What is functional nutrition

What is functional nutrition? Is it just a fad?


Social media, books, and magazines consistently advertise the best new thing that will help you lose weight, cure your acne, and take care of all of your problems. There is so much nutrition noise with the being the best diet- vegan, paleo, keto, vegan, keto, low-carb, low fat, etc. I bet the next new thing could be an entire day worth of food in one pill.


Many have fallen for one of these fads hoping that it was finally the solution they have been looking for. COVID-19 has made personal health a regularly trending topic. Countless influencers or wannabe experts have weighed in on miracle cures and super supplements. 


You may have been one of many who scrambled back to your feet after a sudden illness only to have pharmaceutical drugs shoved down your throat. To only soon discover the unpleasant side effects or lack of beneficial effects at all.


But in fact, there is a different way found in our food. 


More and more people are waking up to this idea but often left confused about which nutrition information is right for them. 


One size does not fit all, despite health experts telling you that one diet is superior to the other. Your biology, your genes, and the mechanics of your body’s system are unique to you. The key is to explore your unique body and create a personal framework.


Only a personalized assessment will dictate the best support protocol. You have to “look under the hood” of your internal processes through testing and analysis.


Functional nutrition puts the pieces together on exactly how your body operates. It is an individualized nutrition protocol that is made just for you.


Understanding how food influences your cells, mood, tissues, organs, thoughts, and feelings can bring you closer to a better and healthier you. The food you consume can either be your medicine or be the trigger to your illness and health issues. Which will you choose?

woman holding a bowl of fruit by water

About Functional Nutrition – Food As Medicine


Your body reacts to these potent drugs called phytochemicals, also known as bioactives. 


Bioactives are widely found in plant foods and can serve as a conductor in turning on or off genes. These powerful chemicals can be an excellent investment for your health because these genes produce proteins that control the mechanics in your body. Examples include managing inflammation, metabolism, detoxification, and brain health, to name a few. 


Without bioactives a diet can leave your body in the jumbled mess of an inflammation cascade that can lead to chronic diseases, early aging, mood disturbances, and even death.


The key is to focus on quality foods to get plentiful amounts of bioactives in your diet. The easiest way to do this is to head to the cruciferous produce section. I’m talking about kale, broccoli, brussel sprouts, kohlrabi, and bok choy.


In addition to vegetables, bioactives are found in fresh herbs and spices. I always tell my clients not to forget flavoring their dishes as they are rich in bioactives and should be a staple on your plate.


Choose local and fresh produce as much as possible. Buy from your local farmers’ market or fruit stand when local produce is in season. In addition, the farmers’ market is an opportunity to get to know your local farmers and their growing practices. The quality of farming practices used not only determines the number of nutrients but bioactives as well.


p.s. If you forage for wild herbs, mushrooms, or other plants, they will contain more bioactives than their cultivated counterparts.


Consume as soon as possible. 


The longer the wait time also means the fewer bioactives the food will contain. You don’t want to be the one who buys vegetables to only pull them out of the fridge a week later. Talk about gross!


Tip: I’d recommend chopping your kale, broccoli, and other leafy greens right when you get home from grocery shopping. Store them in a container or bowl so that you can grab them and use them whenever you need them. Also, you’ll maintain the bioactives during cooking if you choose to process your vegetables in this fashion.


So now you know. Fruits and vegetables are a lot more than calories, carbs, and nutrients. They also contain non-nutrient called bioactives that are essentially programming your body for health.


Functional Nutrition Diet


A functional diet is flexible, sustainable, and nutrient-dense. Most diets fail as they are too restrictive and confusing. Functional nutrition is for the long-term that changes while you change and leaves room for enjoyment. You can have pancakes with your family or a glass of wine with friends on occasion and not feel guilty about it.


I’ve learned with my own experience in dieting that it isn’t about following a protocol but rather checking in with how your body feels. Instead of following the rules of a diet, a functional nutrition diet is built specifically for you. For example, recommendations could include specific nutrients due to deficiencies you may have or assist with your body’s operating system.  


No one has the same framework as you. Your body is unique to you, so should your food.


Given that we all need the same nutrients to function because humans have the same biochemistry. What stands out is that one individual may need more of a nutrient than someone else. 


What determines your needs comes down to your genes and whether certain functions in your body need more support. In addition, some of you may not metabolize carbohydrates or fats efficiently and need to adjust the types of meals you eat and the amount of that nutrient rather than eliminating it.


What we do know is that certain food ingredients harmonize with all human genes. 


Including raw cruciferous vegetables that contain the bioactive sulforaphane to manage inflammation. Or mushrooms that contain glutathione and B vitamins that support detoxification. In addition, fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, or Natto seed your gut with healthy bacteria to support your immune system and brain health.


