More Than Food: The Pillars of Nutrition
by: Lynnsey Hooper, NTP
Though a quality whole food diet is necessary for maintaining a healthy system…there is much more to nutrition than simply consuming.
By definition, nutrition is the science and study of interactions between organisms and their food. This includes studying the processes that occur within our bodies and the body’s ability to actually use the nutrients we’ve consumed. Digging beneath the surface to a functional nutrition view, we focus not only on the food coming in, but the nutritional foundations that are necessary to breakdown, absorb, and then utilize these for the development of a healthy body.
Here is a brief overview of the Foundations (pillars); that will be covered in detail in future posts:
1. It goes without saying, choosing a properly prepared nutrient dense, whole food diet is step one to gaining/maintaining your health. However, only so much can be done with the food we eat if these following pillars are not managed and/or healed.
2. Digestion is the mechanical and chemical breakdown of food and nutrients into particles that are appropriately absorbed in our gastrointestinal tracts. It is a north to south process beginning in your brain (initiated from sight and smell) to prepare your digestive tract for the food by first releasing enzymes in saliva and preparing an acidic state in your stomach, the food then travels further south to signal a cascade of functions all assisting in digestion.
3. Our third foundation, second pillar, is blood sugar balance. As you know, diabetes and obesity are rampant in our country. That being said, optimization of blood sugar must be a priority. Going back to digestion, blood sugar relies on the proper breakdown (beginning in the mouth with salivary amylase) and absorption of carbohydrates. When consumed appropriately with fats and proteins, carbohydrates will be broken down and absorbed at a rate necessary for maintaining a steady blood sugar throughout the day. Enjoy this article on how to replace simple processed sugars with more natural and balancing forms. (article link)
4. Fatty acid balance is my second favorite pillar of our nutritional foundations (behind digestion) because I LOVE FAT! Who doesn’t? Butter… avocado… coconut oil… these all contain healthy options for fat intake. Fat is an essential macronutrient in our day to day diet. As fat travels through our digestive tract it is broken down in a series of steps to become fatty acids. These fatty acids are used for cell membranes, and are a sole energy source for the heart as well as the creation of hormones along with many other bodily functions.
5. Moving on to mineral balance we find an importance in the actual consumption of these. Our body cannot produce minerals; we must therefore obtain them directly from our foods. Digestion, again, plays a huge role in mineral balance as they cannot be absorbed without an appropriately acidic stomach pH. These minerals are necessary for chemical reactions, tissue growth, and structural and functional support. However, many co-factors must be in place to absorb and utilize these as they are meant to be used.
6. The sixth and final pillar of the nutritional foundations is hydration. Water is life giving. A beautifully simple essential nutrient. The most important nutrient. Our bodies depend on water for many, many functions. As I’m sure you’ve heard, we can go days, even weeks without food… but water? As a species we’ll last only days without proper intake of water. Yet again, we look to the digestive tract to absorb the majority of our water intake as well as looking to mineral balances for electrolytes to assist with absorption. Water is the most common nutritional deficiency. As a quick calculation: Body Weight / 2 = # of oz to drink of water a day.
The acknowledgement of these pillars of nutrition should be the first step when planning a path to whole health. As I must reiterate, digestion was included in each description – it is the number one factor in deficiencies and the inability to maintain and balance a healthy, properly functioning body. If digestion isn’t working properly, your properly prepared, nutrient dense, whole food diet is not as beneficial as hoped. Therefore, first things first… try taking a swig of apple cider vinegar before you begin eating, slow down when you eat, chew appropriately, and leave distractions at the door.