personalized nutrition

Personalized Functional and Integrative Nutrition

New research or nutritional guidance is available everywhere. But how do you know what works for you and your life, preferences, and background? This is where personalized functional nutrition is critical to good health. 

What is personalized nutrition?

There are many ways to define personalized nutrition. Some take a detailed approach, factoring in age, gender, health status, disease states, genetics, and deficiencies/toxicities. Others take a more general approach, making more appropriate recommendations for a specific person, given their lifestyle and preferences. 

What is functional nutrition?

Functional nutrition is a part of the function medicine model of care, which offers a client-centered approach to health. Functional medicine and nutritional care, by extension, look to correct imbalances in the body resulting from external factors such as stress, sleep, nutrition, hydration, trauma, microorganisms, movement, and environmental exposure. 

By harnessing food and lifestyle changes, functional nutrition aims to support health and, if possible, help a person heal from a diseased state. Food holds more than just the calories and macronutrients that help to fuel us. Instead, it holds elements that play roles in many bodily functions. When you consume food, it can either help or harm. It is not an exaggeration to say that food is medicine

What is integrative nutrition?

Integrative nutrition focuses on a person’s mind, body, and spirit. It, too, takes a holistic approach to maximizing health. Where functional nutrition focuses on interconnected elements, integrative nutrition seeks to unite these elements towards a complete solution, which includes the connection of the mind to overall health. 

Benefits of Personalized Functional and Integrative Nutrition

Personalized functional and integrative nutrition aims to create effective strategies to improve your health through dietary and lifestyle changes and considers the interconnectedness of the mind and body with every recommendation. Here are some of the other benefits:

  • Unlike generic nutritional guidance, personalized functional and integrative nutrition takes into consideration your specific health history and that of your family, including genetic factors (if available). This additional data allows a practitioner to customize their guidance for specific disease states, changing it to meet the needs of you.
  • Each person is different with different lifestyles, so why would it be appropriate to make a singular recommendation for EVERYONE? When a recommendation is personalized, it considers whether a person has physical limitation, a high-stress job, isn’t sleeping well, travels, has certain nutritional limitations, and budgetary constraints. 
  • Clients often come to me with “X” diagnosed condition, and their physician has recommended “Y” diet. Unfortunately, these clients have no actual information about the diet, how it benefits their condition, or, perhaps most importantly, how to implement it in their daily lives. This is where the personalization portion becomes so incredibly critical. 
  • Perhaps one of the MOST important reasons to pursue personalized recommendations is that studies have shown that they effectively affect positive behavior change and health outcomes. 

Potential Pitfalls

While personalized functional and integrative nutrition has many benefits, it also has some potential pitfalls.

  • You may have heard Dr. Memet Oz’s quote, “Your genetics load the gun; your lifestyle pulls the trigger.” However, it is more complicated than that. If you are someone who has already received a genetic report and dietary recommendations, then you may already have a sense of the issue. Often, these reports are hundreds of pages long and contain conflicting genetic-driven dietary guidance, which can be confusing. 
  • Personalized nutritional recommendations can consider A LOT of data. This could include blood tests, nutritional reports, genetic reports, microbiome (stool testing) reports, blood sugar readings, calorie, macronutrient, micronutrient, exercise, sleep, and stress data. While I will admit I am a data “junkie,” this can become overwhelming and could consume a person. Having worked with individuals with eating disorders, this type of data, under the guise of being “healthy,” can lay the foundation for unhealthy, obsessive behaviors, that can be counterproductive and negatively impact a person’s health.
  • Much like the data concern, sometimes personalized recommendations become too restrictive. While some disease states, sensitivities, or allergies drive certain legitimate restrictions, sometimes people extend those restrictions unnecessarily and miss out on many nutrient-dense, healthy foods.  

Why is this approach needed?

Since the 1980s, the United States government has issued Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which have guided otherwise “healthy” Americans. However, these guidelines are only a framework for health, which need to be customized based on preference, cultural foodways, and even budgetary considerations. There is also generic health and nutritional information on the internet or social media, which people will gravitate towards, not knowing how to customize it for their needs.

My focus

My focus is on trying to help people realize how to achieve “normal nutrition” with a personalized, functional, and integrative nutritional approach. My clients often get caught up in fad diets, recommendations from friends or even things they see on social media but don’t understand if these “things” or approaches are even appropriate for them. Food is medicine, but it is also woven through the tapestry of our society. It is social, emotional, cultural, and sometimes religious. These elements must be honored when making any recommendation. My goal with any client is to help them navigate nutrition and lifestyle changes so they understand what works best for them to be the healthiest they can be at their stage of life. 

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