Nutrition Vs. Nourishment

Functional Medicine practitioner Dr. Mark Hyman wrote a book called ‘what the heck should I eat’. This title sums up well the pandoras box of western culture around the confusion and bombardment of ‘expert’ nutrition advice coming from multiple sources, leaving people bewildered and ultimately unwell. People often confuse nutrition with nourishment, while they do go hand in hand, they are not exclusive of one another. Read on to find out why!

Nutrition is the study of the chemical substances that make up food. Nutrients are essential for normal growth and development, maintaining our cell integrity, giving us energy both physically and metabolically, and finally the crucial one being that nutrients help to regulate the thousands of biochemical processes that take place every second in our body.

Nutrients are comprised of ‘classes’, these are water, lipids, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals. In addition, we can also include nutrients such as phytonutrients. There are many nutrients that are ‘essential’ because they need to come from the diet as the body cannot make them. When people lack certain nutrients over time they become ‘deficient’ and this can cause a multitude of problems in the body (e.g., think of Scurvy because of no Vitamin C), especially as many nutrients work synergistically together. Understanding nutrients in the food you eat is a key tool when trying to solve the puzzle of ill health because of lack of/imbalance of nutrients.

Hippocrates the father of modern medicine said, “let food be our medicine and medicine be our food”. This has resonated with peoples around the world and still does today. However, what is often not mentioned is that ‘you are what you digest and absorb’. Many people overlook the process of digestion and the health of their digestive tract. You can eat as much ‘nutrient dense’ foods as you like but if you do not digest and absorb then you can still be undernourished.

Then what is nourishment? The distinction between nourishment and nutrition is that nourishment is not limited to food alone. Joshua Rosenthal founder and director of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and author of Integrative Nutrition, “Eating well helps, but don’t expect it to work miracles. It can fill you, but it cannot fulfil you.”

“If we are not physically starving, other dimensions of the human experience are much more important than what we put in our mouths. The foods you eat are secondary to all the other things that feed you — your relationships, career, spirituality, and exercise routine. All that we consider today as nutrition is really just a secondary source of energy.”

What is crucial to understand is that the belief that food and all it encompasses is a means to an end and is the gateway to good health is simply true. Food is one aspect of nourishment and people who let food dictate their existence and find meaning through food, whether it is by only consuming ‘healthy’ foods, abstaining from foods, over consuming foods or allowing food fear to control them then oftentimes it leaves a void in the individual would otherwise be filled by multifactorial aspects of life that ultimately fulfil humans. Food can fill you, but it cannot fulfil you.

Dr. Mark Hyman talks about “the health of your mind and spirit and your sense of connection to your community has an immense impact on the health of your body”.

As much as we embrace the science of nutrition and use it as a tool to help heal the body. Healing is often far more than the sum of nutrients we prescribe or consume. We need to steer clear of “Nutrition-ISM” and begin to understand the broader role of food in our lives, such as why we eat what we do?, the habits we have developed around food, emotions and their connection to food, the influence of social media on our choices of food, the cultural implications around food, religious beliefs and the consumption of certain foods, social factors around food choice’s and the availability of food including financial matters around the purchase of food and much more.

Finally, nourishment is the sum of aspects of our life that fulfils us. Consuming healthy wholefoods that are in season, locally sourced and organic where possible is certainly essential for good health. Good nutrition is one aspect but as humans we need to feed all aspects of our lives. Good health is encompassing mind, body, and spirit. Each one as equally important as the other.


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