The definition of health has changed over the years. From the debate on eggs and dairy to the controversy over vegan vs “meat and potatoes” diets, it seems nearly impossible to find a conclusive answer on how to live a healthy life. Perhaps that is because there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
While the foods deemed healthy may change based on new research, for example, one definition that hasn’t changed is the definition of nutrition. Nutrition is simply the process by which the human body uses food to fuel and support life. In short, nutrition is an imperative function of health.
In this article, you’ll find an overview of functional nutrition--what it is, how it differs from traditional nutrition, and examples of how to craft your own functional dietary protocol.
What is Functional Nutrition? How is it Different from Traditional Nutrition?
The difference between traditional nutrition and functional nutrition lies in the fact that functional medicine prioritizes nutrition as alternative medicine in a highly personalized fashion.
In other words, while traditional nutrition is simply the biological and physiological process of using food as fuel, functional nutrition is the process of optimizing that food for one’s personal health and wellness.
Those who use functional nutrition as a tool for health optimization typically suffer from nutritional deficiencies, gut health issues, autoimmune conditions, and other biological abnormalities that have the potential to be eradicated by nutrition itself.
Unlike conventional medicine, functional nutrition is an alternative, holistic approach to improving one's health and reversing health issues. Functional nutrition can also be used as a preventative and proactive tool, while conventional medicine is typically reactive and prescriptive. Functional nutrition focuses on the patient, with a primary aim to discover and treat the root cause of the symptom, not the symptom itself.
Putting Functional Medicine into Practice
It’s one thing to understand its definition but a whole other to successfully implement it. Unlike traditional nutrition, it requires much more due diligence than just consuming “healthy” food.
Because functional nutrition focuses on the individual, it requires you first to look inward to identify the root causes of gut issues and other biological symptoms. This can be accomplished by blood tests and other personalized lab tests executed by medical professionals.
Once you’ve become familiar with your personal makeup, it’s now time to create a personalized diet plan centered around your findings, essentially, using food as medicine. Consult a nutritionist for suggestions on specific foods, preparations, and combinations that will address your identified needs, as well as which foods to avoid.
Whatever your findings, there are a few basic practices that everyone following a functional nutrition protocol should consider:
Consume real, from-the-earth, whole foods and avoid anything processed
Base nutritional decisions on your gut microbiome
Create a healthy lifestyle outside of the food you consume
While functional nutrition is largely defined by the foods you consume for the purpose of healing your gut and physiology at large, it also requires a multifaceted approach to the way you live outside of the kitchen.
By exercising regularly, prioritizing hydration, and ensuring quality sleep, you, in turn, improve all areas of your life; from reducing stress levels and improving mood to reducing health risks and boosting physical performance.
Final Thoughts on Functional Nutrition
In summary, while it’s important to gain knowledge of general nutritional practices, functional nutrition is the prioritization of you and nobody else. By tuning into your biology and becoming educated about your gut health, you’ll have gained a better understanding of how to use functional nutritional practices to heal and improve your personal health and well-being.
Remember, food is medicine. Furthermore, improving your health requires lifestyle interventions outside of the kitchen in order to fully optimize your health. While a lot of what’s required from functional nutrition can be implemented by YOU, it’s recommended to seek nutritional guidance and professional help to create a thorough and educated plan based on your unique needs.