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Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Functional Nutrition

Updated: Oct 7, 2020

You already know that good nutrition is important to your health. But have you heard of “functional nutrition”? Most people haven’t. This blog will define functional nutrition and explain how it differs from the traditional approach to nutrition.

What is functional nutrition?

Functional nutrition is a part of the Integrative and Functional Medicine (IFM) framework. IFM is a model used to assess all biological systems (digestive, immune, circulatory, and respiratory) in the body to determine the root cause of a disease. In 1991, Dr. Jeffrey Bland created this model to allow doctors and patients to work together using both conventional and alternative treatments.

IFM defines functional nutrition as an approach that “emphasizes the importance of high-quality foods and phytonutrient diversity to address clinical imbalances and move people to the highest expression of health.”

In other words, functional nutrition looks at every aspect of a person’s health (diet, lifestyle, environment, and genetics) to identify and address nutritional problems such as nutritional insufficiencies, deficiencies, and possible overuse of certain nutritional components. Since every individual has a unique health history, genetic makeup and metabolism, functional nutrition develops individualized nutrition and lifestyle recommendations for each person to achieve desired health outcomes.

How is this different than a traditional approach to nutrition?

Traditional nutritionists and dieticians usually focus on following the USDA MyPlate dietary guidelines, calorie needs, and the general impact of nutrition on health. This approach does not take into consideration specifics of the individual, such as lifestyle and genetics. In contrast, a functional nutritionist focuses on identifying nutritional insufficiencies/imbalances in order to develop an individualized plan that integrates nutrition and lifestyle factors, and genetic makeup. A functional nutrition approach also promotes and encourages consumption of high-quality foods (i.e. organic and grass-fed) and considers the health impact of GMO foods and pesticides.

Who does it help?

Functional nutrition can benefit just about anyone who wants to improve their diet and lifestyle. It can help individuals with weight control, pain and inflammation management, symptoms related to food allergies and sensitivities, digestive issues, autoimmune disorder, and diabetes management. It can also help individuals who want to improve sleep, adopt healthy eating practices, or perhaps reduce their risk of a developing a hereditary health condition.

Case example: Mr. D has been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and complains of fatigue. As a functional nutritionist, I request a 3-day dietary diary and health history information. Among the additional information I may request are: a list of current medications, results of recent lab work (blood tests) and any available DNA information. Based on the information received, I search for possible underlying vitamin or mineral deficiencies, food/drug/medication interactions, and genetic variants that may be impacting how food is being metabolized in his body. There are many possible reasons for his fatigue, including chronic stress and poor sleep or nutrient depletions. I create a comprehensive and individualized nutrition and lifestyle plan to include consumption of anti-inflammatory, low-grain and high-quality fat foods for improving his energy production. His plan may also include dietary supplements and stress management techniques to further help him improve his fatigue.

Are you interested in working with a functional nutritionist to help you design an individualized nutrition plan? Contact Gooden Healthy Nutrition to learn more.

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