There are two main questions at the heart of functional medicine, “what harms us?” and “what makes us thrive?”.
It is easy to overlook our role in choosing what harms us and what makes us thrive and instead focus on external factors we have no control over (i.e. watching your favorite sports team, time with friends, vacations, relationships, death, trauma, marriage, kids, other people’s behavior) and how they make us feel. What if we instead focused on what we do have control over and how that makes us feel? Like our diet for example.
Food has a direct impact on how our body functions. After we eat, food is broken down into small, molecular-sized pieces that act as messengers delivering nutrients to our cells for nourishment in order to function properly. These nutrients contain information that can either harm us or make us thrive, on a cellular level, depending on the kinds of foods we eat. If harmful junk foods are continuously being delivered to our cells, they become dysfunctional, which impacts how neighboring cells function, how the organ they comprise functions, and eventually how the organ systems communicate and operate as a whole. Over time this results in downstream disease represented by a myriad of symptoms mentally, physically, or both.
Unfortunately, the standard American diet (SAD) is not designed to make us thrive and is instead very health-harming due to its composition of low-quality inflammatory fats, high glycemic simple carbohydrates, and refined sugars. It is also extremely high in sodium and calories from fast food, ultra-processed food, and convenience foods; and low in fiber, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, making it nutritionally incomplete 4,5.
Inflammatory SAD fats are made up of artificial trans fats found in baked goods, margarine, fried foods, and pre-packaged foods. In fact, trans fat proved to be so deleterious to human health that the FDA took them off the “generally recognized as safe” list of chemicals added to the food supply in 2015 and banned all trans-fat in manufactured food products by 2018. Notwithstanding, foods containing less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving are still permissible despite the havoc they wreak on human health. To make matters worse, the FDA allows these trans-fat foods to be labeled as having 0 grams of trans fat per serving.1
Omega-6 fats and saturated fat are also run rampant in the SAD. Omega-6 fats are a natural component of a healthy, well-rounded diet and can actually be beneficial when consumed in moderation. However, the SAD contains exceptionally high quantities of omega-6 fats in the form of vegetable oils, fried foods, and conventional meat without adequate intake of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats in the form of nuts, seeds, fish, grass-fed meat, and pasture-raised poultry. Ideally, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats should be 4:1, whereas the SAD contains an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio upwards of 20:1.2
This ratio is highly problematic and interferes with normal cell function which is why it is linked to inflammatory diseases like Alzheimer’s, irritable bowel disease, arthritis, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and nonalcoholic fatty liver2. Furthermore, lower levels of omega-3 fats and higher levels of omega-6 fats in the cells may boost the rate of depression and interfere with the proper functioning of neurons3. Increase the intake of healthy omega-3 fats and help prevent this.
Finally, SAD consists of low quantities of vegetables. As evidenced by findings reported by the CDC, only 12.2% of U.S. adults are meeting daily intake requirements for fruits and 9.3% for vegetables, which are both already set incredibly low at 1.5-2 cups and 2-3 cups, respectively6. Furthermore, 41% of Americans get their vegetables in the form of “mixed dishes” like pizza or French fries7. A diet high in sodium and low in potassium from fruits and vegetables results in high blood pressure and its related comorbidities. Increasing the intake of fruits and vegetables is an easy way to provide your body with phytonutrients to help it to thrive.
In conclusion, the answer to the two questions at the heart of functional medicine “what harms us?” and “what makes us thrive?” is multifactorial in nature and requires us to take a detailed look at our environment and the impact it has on us. Most things are out of our control, but when we begin to acknowledge the things we do have control over, like our food choices, we can try our best to make decisions that will not harm us and instead make us thrive.
If you believe you are struggling with your diet, contact us to learn more about functional nutrition specialists. If you would like additional help managing your eating habits or other aspects of your mind-body health contact us to schedule an appointment at 201-488-6678, with us at FxMed Centers, or visit specializedtherapy.com
By: Taylor Groff, MS, Functional Nutritionist
- Patterson E, Wall R, Fitzgerald GF, Ross RP, Stanton C. Health implications of high dietary omega-6 polyunsaturated Fatty acids. J Nutr Metab. 2012;2012:539426. doi:10.1155/2012/539426
- Wani AL, Bhat SA, Ara A. Omega-3 fatty acids and the treatment of depression: a review of scientific evidence. Integr Med Res. 2015;4(3):132-141. doi:10.1016/j.imr.2015.07.003
- Thalheimer, J. C. (2018). Undoing the Unhealthful Western Diet. Environmental Nutrition, 41(5), 7–7. Retrieved from: https://uws.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsgao&AN=edsgcl.535996330&site=eds-live&scope=site
- Wilson, M. M., Reedy, J., & Krebs-Smith, S. M. (2016). American Diet Quality: Where It Is, Where It Is Heading, and What It Could Be. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116(2), 302–310. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2015.09.020 Retrieved from https://uws.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edselp&AN=S2212267215015117&site=eds-live&scope=site
- Lee-Kwan SH, Moore LV, Blanck HM, Harris DM, Galuska D. Disparities in State-Specific Adult Fruit and Vegetable Consumption — the United States, 2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2017;66:1241–1247. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6645a1
- Branum AM, Rossen LM. The contribution of mixed dishes to vegetable intake among US children and adolescents. Public Health Nutr. 2014;17(9):2053-2060. doi:10.1017/S1368980013002164
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