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Beyond Food

Learn how functional nutrition can set you on the path to better health.

When it comes to nutrition, food can either help us or hinder us. But we’ve come a long way from relying on a one-size-fits-all, food triangle approach to health. Now, it’s common knowledge that individuality plays a key role and that it’s important to consider a person’s health holistically — beyond just their diet. Taking cues from functional medicine, the concept of functional nutrition looks at diet, lifestyle, stress, and more to get a big-picture view of someone’s health journey. We spoke to Kat Morrill, an ACSM-certified personal trainer and ACE-certified health coach and nutrition specialist, to get insight into functional nutrition. 

In what ways does lifestyle affect nutrition?

Poor sleep habits and high levels of unmanaged stress can lead to overindulging in hyperpalatable foods such as fast food and sugar. These foods create cravings for more hyperpalatable foods, which do not serve the body and lead to weight gain, headaches, bloating, moodiness and inflammation. But, if you create a healthy sleep routine, move daily and find appropriate ways to manage stress, you cultivate an environment where digestion and assimilation of food is optimised. 

Is hydration a factor?

Absolutely! The body is approximately 60% water, so it is very difficult for the body to function if the delivery system is under-hydrated. Think of nutrients being delivered to the cells that need it, how we eliminate waste, our circulation, our muscles, our brain — they all require water. Dehydration can cause headaches, mixed up hunger signals, poor digestion, subpar performance, strain on the kidneys, and irritability. 

How does food affect immunity?

Since approximately 70% of our immune system is in our gut, we can start improving our immune system by the foods we consume. Eating a diet of highly processed foods can weaken the body’s defense system, whereas adding foods like onions, garlic, legumes and asparagus — which feed healthy bacteria — help fortify the good bacteria. Eating whole, plant-based foods and healthy fats, limiting sugar and staying hydrated also bolster the immune system. 

How does lifestyle affect immunity? 

A sedentary lifestyle, poor sleeping habits, high stress and improper hydration can all adversely affect the immune system. Conversely, building good sleeping habits and managing stress through exercise, meditation and reading can improve immunity. 

What advice do you have for those beginning a functional nutrition journey?

First, identify one or two areas where you’d like to see improvement. Then, practice removing something that isn’t serving your body, and replace it with something that will bring you closer to your goal. For example, if you have high stress, eliminate stress-inducing food like ice cream, chips and crisps. Replace those with meditation, exercise or a hot bath to calm the nervous system and dial down the stress.  

What is functional nutrition?

Functional nutrition goes beyond calories, macros, and dietary requirements. It considers each person as an individual with different lifestyles, goals, habits and needs. It puts each individual at the centre of a plan and builds the plan uniquely around them. As a holistic approach, it includes the food that goes into the body and various other factors affecting how the body breaks down and utilises food. 

How is standard nutrition different?

Standard nutrition refers to the generic guidelines. It can be a helpful starting point, but it isn’t customised. It’s important to consider a person’s lifestyle, environment, health status, diseases, likes/dislikes, goals, stress, sleep, etc. A regimented, standard diet has specific, unwaveringrequirements for every individual and asks the individual to conform to those.

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