Welp, it's official. I'm in my second week of nutrition coursework, in my first official semester as a dietetics student. It's been a long and difficult journey to get here, but here I am.
We're working on the foundations of nutrition science, covering macro- and micronutrients, digestion and absorption, and the connection between diet and health. Here are a few noteworthy facts from the classes this week:
The ten leading causes of death in the U.S. are, in order of severity: heart disease, cancers, chronic lung disease, strokes, accidents, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes mellitus, kidney diseases, influenza and pneumonia, and suicide. How many of these could be avoided or improved using nutritional therapy? I'd say all of them - yes, all of the causes. We know that malnutrition creates what my textbook likes to call a "synergistic downward spiral," tracing a path that begins with a poor diet, deficient in anything from an entire food group to a vital micronutrient; this leads to a general bad feeling, lack of movement and critical sun exposure, a gradually worsening diet and mindset, and a state of chronic inflammation. By treating the root of the issue, we have the potential to halt or reverse the cascade of cause and effect.
The digestion and absorption of food in our gastrointestinal tract is hugely important - it's the world's portal to our body! Did you know that studies have shown that cells of successive portions of the GI tract are specialized in such a way as to absorb individual nutrients? Amazing. What's also amazing in that there are 10 trillion bacteria, with more than 400 species and subspecies of flora, that reside in our guts. A diet rich in fiber, resistant start, and other sources of pre-biotics help feed the bacteria, while supplementing with probiotic-rich foods like traditionally fermented sauerkraut, kimchi or kombucha supports and adds to the colonies already inside.
You may not realize the important role that the nervous system plays in digestion. When we think about the body systems, it’s easy to consider them as self-contained units, when in reality each is intimately connected. The health of your nervous system – whether you’re in a “rest and digest” or a “fight or flight” state – will directly impact the effectiveness of your digestive system, upon which we rely for physical nourishment. In order to make sure your nervous system plays nicely with the gut, take care of your mental state and your physical environment when you sit down to a meal. A leisurely meal enjoyed in a soothing setting will be digested more efficiently than a rushed meal eaten while stressed; therefore, the nutrients found within that meal will be more likely to be absorbed and utilized if you're calm, cool and collected. Use this as an excuse to actually use your dining room, to light some candles, and to sit down with your loved ones for dinner this weekend!