what is nutrition?

Welcome to a new series here on fast life, slow life. I’m eager to share the knowledge I learned over the past year in my Nutritional Therapy program with anyone interested in reading. Because I’m not quite set up on my business website yet, where this content will eventually land, I’ll be posting the articles here in the meantime. 

What is nutrition? This probably seems like a silly question to start with. We all know what nutrition is, right? It’s whether or not our food is healthy. At least that’s what I thought at the beginning of my program. And I bet it’s what most of you think when you hear the word as well. One of the first things I learned during my studies is that there is more to nutrition than our food.

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 7.33.20 AMNutrition is a science that studies the interaction between our food and our body. So yes, the food we put into our body is definitely part of nutrition. But there is the second part to the equation that I think is not widely thought about or understood: your body’s ability to use the nutrients in that food. Why is it important to recognize both?

You may be eating a healthful diet, but if your physiology is not up to par, you likely aren’t reaping the benefits of the money and effort you put into all that good, healthy food. 


Here’s a week of my summer CSA from July. There are many nutrients in this picture, but for now let’s focus on the minerals available in this produce. For example, cherries are a good source of copper and manganese. Beets are also a great source of manganese as well as potassium; if you eat the greens we can add magnesium, phosphorus, and iron to the list. Kale includes copper, iron, and calcium[1].

I don’t think any of us would disagree that the food pictured above is healthy. So now we focus on the second part of nutrition – are we able to put the minerals to good use? Your body uses minerals for many critical functions, but as we now know, just including minerals in your diet won’t ensure you are supporting these functions.

Here are a few examples of how proper physiological functioning helps to ensure that you are getting the benefits of these minerals.

  • The right levels of stomach acid allow our bodies to absorb minerals. We are unable to create minerals, we can only ingest them.  Proper acid is needed to break the chemical bonds in our food so that we can absorb the minerals that we ingest. With low stomach acid, the minerals we are eating may be passing right through us.
  • Once absorbed, minerals need to be able to enter your cells to perform their functions. Cell membranes are the gatekeepers of what makes it in and out of a cell. Healthy membranes (strong but permeable) allow minerals to pass through appropriately, whereas unhealthy (rigid) cell membranes make it difficult. If minerals are unable to enter cells, they are unable to function as we need them to.

The purpose of this post isn’t to go into detail of the functions listed above, I’ll dive into each in separate posts. I do hope that I’ve encouraged you to think about both the nutrients you are fueling your body with as well as to start thinking about how well your body is able to use those nutrients.

As a Nutritional Therapist, I work with clients on both sides of the nutrition equation. I analyze food logs and help clients create a nutrient dense diet. At the same time, I have tools such as the Nutritional Assessment Questionnaire and Functional Evaluation to understand areas of the body that are not functioning optimally, thus not making the most of nutrients. The combination is quite powerful and I’m so excited to start helping people with it.

Next up, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on a healthy diet, with the context that we are all our own individuals, and why the idea of a perfect, one-size fits all diet is false.

Resources Used
[1] Murray, Michael. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York: Atria Books, 2005.

5 thoughts on “what is nutrition?

  1. HollyHolly

    This is my favorite! I always feel so frustrated that “our bodies ability to utilize the nutrients in that food” seems to never be acknowledged. Good on ya for starting the convo. Can’t wait to read more!

  2. Debbie

    Robb Wolf has a podcast with lots of science too. Wellness Mama also has one. Five kids under eight years old on paleo and gaps.

    1. Beth Martin Post author

      Not an ignorant question at all. They are different. From a legal perspective, a dietitian is licensed by the state in which they work (and therefor is able to take insurance, work in hospitals, etc.). I am not licensed by a state but instead certified by an organization (and can’t take insurance, work in a hospital or school as a dietician, etc.). From a coursework/fundamentals perspective, dietitians primarily study nutrition from a USDA / food pyramid lens, whereas my program is based on a whole foods / Weston A. Price approach. This is a very high-level delineation between the two, but if you have specific questions I’m happy to answer.


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