August 5, 2015
There are hundreds of answers to this question and for each of us the answer will be different. I would probably answer that I eat because I love food! I love preparing it, cooking it and sharing it with my family and friends! I would also answer (now that I’m wise and passionate about nutritional medicine!) that we eat because food is the fuel our bodies need to grow, repair or heal, learn and be active. I don’t think many of us really think about or even understand the connection and therefore we also don’t think about the connection between disease or illness and what we eat.
It’s logical that if we don’t eat the right balance of nutrients from the different food groups then our bodies may not be able to function well. Natural foods (read: not processed!) provide the six classes of nutrients our bodies need including the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats) micronutrients (vitamin and minerals) and water. Carbohydrates, proteins and fats provide the building materials and energy for the body. Vitamins, minerals and water are essential to many of the processes and activities of our cells and organs.
The science of nutrition studies the nutrients and other substances found in food and how the body utilizes them for optimum health. Research from clinical trials and epidemiological studies show the relationship between nutritional deficiencies or imbalances and dysfunction, illness or disease in the body.
If there is a deficiency or excess of nutrient over time, many of the body’s functions can be impacted and conditions like anaemia, underactive thyroid, cognitive decline or osteoporosis can arise. A deficiency or excess of energy results in undernutrition or overnutrition. Overnutrition may result in significant weight gain or obesity and this is associated with increased risk of developing chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, depression and other mental health conditions.
Recently, an international study (1) published in The Lancet Psychiatry, highlighted the importance of nutrition for maintaining mental health and discusses research proving that the quality of diet and the deficiencies in certain essential nutrients are determining factors for physical and mental health. The human brain needs an adequate intake of key nutrients, such as polyunsaturated fatty acids Omega-3, essential amino acids, B-group vitamins (B12 and folate), vitamin D and minerals like zinc, magnesium and iron. A balanced and high-quality diet provides all of these nutrients and where deficiencies are identified supplements may be needed.
In my clinic, my degree in nutritional medicine underpins the way I work with you to identify underlying causes of ill-health and provide practical recommendations to change dietary and lifestyle habits in the pursuit of optimum health and wellbeing.
1. Jerome Sarris, Alan C Logan, Tasnime N Akbaraly, G Paul Amminger, Vicent Balanzá-Martínez, Marlene P Freeman, Joseph Hibbeln, Yutaka Matsuoka, David Mischoulon, Tetsuya Mizoue, Akiko Nanri, Daisuke Nishi, Drew Ramsey, Julia J Rucklidge, Almudena Sanchez-Villegas, Andrew Scholey, Kuan-Pin Su, Felice N Jacka.
Nutritional medicine as mainstream in psychiatry.
The Lancet Psychiatry, 2015; 2 (3): 271
With the advent of social media, nutrition has become a confusing topic. There are thousands if not millions of websites, blogs, Facebook and other social platforms giving advice about what to eat and what not to eat – often without qualifications and research to support their advice. This confusion has been confounded by advertising and let’s face it the commercialisation of food by big food manufacturers.
Through all of this we have lost our basic knowledge about good food (and thus good nutrition) and our connection with food and the critical role it plays as fuel for our body to help us grow, repair, learn and be active.
I’ve borrowed the words of the World Health Organisation to provide some clarity around this question because WHO does not have a vested interest in food – natural or manufactured. WHO defines nutrition as “the intake of food considered in relation to the body’s dietary needs.” WHO goes on to say that “good nutrition – an adequate, well balanced diet combined with regular physical activity – is a cornerstone of good health and poor nutrition can lead to reduced immunity, increased susceptibility to disease, impaired physical and mental development, and reduced productivity.”
So this is pretty simple but what is good nutrition I hear you say? This can be hard to determine because we are bombarded with so many messages through advertising, the media and now social media.
The western diet is made up of highly processed staple foods and it is these foods that are heralded as healthy and good for you. The advertising, media stories and social media messages about these foods as well as the latest super foods and fad diets make it all very confusing. The properties of these processed staples – energy density, glycaemic index, macro nutrient balance, trace nutrient density, balance of essential fatty acids, sodium and fibre content – has changed dramatically over the years, and there is growing evidence demonstrating links to the rise in our modern day diseases like obesity, depression, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Good nutrition – based on scientific research, the principles of nutritional medicine and good common sense – is simply about eating a balance of natural, fresh foods from each food group ( fruits and vegetables, whole grains, protein from lean meats or legumes and grains, and healthy fats). The foods we choose and eat should be as close to their natural state as possible without added sugars, additives and preservatives.
It’s also about listening to our bodies and responding by matching our eating habits with our individual needs.