As children, many of us learned about the Food Guide Pyramid, that easy-to-read chart intended to simplify the USDA’s suggested servings for each of the primary food groups. These days, all packaged food products feature a Nutrition Facts panel so we can see a simple breakdown of calories, fat grams, cholesterol and other important data based on a 2,000-calorie diet to work our way toward 100 percent by day’s end.
However, none of us follow those “rules” to the “T,” nor should we.
Here’s why: Every person has a unique footprint that stems from genetics, lifestyle choices, exposures and stress on the body, both mental and physical. We have different caloric and dietary needs. A marathoner, for instance, needs a completely different diet than a sprinter. An individual whose family medical history contains a long list of Alzheimer’s disease should not load the dinner plate with the same items as someone whose ancestors had a clean bill of health.
Whenever I see a patient for the first time, we collect far more information than height, weight and blood pressure. Yes, those numbers are helpful, but so too is your medical history. Patients often view those comprehensive forms as cumbersome, perhaps even daunting, but I see them as clues offering explanations of your current state of health and possible indicators of what’s to come.
Once we unravel patients’ medical histories and peel back layers of their overall health, we can begin assessing whether nutrition is contributing to any health concerns.
Genetics and exercise are key factors in your overall health, but food is your body’s fuel and a powerful medicine when integrated into a medical treatment plan created by a licensed professional. A patient complaining of joint pain, for instance, could have symptoms stemming from an old sports injury or perhaps be developing arthritis, but too little vitamin C in one’s diet also can cause joint and muscle aches. A thorough medical evaluation, paired with a detailed nutritional analysis, can help make that determination. Rather than prescribing acetaminophen for joint pain, simply eating strawberries and Brussels sprouts on a regular basis or adding a splash of lemon to a glass of filtered water might be the prescription.
Adding cilantro to one’s diet can help treat hormone and thyroid problems. Garlic stimulates the liver, which produces enzymes that filter toxins from the digestive system. Trimming consumption of red meat and eliminating soda reduces the risk of kidney disease. Other dietary adjustments can target neurological and brain health, gastric disorders, food allergies, weight management, vascular disease and other ailments.
Functional medicine is a cellular-based approach to medical care that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease. Nutrition is a cornerstone of functional medicine, one that cannot be overlooked when diagnosing a problem. Too much or too little of any item can cause problems. A dinner of baked chicken, whole grain pasta and steamed broccoli, with fresh fruit for dessert, comprises a healthy meal many dietitians would recommend, but it isn’t always what is best for each person’s health, nor does anyone want to eat the same meal day after day. That’s why we offer nutritional strategies for dining out and tips for maintaining a healthy diet while on vacation.
Ultimately, my patients – not me – hold the key to their own healing and well-being, so it’s critical that patients feel empowered to take control of their health through the right combination of diet, exercise and lifestyle.
About the Author:
Pamela Hughes, D.O., founded the Hughes Center for Functional Medicine in Naples, Florida, in 2015, and provides patients with modern modalities and evidence-based, leading-edge functional and integrative medicine to improve each patient’s health. For more information, call 239-649-7400. The Hughes Center is located at 800 Goodlette Road North in Naples, Florida.
This article appears in the March 2018 issue of Natural Awakenings magazine.