• Erin R. Liggett

So, what is "holistic" nutrition?

Updated: Oct 16, 2019

Are you wondering what all this "holistic" talk is about when it comes to nutrition? If so, not to worry because I am going break this complex field of study down for you here.

Nutrition is an evolving science (as new theories are continually being tested and revised) that studies food and how it is used in the body to either sustain or hinder our health. Similar to allopathic medicine which views our body through a reductionist lens, we often hear about nutrition in terms of a food being reduced down to its “nutrient” parts. Think macronutrients like fat, protein and carbohydrates or as many people call them, “carbs.” We also like to talk a lot about micronutrients which are comprised of vitamins and minerals. Perhaps less commonly known are phytonutrients, found only in plants. These colorful, plant defense mechanisms are said to offer added benefits to us when we consume them, such as the power of antioxidants to fight cancer and other diseases (Aune et al., 2017).

While this reductionist view of nutrition has been helpful to better understand which nutrients within a particular food contributes to certain health outcomes, some would argue that it has complicated things too much. In my opinion, a big part of the issue stems from the fact that we have isolated nutrients in a way that either villainizes or promotes them to heroic status.

This has made it easier for manufacturers to create processed food based on whatever new theory is currently making it rounds in the media. The low-fat craze led to an increased consumption of simple carbs high in sugar which ironically resulted in an obesity epidemic here in America – one of the things it was trying to combat (Hilts, 2016)!

“Holistic” by definition encompasses the whole food, the whole person, the whole ecosystem, etc. When speaking about nutrition on a holistic level, we are essentially referring to the whole food offering greater synergistic benefits than the sum of its nutrient parts. In other words, just as we are unable to function properly when our body systems are not fully intact, the idea is that foods lose their beneficial functionality the more they are processed or reduced down to specific nutrients. While we have undoubtedly gained some insight from isolating specific nutrients in a controlled nutrition study, the reality is, we have a much different experience in nature.

The holistic nutrition community values the insight offered from studying different cultures’ eating and lifestyle habits and their respective health outcomes. We tend to take a deeper dive into the environment your food was raised or grown in, whether a plant was sprayed with synthetic pesticides and therefore may contain residues that are unable to be washed off. Quality of food is of utmost importance in holistic nutrition which naturally lessens the need to overly focus on calories.

Holistic nutrition professionals may look at the best times to eat a particular food (seasonal eating), how best to prepare it for optimal digestion, how far your food traveled to reach your plate, what your relationship with food is like, how your blood type may play a role in your body’s ability to process food and what your ancestors’ natural diet may have looked like to gain further insight into your own body’s strengths and weaknesses.

At the end of the day, holistic nutrition is not a one size fits all approach, so we study a variety of nutritional theories to have a well-rounded view. Holistic nutrition encompasses much more than just eating, which is why your stress level, sleeping patterns, exercise routine, among other things are also often examined to help you craft the best wellness plan for your unique mind, body and spirit.

*This blog is for entertainment and education purposes only. The content included is my opinion and is not intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure disease.

Aune, D., Giovannucci, E., Boffetta, P., Fadnes, L., Keum, N., & Norat, T. et al. (2017). Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality—a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. International Journal Of Epidemiology, 46(3), 1029-1056. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyw319

Hilts, P. (2016). If David Ludwig Is Right, Everything We Thought We Knew About Obesity-And Low-Fat Diets-Is Wrong. Boston Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.bostonmagazine.com/health/2016/01/05/obesity-diets/

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