The Genomic Kitchen lays it out for you to determine how to figure out your DNA diet.

woman standing with bowl of fruit

Functional Medicine Approach 


Functional medicine is also involved because it’s not only about the food you eat. It’s also about accessing what the root causes of an illness are. 


A functional nutrition practitioner will take a personalized approach due to each individual being unique. The practitioner may assess whether the patient needs a larger dose of a vitamin or mineral, assistance with detoxification or methylation, restoration of the gut, or support with the metabolism of nutrients.


The unique gene makeup is considered and can have a test taken. A DNA test will shine light where genes are not activated to produce proteins that influence certain functions of our body’s mechanics. In that case, they need a little nudge, whether that is with the support of supplementation, diet change, or introduction to new lifestyle choices.


Principles Of The Functional Nutrition Approach


Therapeutic Partnership


A functional physician can determine health conditions, order labs, and tailor treatments to address the individual’s unique needs. With a systems approach, the physician has a closer look at the patient’s current health status to create a therapeutic partnership.


Root Causes


The patient’s history, past trauma, mindset, physiology, and lifestyle are reviewed during an assessment thoroughly to determine the root causes of illness or disease.


You can test rather than guess to amplify your lifestyle to optimize your human potential. 

Tests considered include:

– A DNA Test by 3×4 genetics 

– The Dutch hormone test

Nutreval by Genova

– A thyroid panel

– A food intolerance test such as by precision point diagnostics or doing an elimination diet


Systems-Based Approach


This approach considers that every individual is unique and uses the principles and practices of medicine to apply therapeutic care. The practitioner will evaluate any imbalances within the biological system to determine if any underlying causes are the root of an illness or disease. In addition, the patient’s mind, body, and spirit can affect their ability to heal.


After determining what areas need improvement, a dietitian or other functional practitioner can use the pillars of personalized nutrition, mindset, movement, and other healing modalities to personalize a patient’s lifestyle changes towards optimal health.


How Functional Medicine Differs from Conventional Medicine


In conventional medicine, an ailment or physical issue is looked at and given medication or surgery to relieve the symptoms of that physical issue. In addition, westernized medicine only looks at one particular area of the body.


For example, let’s say a patient has joint pain. This patient will most likely go to an orthopedic MD specialized in the knee. If a patient has depression, that patient will go to someone that focuses on the mind or emotional wellness with a specialized therapist. 


The problem with this is that when a patient goes to a clinician for help, that health care professional may only look at a particular symptom that the patient has. Functional medicine goes beyond the ailment and symptoms because healing is an all-encompassing full-body experience rooted in the mind, body, and spirit.


You can heal your:

  1. Body
  2. Life
  3. Relationships
  4. Connection to spirit
  5. Connection to intimacy
  6. Relationship with feminine or masculine energy


We often consider medicine after experiencing physical ailments because our bodies are screaming in so much pain. We look for help because we’re carrying wounds, we’re frustrated, we haven’t gotten results, we’re feeling ill, we’ve settled for less, reached our limits, or we’re stressed out.


The first step is to recognize that healing encompasses a full-body experience that works with the mind, body, and spirit. This approach is with functional medicine.


Often integrative medicine can start with the mind and emotions. A process of unraveling the human experience begins with letting go of baggage formed by ongoing stress, overwhelm, anxiety, self-sabotage, or resistance. 


Examples of emotional trauma include fight or flight, scarcity, and stress that can manifest into chronic illness, behavioral health problems, joint pain, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome or other related gut issues, and early aging. These problems have formed over time due to the body holding onto emotional trauma.


The fact is your biography gets written in your biology. Your thoughts and beliefs will literally regulate your genes, mitochondria, gut flora, and immune system. When you have outdated software you can get bugs, become clunky, and have garbage that can ruin your entire operating system. Your choice is if you want to upgrade your energy software and biological software or not. 


How to unlock old operating systems in human biology:

  1. Through your DNA
  2. Your diet
  3. Rewrite your subconscious thoughts
  4. Channel your stress into motivation
  5. Practice habits to help calm you down – emotional release
  6. Regulate sleep with a nighttime routine 
  7. Feed your microbiome healthy bacteria
  8. Use certain nutrients and foods with phytochemicals that upregulate ancient pathways


We can activate the cleanup system that gets rid of the old crap to bring in a new set of operating systems that reverses the aging clock and increases vitality at any given age.


Final Thoughts


At its core, functional nutrition is a much larger picture than food. It encompasses the mind, body, and spirit that incorporates tools to create a personalized plan for each individual.   


The approach of functional nutrition is to get down to the root causes to facilitate healing rather than managing symptoms. 


If you are a patient looking for a dietitian who practices functional nutrition, you can search for one here.