What is Integrative and Functional Nutrition?
Within the core principles of functional medicine, we recognize that everything that happens within the body is interconnected in a complicated web of relationships. Each person’s genetics, biochemistry, gut microbiome, age, gender, and lifestyle choices impact how diseases happen and progress. One of the great cornerstones of these factors is our diet.
To understand the significance of diet on our health, it’s important to understand the basics of nutrition. The very definition of nutrition is the process of providing or obtaining the food necessary for health and growth. Our food primarily provides two things: energy and information. Diet, on the other hand, refers to habitual nourishment, or the patterns and habits we have as related to food.
When it comes to food, we take energy from macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and protein), and masterfully process it and transform it into energy that every cell in our body can use. Our food also provides our cells with information in the form of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), which support the function of all body systems, especially the brain and heart. Our bodies decide what to do with each molecule of food, processing both the things we need to function, and eliminating the things we don’t.
"Everything you eat has a chance to either nourish you or potentially harm you."
Remember that our gastrointestinal tract is the first point of contact between the internal and external environment, most often through the food we eat. This is the point at which our body evaluates what’s coming in, differentiating “helpful” from “harmful,” and continually responds to prevent or correct further damage to our cells. Our immune system will respond accordingly, in an effort to keep us functioning and to maintain vitality throughout our body. Hence, the fact that more than 70% of our immune system resides in the gut is brilliant!
You can also think of it this way: the food we eat provides the nutrients that are necessary for our bodies, like perfectly matched puzzle pieces. The food we eat each day has the potential to provide our bodies with what they need to grow and thrive. However, we also have access to food products that contain “pieces” that may not fit quite right.
Our food can also be contaminated with particles that aren’t really food at all, such as added chemicals, dyes, preservatives, and even microplastics . Though our bodies are incredibly resilient and can manage many different types of foods and food-like-products, we can’t deny the profound connection between what we eat and what happens inside the body as a result. This understanding should help shift us away from a “calories in, calories out,” dieting mindset. Instead, we should be focusing on how well we’re nourishing our bodies, removing the harmful substances, and supporting function, which is a key in healing from illness as well as living with vitality.
Healing the gut with nutrition, and sometimes personalized supplements, offers a strategic starting point to expedite healing and to help resolve seemingly unrelated symptoms you or your child may be experiencing.
The Power of Nutrition in Functional Medicine Practice
There are many ways in which our diet influences how we feel, how we function, and our overall health. Nutrition is truly the epicenter of biochemical and physiological function, meaning we can’t deny the relationship between what we eat and how the body functions.
Among the top contributors to chronic illness is inflammation in the body. Inflammation is known to be associated with both the manifestation of several chronic diseases and the intake of foods with inflammatory characteristics .
Research also indicates that disease prevention and even surgical recovery improve when supported by proper nutrition, which makes sense when we consider that our bodies are relying on certain components from food to heal [2, 3]. Unfortunately, clinicians are rarely offered basic nutritional training in medical and osteopathic school . We can see the disconnect in clinical practice as many patients do not have optimal nutrition, are experiencing increasing levels of chronic disease, and are most likely being treated with pharmaceuticals despite the availability of other less invasive, yet highly effective, options [5, 6, 7].
When nutrition is applied effectively and consistently, not only can it help prevent future chronic diseases from adolescence into adulthood, but it can also help decrease inflammation, enhance cognitive function and memory, improve outcomes for those with colorectal and gastrointestinal cancers, and more [8, 9, 10].
What Does an Initial Appointment with an Integrative and Functional Nutritionist Look Like?
Integrative and Functional Nutrition differs from other approaches to nutrition because of the emphasis on treating the whole person. Instead of looking at a symptom and changing your diet to heal the symptom, an integrative and functional nutritionist will look for the root cause of the symptom(s). After taking a careful and detailed history, the nutritionist will create a personalized nutrition plan, just for you, that fits well with your lifestyle, and accounts for your food likes and dislikes. A nutrition plan could include:
- Therapeutic meal plans
- Recipe suggestions
- Conventional and functional labs
- Mind and body practices
- Dietary supplements and clinical protocols
- Meal planning resources, tips and tricks
Because an Integrative and Functional Nutritionist focuses on the whole picture and root cause of your symptoms, she will take into account your routine, schedule, preferences, potential stress regarding food, and more to ensure that you have a nutrition plan that is feasible, attainable, and ultimately helps you reach your health goals. Everyone’s body is different, and has its own strengths and weaknesses. A diet should be tailored to each individual person, their likes, dislikes, conditions, family history, intolerances, and much more. It’s important to keep in mind that given the complexities of one’s healing journey, it’s a process that takes time and likely involves multiple sessions with your nutritionist to ensure you’re getting the support you need each step of the way.
Working with a functional nutritionist can also help you be most effective at implementing your nutritional treatment plan, avoiding common pitfalls, and optimizing your health outcomes.
Moreover, an integrative and functional nutritionist can help you learn to celebrate the beneficial, healing qualities of food and restore a sustainable relationship with your diet. We know that food is personal, and often revolves around social, cultural, and emotional places in our lives, which is why we want to support you as a whole person and encourage you each step of the way on your healing journey.
Our Functional and Integrative Dietitian
Leann Larson is a Registered Dietitian and an Integrative and Functional Nutrition Practitioner who has dedicated her career to helping people identify and resolve root causes of difficult symptoms and regain their joy in life.
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- Nonpharmacological Strategies for Patients With Early-Stage Dementia or Mild Cognitive Impairment: A 10-Year Update.
- Assessment of perioperative nutrition practices and attitudes-A national survey of colorectal and GI surgical oncology programs
- Dietary Pattern and Macronutrients Profile on the Variation of Inflammatory Biomarkers: Scientific Update