What is nutrition?
Nutrition is about food. But not just how many calories are in certain foods, or the best ways to cook it. It is about monitoring how food makes the individual feel – both physically and mentally (by affecting the mood). It also looks at how food can heal the individual and help him or her harness the goodness from it so they can enjoy optimum health.
According to nutritionists food has various qualities. It can be soothing, warming, cooling, heating etc. Some foods such as vegetables and fruit can provide energy while others eg wheat and grains containing gluten (wheat, barley, rye and oats) can lead to feelings of lethargy and irritability.
Everyone’s constitution is different and nutrition is about discovering the best foods to eat for that particular person. It is also about how food is eaten ie slowly and digested well, stored, grown, and with what other foods it is eaten.
Most nutritionists agree that a balanced diet is one which contains plenty of whole grains (rice and brown bread), fruit and vegetables, and lean protein. By eating a mixture of these food groups the individual should get all the vitamins, minerals and amino acids necessary (the body is short and deficient on some of these so must get them from food).
As well as advocating a change of diet a nutritionist will often also prescribe food supplements containing vitamins and minerals. However, nearly all therapists agree that it is better to get these from the food itself rather than relying on a pill or capsule.
Most nutritionists agree that drinking plenty of water is essential in order for the body to rehydrate itself and its organs and cells work efficiently.
What to expect
You can expect to be with your nutritionist for at least an hour for your initial consultation. This is because he or she will want to take a full case history of illnesses and your diet from childhood to the present day.
Prior to the appointment you may be asked to fill out a questionnaire or even keep a food diary for a few days beforehand in order to give the nutritionist details about your current eating habits.
Occasionally nutritionists carry out tests such as hair analysis or blood sampling for cholesterol, hormonal or thyroid results. A stool analysis may also be asked for to allow the therapist to assess your digestive system.
You can tell the nutritionist what your worries are ie stomach pain after you eat certain food groups, headaches, feeling lethargic etc and your therapist will devise a diet for you to stick to. New foods will be introduced gradually in many cases.
He or she will also recommend you cut out some foods completely as well as explaining how food affects you and help you to devise long-term eating plans.
Follow up consultations tend to last around 30 minutes and it is here you can report your results and concerns on the diet you have been given by your therapist. The diet may need adjusted or food supplements added to it. In many cases you may be asked to keep a food diary and record how certain foods make you feel.
Effects and benefits
Regardless of whether a client has an illness or unsettling condition, a visit to a nutritionist would be beneficial for most people, even to allow them to re-assess their current diet and to stave off any future possible illnesses.
Getting the proper nutrients for the body to function correctly will result in better skin, hair, nails, teeth and stronger bones. More importantly, it will also mean a calmer disposition, better sleep and more energy.
Mineral and vitamin deficiencies on the other hand, can increase the body’s chances of contracting serious illness such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and a handful of cancers. Being overweight can lead to self-esteem issues and affect social interaction and mental health. Children who don’t eat properly may not reach their true potential height.
Particular conditions can certainly benefit from nutritional therapy through the elimination of certain food groups or items and adding dietary supplements and exercise. These include:
- Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar)
- Candida (overgrowth of yeast)
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Skin disorders
- High cholesterol
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Hormonal imbalances
Chronic conditions which have been present for some time can also be relieved or slowed down and, in some cases, clients may be able to reduce their medication (in collaboration with their GP).
Fascinating facts about nutrition
- It is best to rinse vegetables using a brush and running water to avoid vitamin loss
- More dairy products are consumed in America than anywhere else on earth. It has one of the highest rates of osteoporosis and obesity
- Milk and dairy products lose vitamins A, D, B2 when exposed to sunlight
- It takes your brain about 20 minutes after you have eaten to get the full signal from your stomach.
- Our body is made up of 65 per cent water. A decrease of two per cent can result in dehydration and poor short term memory
- Every molecule our body gets comes from the food we eat and water we drink. Eating the highest quality food in the right quantities helps us reach our highest potential for health
- Carbohydrates are our body’s main source of energy while proteins are the building blocks
- Proteins break down into amino acids, of which there are 25 different types
- Amino acids are used to build muscle, make hormones/antibodies and keep cells functioning
- There are two different types of protein – complete and incomplete
- The different amino acids have different functions. Some are used to build muscle and maintain cells, others make hormones, others antibodies – proteins have many very important functions in the body.
- There are two kinds of fat – saturated and unsaturated. Unsaturated fats are essential and come in the form of omega 3 and omega 6 (polyunsaturated). These are good for the brain. Monounsaturated is another good fat and can reduce cholesterol levels
- Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin could be described as the father of nutrition. He published his essay The Psychology of Taste in the mid 1800s. It claimed food was more than fuel and included the quote: “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” He claimed food could alter our thoughts, moods and actions
- Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin studied medicine and chemistry but worked as a lawyer and politician
- Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency and the main cause of anaemia in America
- Animal protein contains all the amino acids needed, in correct proportion, for good health and is referred to as a ‘complete protein’
- Plant proteins are ‘incomplete’ and should be combined with grains, seeds, beans or dairy products
- Pasta and rice are carbohydrates and contain almost no fat. It is the sauces that go on them that make them high in calories
- Spices are made up of phyto-nutrients, essential oils, antioxidants, minerals and vitamins
- Heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes and some forms of cancer account for around 70 per cent of all deaths in the United States.
- Children and teenagers need up to four times more energy and nutrients for their body size in comparison to adults
- There are six major classes of nutrients: carbohydrates, fats, minerals, protein, vitamins, and water
- An American National Research Council report in 1985 found just 20 per cent of medical schools taught nutrition as a separate course. Twenty one years later the figure had risen to 30 per cent
- Heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes are commonly called “Western” diseases because they were rarely encountered in developing countries (whose diets tended to be more plant-based)
- Humans have evolved as omnivorous hunter-gatherers within the past 250,000 years, agriculture only developed 10,000 years ago
The British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT)
A non-profit organisation which promotes education, training, practice and integrity within the profession of nutrition. Has a register of members who are qualified in both the science of nutrition and clinical practice in addition to being insured to practice. They also abide by BANT’s code of ethics and practice. Aims to have nutritional therapy available on the NHS. Provides networking and support for local practitioners.
Association for Nutrition
A not-for-profit professional body for the regulation and registration of nutritionists, including public health nutritionists, exercise nutritionists, and animal nutritionists. Holds a UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists. Has ethical standards and encourages continuing professional development. Accredits undergraduate and post-graduate courses.
The British Dietetic Association (BDA)
Established in 1936 the BDA is the professional association for dietitians. It aims to encourage research into dietetics and associated subjects; promote training and education and look after its 6800 members employment interests through trade union practices. The BDA’s patron is the Queen.