I often notice potential clients confused at the difference between nutrition and functional nutrition. Although it is well established in the States and in the UK, functional medicine and functional nutrition is still pretty much unknown in Switzerland.
So, what is the difference between nutrition and functional nutrition?
Nutrition concentrates on dietary and health advice that rotates around food. The foundations of a healthy diet – i.e., correct quantity intakes of macronutrients and tolerated quantities of added ingredients such as colorants preservatives, flavorings – as expressed by organisms such as the FDA in the United States or the Society of Nutrition in Switzerland.
This nutritional advice is invaluable to the client that tries to change habits and switch to a healthier diet to address for example body weight issues.
What is Functional Nutrition?
It’s a holistic approach that provides personalized advice to achieve health. It understands that everyone is unique and thus, needs a bio individual approach. Bio individuality is influenced by the person’s unique genetic profile, its lifestyle, its environmental exposures and its resilience to daily stressors. Functional nutrition addresses the root causes of one or more imbalances.
More schematically functional nutrition is based on the following principles:
- Holistic perspective: the body needs to be addressed as a whole and not as a sum of its parts.
- Bio individuality: every person is unique and needs a tailored approach to address its symptoms.
- The central role of food: unprocessed, clean, diverse, nutritious food provide the necessary nutrients to correcting imbalances or deficiencies and to supporting the functioning of our bodies.
- Root cause analysis: functional nutrition is about identifying the root causes that have led to the symptoms.
- Lifestyle: nutrition is maybe the most important piece of the puzzle, but lifestyle habits are important pieces too: sleep, stress, physical activity, hydration, resilience are not underestimated.
What is important to underline is that it is a science baked approach. In this context a range of specialized diagnostic tests are needed to understand potential imbalances or dysfunctions in the body systems. Traditional medical tests may not be sufficient to uncover them.
How does a functional nutritionist decide which test should be advised?
The consultation starts with a comprehensive assessment of the client’s health: lifestyle, medical history, dietary habits, past physical or psychological traumas, to provide a comprehensive picture in which the symptoms have developed over time.
The most common assessments test stool, hair, urine, saliva, DNA and blood and address:
- Hormone levels: When we say hormones, we mainly think about the three big reproductive ones, but that is withstanding the importance of the thyroid hormones, cortisol and insulin to name a few.
- Nutrient status: assessing levels of micronutrients will uncover potential deficiencies or excessive sufficiency that are disruptive to the bodily functions.
- Gut health: assessing the microbiome, intestinal permeability, pathogens bacterial overgrowth or inflammations are markers of digestive health.
- Food sensitivities: may be the cause to digestive issues, pain and discomfort leading in the long run to inflammation and gut permeability.
- Genetic testing: the genetic predisposition to certain conditions is a fundamental piece of information to guiding personalized dietary and lifestyle approaches
- Toxicity levels: heavy metals environmental toxins are present everywhere in our life and identifying them is tantamount to address the source and guide a personalized detox approach.
Nutrition vs Functional Nutrition
Both functional testing and the foundational principles of functional nutrition dictate the recommended approach that leads to improved health outcomes.
Obviously, it’s essential to work with a qualified healthcare practitioner knowledgeable in either functional medicine or functional nutrition to ensure that the tests are correctly chosen and interpreted.
Check out my functional nutrition page for more information: Functional Nutrition with Alessandra