Holistic Nutrition

What is it?

Holistic nutrition is an integrated look at the whole person: mind, body and spirit. It explores how diet and supplements, combined with lifestyle, mindset and other complementary practices, can help prevent disease of various kinds.

Holistic nutritionists work with patients to help them identify how their diet might be impacting their physical or mental health. They help patients manage a wide range of conditions, from diabetes to kidney disorders. Holistic nutritionists can also help people who are looking to boost their energy levels or improve their overall wellness. They do this by helping patients find the right balance of nutrients for their lifestyle and health needs and educating them so they can make positive changes.

Holistic nutritionists and conventional nutritionists have a lot in common. Holistic nutrition goes a step beyond, to address how lifestyle factors and diet work together to influence health. Additionally, holistic nutrition focuses on educating patients so they have a great hand in their own health. In other words, it uses a more general, holistic framework in its approach, similar to that of integrative medicine, but in the field of nutrition.

Core philosophy

The key to holistic nutrition is knowing what to eat and how to eat. Holistic nutritionists have an understanding of the properties of each member of the different food groups (vegetables, fruits, dairy, meat, etc.) as well as the benefits of supplements (vitamins, minerals, herbs, etc.). They apply this knowledge to their client’s particular situation and goals to create a customized, balanced and safe plan.

holistic nutrition

Foods

From an eating perspective, the key to holistic nutrition is eating natural foods. This means unprocessed, whole, organic foods, whenever possible. The following principles are generally agreed-upon guidelines among holistic nutritionists:

  • Eat whole, raw foods. This is nutrition in its purest form. For a healthy snack for example, eat an apple, carrot, avocado, or your favorite fruit or vegetable – raw and unprocessed.
  • Go organic. Avoid pesticides, antibiotics and hormones in your food by selecting organic options whenever possible.
  • Reduce sugar intake. Refined and artificial sweeteners should be replaced with naturally sweet alternatives, like fruits.
  • Drink water. Eight glasses a day is recommended by holistic nutritionists to promote good digestion and health. Holistic nutritionists recommend purified water.
  • Reduce sodium intake. Sodium is a key factor in developing hypertension. Reduce your salt intake by avoiding processed food and by keeping the salt shaker off the dinner table.
  • Buy local produce. Local food tends to be more nutritious. In fact, it is often better to eat local, fresh produce that’s not certified organic than it is to buy certified organic food shipped a long distance.

There is also an emphasis on variety, in order to gather a strong range of nutrients. Holistic nutritionists combined these main principles, along with their knowledge of individual foods, to suggest a tailored plan. They make choices that ensure a balance of food types (vegetables, meats, etc.) micronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fat), micronutrients (vitamins, minerals) and individual food properties (antioxidants, mood-lifting foods, anti-inflammatory foods, etc.).

Oftentimes, holistic nutritionists apply eating principles from different sources. From Ayurvedic principles to modern dietary approaches, they combine different proven techniques to create a personalized plan. This approach is strikingly similar to that of integrative medicine, which applies treatments from different sources in addressing health concerns.

Supplements

Holistic nutritionists also use supplements to promote well-being. If they identify deficiencies that you can’t get from your diet, they can suggest vitamins, minerals or herbal supplements for different objectives. For example, research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids, folic acid, S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe) and B vitamins can play a significant role in regulating mood, so they may suggest them in a treatment. Likewise, they can suggest enzymes to promote better digestion that goes along with a change in diet. Herbal supplements can also be a component in the plan. For example, licorice can be effective in treating gastroesophageal reflux or aloe vera can reduce overall inflammation, particularly in the gastrointestinal tract.

Whether recommending herbal or vitamin or mineral supplements, holistic nutritionists know how the supplements can impact your body. It is always good practice that your nutritionist works hand-in-hand with your physician before recommending them in your integrative plan. Moreover, they need to know the contraindications and drug interactions associated with each supplement and be cognizant of how the nutritional treatments may affect patients with various other health problems.

To learn more about how holistic nutrition shaped someone’s life, we’d like to share this video from Tori Holmes, the co-owner of Nectar Juicery. She explains how her personal experiences led her into holistic nutrition and why she thinks it is so important.

History

Food as medicine

The history of the study of food as medicine goes back several centuries. People have been investigating the real link between food and health much longer than you think.

In 400 B.C., the Greek physician Hyppocrates, the “Father of Medicine” said “Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.” Hippocrates realized that food impacts a person’s health, body and mind to help prevent illness as well as maintain wellness.

All across pre-modern Europe and Asia since ancient times, people used foods to affect health. For example, the juice of the liver was squeezed on the eye to treat eye diseases (connected to vitamin A deficiency). Garlic was used to cure athlete’s food, and eating ginger was thought to stimulate the metabolism.

In 1747, a British Navy physician, Dr. James Lind, saw that sailors were developing scurvy, a deadly bleeding disorder on long voyages. He observed that they ate only non perishable foods such as bread and meat. Lind’s experiment fed one group of sailors salt water, one group vinegar, and one group limes. Those given limes didn’t develop scurvy. And although vitamin C wasn’t discovered until the 1930s, these experiments changed how physicians thought about food, creating a market for nutrition careers.

In 1770, Antoine Lavoisier defined metabolism, the transfer of food and oxygen into heat and water in the body, creating energy. And in the early 1800s, the elements of carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen, the main components of food, were isolated and connected to health. Justus Liebig classified the chemical nature of foods – carbohydrates, fats and proteins and in 1912, Casimir Funk coined the term “vitamins” as essential factors in the diet. This same year E.V. McCollum, found vitamin A, and discovered that rats were healthier when given butter (which contains vitamin A).

