problems as a part of a system breakdown in your body. In contrast, functional nutrition takes this perspective one step further by highlighting the ways that food is a fundamental component of health and the cause of many physical problems.

The Functional Nutrition Process

In most cases, a functional nutrition approach requires dieticians to follow a sequence of steps to determine what dietary changes their client will best benefit from. While these steps tend to vary significantly, they usually include the following:

  • Comprehensive evaluation of previous medical history
  • Review of organ systems
  • Review of medication and supplement history
  • Review of current diet and lifestyle habits
  • Review of previous medical testing and results
  • Nutrient test to gauge potential deficiencies.

From these results, the functional nutrition doctor works to develop a customizable program that targets the cause of these health problems. Program options might include suggestions for eliminating processed foods or entire food groups like gluten or dairy. Sometimes its recommended to take a supplement to improve digestion or encourage the establishment of beneficial bacteria. Other times they will teach their client how to control lifestyle factors, like learning how to handle stress or better manage their nervous system impulses.

Put another way, functional nutrition practitioners aren’t in place to diagnose, prescribe for, or treat their patients for specific conditions. Instead, their role is to look at all health problems holistically, educate patients about the ways their behavior is impeding their optimal health, and offer suggestions for improvement.

How to Follow a Functional Nutrition Eating Strategy

Contrary to popular opinion, there is no single functional nutrition diet. Instead, the right dietary strategy for you is the one that’s designed to address your specific health concerns.

Even so, some general premises hold true for almost everyone seeking to eat right for their body. The following principles are the answer to what is functional nutrition supposed to look like for you on a personal level.

The five main principles of following a functional nutrition plan include:

1. Fill Up on Essential Nutrients

The components of your food make up the building blocks of your entire body. Nutrients like vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, amino acids, essential fatty acids, probiotics, complex carbohydrates, and more are vital for keeping your body healthy. By nourishing it with what it needs each day, you are setting your system up for a state of health.

2. Avoid Toxic Growing Conditions

In today’s world, it’s more important than ever to understand precisely what is in your food. Factory farmed animal products, GMO crops, and pesticide-laced produceare all filling your digestive system with substances humans weren’t exposed to even 80 years ago, and the impacts on your health can be extreme. Take care to source your food from places you can trust to ensure that each bite contains exactly what you expect and nothing more.

3. Stick with Quality Foods

Just as the quality of gas in your car makes a difference in how well it drives, the components within your food dictate how well your body will run. Filling up on heavily processed junk food will prevent you from taking in all the nutrients you need, potentially compromising your system.

4. Prioritize Gut Health

Hippocrates told us that health begins and ends in the gut, and eating the world’s most nutritious diet won’t do you any good if your digestive system isn’t prepared to process it. Over 80 percent of your immune system is located in the gut, and without it functioning correctly you are at risk for infections, inflammation, auto-immune diseases and hormone balances (most of which will be misdiagnosed as other conditions).

Tending to your gut requires that you keep it healthy with beneficial bacteria and prevent pathogens and undigested food from causing problems. Make sure you know the signs of leaky gut syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, and other conditions so that you can tell when something has fallen out of place.

5. Tend to Your Microbiome

Healthy digestion doesn’t happen without a robust supply of beneficial microbes in your stomach and intestines. In fact, the human gut contains ten times more bacteria than all cells that make up your body.

These bacteria are collectively called a microbiome, and they are responsible for a myriad of health process that affect your immune system, body weight composition, mental health, memory formation, and risk of lifestyle diseases like diabetes. Ensuring you eat foods filled with probiotics ensures your microbial levels stay high, which keeps your immune system working as it should.

Download the Holistic Nutritionist Program Guide

Starting a Dialogue About Your Diet with Functional Nutrition

What is the secret to the success of functional nutrition? It lets you treat food as medicine to set your body up for better health. By realigning your relationship with food, you can shift your entire paradigm on eating to make it easier to make healthy choices and to think through the ways that every aspect of your physical and emotional life is interconnected.

How do health practitioners determine what is the functional nutrition eating strategy that makes sense for you? Most use a ‘functional medicine matrix’ to examine how your health history, lifestyle choices, and current diet might be contributing to your health concerns.

Generally, it’s stressed how vital it is for you to take in a variety of foods as opposed to a range of food “products.” This means eating a healthy, whole foods diet that contains little in the way of processed ingredients is a typical diet prescribed by a functional nutritionist.

Keep in mind that a functional nutrition diet isn’t a one-and-done event. Instead, it is a dynamic process where you will continuously experiment with your diet and lifestyle and tweak the variables until you find what works for you. Success comes from having a conversation with your body that keeps you aware of how it responds to different factors so that you can continuously set it up for better success.

This level of ongoing dialogue isn’t always available in the modern health system, which is why seeking out the advice of a functional nutrition expert is so beneficial for your health journey.

Functional Nutrition: The Healthcare of the Future

Whole systems thinking is gaining traction in the medical world, and the trend shows little sign of slowing down. Functional nutrition provides answers to some of the most significant health problems today, and its premises of targeting your diet to your individual health concerns can make a world of difference in your quality of life.

By taking time to learn more about this paradigm shift in popular dieting, you can start achieving your best health yet. 

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