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Wellness

What is nutrition and why should you care?

Consuming 'real' healthful food provides fuel for your body and helps prevent illness. Photo: Katarzyna Bialasiewicz

March is National Nutrition Month — a great time to assess your personal nutrition plan and gain an understanding of the importance of nutrition in your life. Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” There is a body of peer-reviewed research showing that almost every major disease in the United States can be prevented or treated most effectively with a more healthful diet.

Writing in Disease Control Priorities in Developing Countries (2002), Walter C. Willett says, “Among U.S. adults, more than 90 percent of type 2 diabetes, 80 percent of coronary artery disease, 70 percent of stroke, and 70 percent of colon cancer are potentially preventable by a combination of nonsmoking, avoidance of overweight, moderate physical activity, healthy diet, and moderate alcohol consumption.”

WHAT IS FOOD? 

To understand nutrition is to understand where food comes from. Today’s modern diet is not healthful or good for us. I advise my clients not to eat anything they have ever seen in an advertisement or any food item prepackaged in a bag or box. Food, real food, comes from plants, trees, and shrubs. It grows in fields and forests. It also comes in the form of animals from the ocean and farms. It does not come from a box found on a store shelf.

Access to processed foods in human history is relatively new. In fact, it is only in the last 100 to 150 years that we have, as a global society, had access to packaged and heavily processed food. There is a direct link between this access to heavily processed food and the rise of obesity and chronic diseases globally. In fact, the more access a population has to heavily processed food, the more illness is present in the population.

WHY SHOULD YOU WORK WITH A NUTRITIONIST?

Nutritionists are specially trained in anatomy, biology, and food science. As a nutritionist, I work with clients to educate them on what real food is and how it interacts with their bodies, genes, and brains. Additionally, nutritionists, as the word implies, are trained in nutrition, whereas other medical professionals are not. Doctors only receive on average 16–19 hours of nutrition training in medical school and residency (although I personally know a doctor who received only a single hour). Only 25 percent of medical schools in the United States even have classes in nutrition, so consulting a professional trained in nutrition is important because you cannot get this specialized information from your general practitioner.

Additionally, nutritionists stay up to date on nutrition research and new breakthroughs, which happen quite frequently in the digital age. On average, it takes 10–15 years for new medical research to reach your doctor’s office, so seeing a doctor for nutrition advice is like using a 15-year old laptop or cell phone. The only exception to this is new drug developments, which are funded and brought to doctors’ offices by the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the drugs.

WHY IS GOOD NUTRITION IMPORTANT?

Your body makes about 2 million new cells every second, and approximately 250 billion new cells every day. To make all of those new cells, your body needs to be supported by good food and a healthful lifestyle. Most important in this equation is the intake of healthful, whole, real food because it is the fuel on which your body runs. Fueling your body with the best choices possible is something you can do every day. Studies have shown good nutrition improves overall mood, brain function, sleep, and sexual function, including fertility. It also lowers anxiety, and lowers body weight to healthful levels.

NUTRITION FOR LIFE

I encourage people to find a good nutritionist to work with on a long-term basis. It is often helpful to consult with a nutritionist to develop a plan to meet your current health goals. As we age and go through life changes, our nutritional needs change. The food you need to consume when you are an infant is not adequate when you are 20 years old. Women experience greater nutritional needs in a lifetime because we often will conceive, give birth, nurse an infant, and raise children. Men with physical jobs have different nutritional requirements than women or men with office jobs. As we age and our activity levels change, nutritional needs will change dramatically and require reassessment. I recommend nutritional counseling every five years at a minimum to keep up with the latest information, trends, and personal solutions that are best for you.

Catherine Benton is a nutritionist and life coach in San Francisco. She is the co-founder and co-owner of Personalized Nutrition Solutions. Email: [email protected]

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