The birth of nutrition as a field

Many other vitamins were discovered and isolated in the 20th century and the concept of supplementing health with vitamins was born. The first vitamin pills were marketed in the 1930s and created a new industry around science-based health products. Dietitians and nutritionists first worked in hospitals in the late 19th century as the role of good nutrition in health began became accepted. As nutrition and dietitian programs started to become more prevalent, nutrition careers and dietitian jobs became more popular.

With that evolution, the concept of nutrition became strictly limited to recommending foods and supplements without the context of one’s individual needs. In the same way society started to embrace old and new concepts in other areas of medicine, the same phenomenon happened with nutrition. As a result the concept of holistic nutrition developed, going deeper than just the isolated concept of nutrition. Holistic nutritionists now explore the idea that the proper food and diet can help heal the body physically and emotionally.

Benefits and uses

Holistic nutritionists believe that food is not only fuel, but medicine for the body. By following a holistic nutrition plan, you may experience a number of health benefits, such as the following:

  • Weight loss and weight management
  • Disease prevention
  • Increased energy levels
  • Improved mood
  • Better sleep
  • Improved skin health
  • Strengthened immune system
  • Balanced blood sugar levels
  • Reduced cholesterol and blood pressure levels
  • Improved digestion and relief from constipation

Additionally, holistic nutritionists believe that many chronic illnesses can be prevented or improved through diet, and promote the use of holistic nutrition to manage conditions such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Arthritis
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Cancer
  • Colitis
  • Gout

Who practices it

There are a couple of paths that people take to become holistic nutritionists. Many holistic nutritionists start their careers as conventional nutritionists and develop interests in holistic health later. These professionals typically have an undergraduate degree in nutrition or nutrition science and a license to practice nutrition.

They become holistic nutritionists by completing graduate degree programs in holistic nutrition or taking professional development holistic nutrition training programs. Typically, when they gain over 500 hours of professional experience, they can obtain a professional certification.

Other holistic nutritionists skip conventional medical and dietary training altogether and gain professional degrees in naturopathic medicine. These holistic health professionals supplement their naturopathic doctor credentials with a certificate in holistic nutrition if their doctor of naturopathic medicine degree program does not allow them to specialize in holistic nutrition.

In looking for holistic nutritionists, you can ask if they belong to the National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP). NANP is the only professional business league dedicated to advancing holistically trained nutrition professionals. Membership has a series of requirements in terms of licenses and certifications, ensuring a curated list of members.

What to expect

When you book an appointment with a holistic nutritionist, you will complete a series of intake forms. They include listing your specific concerns, health history, symptoms, a description of several aspects of your lifestyle and eating habits as well as your personal goals. You may also have to fill out a food diary covering multiple days.

In the first consultation, you will go through all this information with the practitioner. One differentiating aspect of holistic nutritionists is that they don’t have cookie cutter solutions. They will be using their skills to identify imbalances and opportunities by examining your diet and lifestyle to date.

In the next appointment, the holistic nutritionist will present you with a customized nutrition and lifestyle plan designed to help you achieve your goals and address your health concerns. This plan will give you specific action items to work on in the short term and long term. The initial phases of the plan will require gradual changes to your diet and habits, all leading to more long-term, systemic changes.

In this plan, the practitioner may incorporate a variety of methods, which include diet plans, educational materials, menu planning, recipes, cooking tips, supplement recommendations, among other topics. There are usually weekly or bi-weekly follow-ups where the practitioner assesses progress and determines if they need to make adjustments. It is important to keep a food log so that there is a thorough examination of progress. In most cases, clients make significant strides in at least one of their goals.

holistic nutrition

Interesting facts

Nutrition is such an ample concept, one that we are so familiar, yet so unfamiliar with. Here are some interesting nutrition facts that you may or may now know about:

  • Sugary drinks are the most fattening product in the modern diet. This is because your brain doesn’t compensate for the calories by eating less of other foods.
  • Low-fat doesn’t mean healthy. Processed foods labeled “low-fat” are usually loaded with unhealthy ingredients.
  • Feeding your gut with bacteria is critical. People are really only about 10% human. The bacteria in your intestine, known as the gut flora, outnumber your human cells 10 to 1.
  • Health is more about your weight. Focusing just on body weight is counterproductive. It’s possible to improve health without losing weight – and vice versa.
  • Neither fat nor carbs make you fat. Both fat and carbs can be fattening – it all depends on the rest of your diet and your overall lifestyle.
  • Organic or gluten-free doesn’t mean healthy. You can make junk foods from organic ingredients just as well as non-organic ones. The truth is, organic sugar is still sugar and gluten-free junk food is still junk food.

Closing statement

A holistic nutritionist can make an impact on people’s lives. Nutritional experts are experiencing a surge of appeal as people find the links between poor nutrition, their failing health, and rising medical bills. Most people find it hard to adhere to healthy diets suggested to them by conventional nutritional experts due to emotional issues, food addictions or other factors that are usually neglected.

Holistic nutrition assists people in determining the triggers that mess up healthy consumption and gives them the tools to bring about favorable changes. Holistic nutritionists can make a considerable difference in the health of their clients through counseling and education. In fact, they can provide their clients with tips in encouraging them to take control of their health and wellness by focusing on lifestyle habits, promoting long-term health.