The generally accepted definition of nutrition is “The study of the nature and composition of foods and their relation to health”. This definition makes a direct link between foods and health and ignores completely ‘who consumes the food and who is experiencing the health?’ Current concepts strongly indicate that the individual should be placed squarely at the centre of this equation and should be cognizant of the many factors that intervene between foods and health that must be captured in the definition.
||This perspective calls for nutrition to be recognized as a system and be reflected in the definition. It recognizes that processes at the macro level such as agricultural practices can affect nutrition at the cellular level. It also recognizes the variability among individuals and the many factors including epigenetics that will influence how food components are utilized by the individual at the cellular level to influence health status. Cultural practices and technological advances intervene between food in the raw state and what is actually consumed. Foods are merely inputs into the system and really tools to be used appropriately to generate the metabolic effects desired inside the human body. Food combinations, ratios and preparation methods are all learnt behaviours that are adaptations to the prevailing environment of communities, cultures and individuals.
Food and Nutrition as a System
Source: Patricia Thompson (2009)
Nutrition is indeed concerned with the constituents of food but the purpose is to provide nourishment to the body from an adequate diet leading to health status. The process connecting the two is not as standard and universal as dietary guidelines are usually presented. A concise systems definition places more emphasis on individual behaviour and food utilization such as “nutrition is the science behind feeding, eating and utilizing food components to human advantage”. The practice of nutrition would be defined as ‘an analysis of the food and nutrition situation of individuals, groups and populations whereby foods and the chemicals in food interact with the environment (both externally and internally) to support and promote health or result in disease’.
This perspective on nutrition practice can be captured with the acronym ACEM meaning:
Analysis of assessment data
Consumption of food – The components that are usually considered for prescription can be represented by an additional acronym notably TCAP meaning:
- T= Nutrient timing or eating scheduling
- C= Food combinations and resultant properties for nutritional balance
- A= Amounts eaten based on nutritional needs
- P = Inherent properties of people and foods consumed
Environmental - nutrition adaptation
Monitor - changes over time
This fits in with the SMART acronym as follows:
S = Specific to target persons being assessed and analysed
M = Measurable in terms that can demonstrate outcomes
A= Accurate and appropriate – reflecting the factors of consumption
R= Relevant - depends on the specific environmental factors
T= Time variations - nutritional needs are dynamic as are behaviours and must be continually monitored and adjusted over time.
These concepts are captured in my new publication “Integrated Food and Nutrition Sciences – Caribbean Nutrition, Foods and Health” which was written primarily to satisfy the needs for our newly revised Advanced Caribbean school curriculum in Food and Nutrition and is also relevant for higher education and other regions.
Patricia Thompson M.Sc., Registered Nutritionist, Jamaica