Every human being is different: a unique body, structure, and genetic makeup. So if we are all different, why should our nutrition plans be the same? They shouldn't! Individuality is the concept on which functional nutrition is based. Functional nutrition embraces the concept of bio-individuality and incorporates it in the field of nutritional medicine to help a person create a diet plan that caters their individual needs.
Never heard of functional nutrition before? Don’t worry, I've got you covered!
This article will help explore what functional nutrition is, its rightful approach, and the pros and cons of following it.
What Is Functional Nutrition?
Functional nutrition refers to a concept in which experts provide you with various recommendations regarding your nutrition in accordance with multiple aspects of your life. In simpler words, it follows a systemic approach that takes into account the fact that everything that goes on inside your body is interconnected. It is a strategy that tends to explore the bigger picture of your health and works on restoring the physiological functioning of the body.
As a part of functional diagnostic nutrition, experts consider symptoms as clues to get to the bottom of an underlying issue and achieve a diagnosis. In this way, it can help people get to know more about their primary health problems, even if they are related to diet, lifestyle factors, antibiotic use, toxin buildup, or any other factor.
How is standard healthcare different from functional nutrition? With the former, experts encourage the use of medication to suppress any prevailing symptoms. However, the latter considers these symptoms as little clues that can ultimately lead to a real diagnosis. By correlating different factors and their impact on your health, functional nutritionists then come up with a holistic plan that tends to target and improve every aspect of your health.
As a result, functional nutrition is considered a tailored approach that is never the same for any two people. Instead, it is highly customized based on your unique features and characteristics.
Functional Nutrition Example: Treating IBS
Irritable bowel syndrome is becoming a relatively more common disease among people. As a part of its management plan, patients have always been told to include more fiber in their diet and aim at managing stress. However, with newer approaches like functional nutrition, such cases are now dealt differently.
The non-functional treatment approach of a typical case of IBS includes giving a handout to the patient along with advising them to stay away from foods with a high FODMAP. Other tips include learning how to identify and avoid food triggers and ensuring proper hydration.
Relying on a low FODMAP approach is being adopted by an increasing number of doctors and diet experts for managing the symptoms of IBS. Once a FODMAP trigger is identified in a patient, they are simply told to prevent its consumption completely.
However, in functional nutrition, experts work on conducting investigations on other possible contributors to IBS. These may include food sensitivities, gut dysbiosis, intolerances, previous health history, and a deeper evaluation of the general lifestyle. (1, 2)
Adopting a deeper approach such as this one sometimes uncovers surprising factors that might be behind IBS, such as mast cell activation syndrome or histamine intolerance. (3,4) This is most likely because inflammation and irritation of the gut can not only be caused by dietary components but by other factors too, like stress, supplements, and medicines, which are normally not taken under consideration in a non-functional approach.
The Functional Nutrition Approach
Generally, a functional diagnostic nutrition approach includes following a specific set of steps to find out what dietary changes can best suit a patient. While a certain degree of variability can occur, these steps normally include:
- Thoroughly evaluating past medical history
- Reviewing all organ systems of the patient carefully
- Going through a past history of any medicine or supplement use
- Conducting nutrient tests to find out any deficiencies
Going through all past medical testing records, and analyzing the results.
With the information collected during the steps mentioned above, a functional nutritional therapy practitioner develops a customized program that can potentially target all the health issues. This program may include tips like the elimination of an entire food group, like dairy, or taking a supplement to improve digestive processes. Additionally, these experts may also help the patient learn how to control certain lifestyle factors like stress.
In other words, experts holding a functional nutrition certification look at health problems from a holistic point of view and help patients gain awareness of how their behavior might be impeding their health.
Following A Functional Nutrition Eating Strategy
Contrary to what most people believe, a single functional nutritional diet does not exist. Every patient gets their own strategy based on their ongoing health issues. However, there are some general tips that everyone who wishes to eat right according to their body can follow as a part of this nutritional approach.
In fact, there are five primary principles that pretty much form every single functional nutrition plan. These principles are explained below:
Load Up On All Essential Nutrients
Nutrients can be regarded as the building blocks of your body. These include everything; from vitamins and minerals to amino acids, essential fatty acids, probiotics, and complex carbs. By constantly providing these nutrients to your body in adequate amounts, you are essentially setting it up for optimal health.
Stay Away From Toxins
With ever-growing technological advancement and modernization, it has become even more important to know what exactly is in the food you eat every single time. With GMO crops, pesticide-loaded veggies and fruits, and factory-farmed animal products, we are filling up our digestive systems with substances we weren’t exposed to even a few decades ago. The impacts of adding these new substances to our digestive tracts, and our body, can be unpredictable and even extreme in some cases.
Be mindful of what you eat every day and make sure to get it from sources you can trust.
Consume High-quality Foods
Just like the quality of fuel you fill your car with determines how well it drives, the components in every bite of food you take also affect how well your body functions. Relying on processed junk food and depriving yourself of quality fuel is only going to make you deficient in nutrients and potentially compromise the wellbeing of your entire system.
Take Care Of Your Gut Health
The gut plays an extremely important role in determining your health. No matter how nutritious your daily diet is, if your gut is not in a position to process it properly, those nutrients are not going to do you any good. Additionally, the fact that the majority of your immune system lies within the gut also makes it an extremely important aspect to target. (5)
Taking care of your health includes supplementing it with beneficial bacteria and preventing various pathogens and undigested food from causing trouble inside it. Educate yourself about the most common diseases of the gut, like IBS and leaky gut syndrome, so that you can be able to tell when something goes wrong.
Feed Your Microbiome
The human gut comprises multiple colonies of beneficial bacteria, collectively known as the microbiome. These bacteria strains are responsible for regulating your body weight, immune responses, memory formation, mental health, and a lot more. So make sure you tend to it by eating foods rich in probiotics. (6,7)
Pros And Cons Of Functional Nutrition
Now that you know about functional nutrition and how it works, let’s look at the pros and cons of this field.
It Treats The ‘Entire’ Person
A functional nutritional therapy practitioner aims at alleviating your symptoms but this is not their only goal. These experts work to ensure that you are holistically well by focusing on all systems of the body. They believe that everything inside your body is interconnected; therefore, they take into account diet as well as lifestyle conditions to promote wellness.
It Is Personalized
What makes functional nutrition different and worth trying is that it treats every person differently. It works on the principle that no two people are exactly the same, even if their symptoms match. It embraces your uniqueness to help devise an individualized plan that is supposed to work best for you and is sustainable in the long run.
It Has Multiple Models For Care
A part of the functional nutritional certification includes teaching experts about different unique models and systems to incorporate in practice. For instance, the functional medicine matrix is a popularly used model in functional nutrition that includes multiple sections, each of which addresses various factors contributing to your health.
Another commonly used tool is the 5-R protocol that includes the following steps: remove, replace, repair, repopulate, and rebalance. These steps are used for studying and managing a person with gastrointestinal problems.
It Can Be Expensive
Depending on the choice of a functional nutrition expert for your regular appointment, the entire treatment plan might be slightly more expensive than a regular nutritionist visit.
Is Function Nutrition Right For Me?
Functional nutrition has recently emerged as a unique and comprehensive way to deal with some of the most common issues encountered by mankind today. What makes it unique is the fact that it doesn’t treat any two people similarly; in fact, it embraces the concept of bio-individuality and incorporates it into the management plans to help users take better control of their health. The only downside of consulting with a functional nutrition expert is that it can be a little expensive. Other than that, it is an absolute must-try, especially if you have been suffering from a chronic illness for a long time.