What is nutrition? Does this sound like a silly or simple question? We all know what nutrition is, right? Nutrition is the information on the label. It tells us whether or not our food is healthy.
At least that’s what I always thought when I thought about nutrition. And I bet it’s what most people think when they hear the word, as well. However, there is more to nutrition than just our food.
So then, what IS nutrition?
Nutrition is the interaction between our food and our body. So yes, the food we put into our body is definitely a part of nutrition. But there is a second part to the equation that is not widely discussed: our body’s ability to use the nutrients in that food.
Why is it important to recognize both?
You may be eating a healthful diet, but if your body is not functioning optimally, you may not be reaping the benefits of the money and effort you put into buying and cooking all that good, healthy food.
The photo above is of the produce from a week of my summer CSA last year. (Looking for your own CSA? Local Harvest is a great resource.)
No one would disagree that the food pictured above is healthy. It’s real food, unprocessed, and happens to be organic.
There are many nutrients in this photo, but let’s focus on the minerals available in the produce. Cherries are a good source of copper and manganese. Beets are also a great source of manganese, as well as potassium. And, if you also eat the greens, add magnesium, phosphorus, and iron to the list. Kale includes copper, iron, and calcium.
Minerals are required for many critical functions in the body, such as maintaining pH balance and contracting and relaxing muscles. But how do we know if our body is able to use the minerals? Simply including minerals in your diet won’t ensure that you are optimally supporting these functions.
For example, stomach acid is needed for the body to absorb minerals. Our bodies are unable to create minerals, we can only ingest them, making absorption critical. Stomach acid is needed to break the chemical bonds in food to release the minerals and make them available for absorption. With low stomach acid (click here for simple lifestyle ways to improve stomach acid), the minerals we are eating may be passing right through us.
And a second example: Once absorbed, minerals need to enter cells to perform their functions. Cell membranes are the gatekeepers of what makes it in and out of a cell. Healthy membranes, those that are strong but permeable, allow minerals to pass through easily. But in a body with unhealthy, rigid cell membranes (one cause can be a diet high in trans fats), it is more difficult for minerals to enter cell membranes and function as intended.
As a Nutritional Therapist, I work with clients to address the ‘what is nutrition’ question based on each person’s individual needs. I analyze food logs and create nutrient dense diet plans. At the same time, I have tools that help me recognize areas of the body that are not functioning optimally, and thus not making the most of available nutrients. The combination of addressing nutrition from both sides of the equation is quite powerful.