What is Functional Nutrition and how functional nutrition differ from “conventional” nutrition?
If you consider yourself to be fairly well versed when it comes to nutrition, you might have heard the term “functional nutrition” floating around.
It’s commonly used by nutritionists, but the term in itself isn’t very self-explanatory. If you’re interested to know what functional nutrition is, and how it differs from conventional nutrition, read on.
Functional nutrition couldn’t exist without functional medicine. Unsurprisingly, the two terms are fairly similar in concept.
Functional medicine is a model used by many doctors and healthcare professionals to look more deeply into the cause of an illness or disease. Rather than treating the disease on a short-term basis, functional medicine aims to look at why the disease occurred, and work to treat this cause to improve overall long-term health.
For example, if your doctor used a traditional or conventional medicine approach, they may treat a person with a toothache by prescribing a pain medication. A doctor using a functional medicine approach, however, may treat the same patient with the appropriate medication, but look further into the cause of the toothache. The doctor may suggest that the patient makes the appropriate diet and lifestyle changes to improve their oral health on the whole.
What is Functional Nutrition?
With this in mind, let’s take a look at functional nutrition.
Functional nutrition looks more deeply into our dietary choices. It focuses on the importance of a balanced, nutritious diet for addressing health issues and treating them from the root cause.
Essentially, this means that I should consider your whole self – including your mental and physical states – and assess how to change your lifestyle and diet to treat the underlying causes of an illness or disease.
For example, someone who was displaying symptoms of IBS may think that cutting out all foods that could potentially trigger the disorder is the way forward. They may start on a low FODMAP diet, or cut out foods randomly, which could result in poor diet choices.
On the other hand, if a person was to treat their IBS symptoms using the functional nutrition model, they would undergo testing for various causes of their illness, including allergy and intolerance assessment. This would help determine the root cause of the problem.
Functional vs Conventional Nutrition
Like conventional medicine, conventional nutrition looks only at the problem at hand, and works to treat it using short-term changes to the diet. This means that while the problem might be treated initially, it may return in the future, because the underlying cause has not been treated.
Let’s look at another example to more simply compare functional nutrition with conventional nutrition.
Perhaps a person is looking to lose weight. The conventional nutrition approach to weight loss would be to crash diet, or maybe undergo a juicing cleanse. This crash diet or juicing cleanse might help a person to shed the weight they were looking to lose – but it is not a long-term solution.
By approaching their weight loss goals with a conventional nutrition model, a person is far more likely to regain the weight they lost as soon as they complete the crash diet or juicing cleanse. This is because the underlying issue for the weight gain was not treated.
Taking a functional nutrition approach to weight loss would be a far more complex and in-depth process.
I would first need to determine the cause of their weight gain. This could be due to an underlying condition, a certain medication, lifestyle or diet, or a mixture of the four.
Using functional high-grade professional supplements and medical foods, a person would then work to adapt their diet to treat the underlying cause of the weight gain. This would require a longer-term approach improving their diet and health overall.
How to Use Functional Nutrition
As a patient, you might be unsure how I would use functional nutrition when it doesn’t seem too different from conventional nutrition.
The simplest way that I would put the method into practice is to analyze how you currently approach your diet choices, and determine whether to look more deeply into the issue I’m trying to resolve for increased effectivity.
Functional nutrition doesn’t approach dietary choices with a one-size-fits all mentality. It takes into account that everybody is uniquely built, with different genes, lifestyles, and health histories. This means that functional nutrition needs to be customized to suit individuals for producing the most beneficial outcome.
I don’t necessarily need to use functional nutrition to treat an illness or a disease. Instead, I could use it more generally to address small imbalances in the body that build up to affect your overall state of health. Functional nutrition can be used more widely to restore the functions of the body through simple diet and lifestyle changes.
When treating you with the functional nutrition approach, I will aim to collect information on:
- Your medical history, even that which seems irrelevant
- Your medication and supplement usage from birth until the present day
- The current exercise and dietary habits you follow
- In-depth nutritional testing results to determine allergies, intolerance’s, and deficiencies
Once I have collected and analyzed this information in more depth, I can then begin to put together a customized tailored program. This should provide you with personalized recommendations for improving your diet and lifestyle.
If you have a medical condition, I may need to factor in strategies for treating the condition on a short-term as well as long-term basis.
I then need to allow you to put the plan into action and wait to see how effectively it works. Note that functional nutrition is never usually a case of assigning a “miracle fix” – instead, it is a gradual and customizable method of refining a person’s diet and lifestyle.
Most likely, I will need to amend your recommendations until the optimum balance is created.
With the right commitment from both you and me, you will eventually produce the most powerful results.