The fuel we give our bodies determines almost as much about how they work as anything else, including in the clinical setting, which is why the study and application of clinical nutrition are as vital as many other disciplines. But what is clinical nutrition?
Simply put, clinical nutrition is the study and also application of the relationship between the body and the nutrients it receives from food and food supplements. This aspect of nutrition looks at the impact of nutrients on the body as well as in treating or preventing disease.
Clinical Nutrition In The Modern Era
The impact of various foods, herbs and so forth concerning human health has been observed and studied for millennia. Medicinal properties of various foods – supposed and real – have been known about since ancient times, many of which are still used as over the counter remedies for various ailments.
However, the science of nutrition came into its own during the 18th century, when the link between metabolizing food and breathing was confirmed by Lavoisier, the famous French chemist. Other discoveries followed as more links were discovered and confirmed between food intake – and more specifically the macronutrients and micronutrients of food – and overall health.
Building Blocks Of Nutrition: Macronutrients.
One of the most significant aspects of clinical nutrition is macronutrients. Macronutrients are the primary energy sources from food, literally the fuel that powers our bodies. There are three: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
Each has significant benefits, though each can have significant drawbacks depending on the source or type of macronutrient.
For instance, carbohydrates can be highly beneficial if they are complex, fibrous and low on the glycemic index. Foods such as fruits, legumes (beans, lentils, etc.) and fibrous, non-starchy vegetables provide fiber and a slow-release source of energy, as the sugars in complex carbohydrates release over time rather than all at once.
Fats can make people leery, but good sources of fats abound. Olive oil, butter, fatty fish, eggs and other natural, healthy sources of fat have been clinically demonstrated to be healthy.
Proteins are likewise an important macronutrient, as protein is the building block of muscle tissue. High-protein, low-carbohydrate diets have been shown to be beneficial in weight loss. Protein is also vital for maintaining muscle mass.
Each macronutrient is important, though equally important is the macronutrient ratio, the mix of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Depending on the course of treatment, patients will benefit from specific macronutrient ratios.
An epileptic patient on a ketogenic diet, for instance, may require macros of 70 percent fat, 25 percent protein, and 5 percent carbohydrates. Macronutrient ratios vary by intended use, of course, but the general idea is finding either an ideal ratio for long-term or acute applications.
Micronutrients, aka Vitamins And Minerals
The other factor in clinical nutrition is micronutrients, otherwise called vitamins and minerals. These are just as important as macronutrients, as micronutrients have just as much of an impact on health.
A good many diseases are caused by nutrient deficiencies, such as beriberi (a vitamin B1 deficiency), Ricketts (vitamin D) or scurvy, a lack of vitamin C that was famously prevented in sailors by carrying a supply of citrus aboard ships.
The various micronutrients also have health impacts, both in treating deficiencies but also in treating various diseases. Clinical nutrition can involve adding various foods or supplements as a long-term treatment or treat an acute condition.
Applications Of Clinical Nutrition
The applications of clinical nutrition are wide-ranging. They can include treatment regimens for chronic conditions – such as limiting sugars for Type 2 diabetics, adding folate-rich leafy greens into diets of people with heart conditions, ketogenic diets for epilepsy patients, etc. – or can be part of an intensive treatment in the hospital setting.
Clinical nutrition can also include avoiding certain foods, such as people suffering from celiac disease avoiding glutens, GERD patients staying away from foods that cause acid reflux or other issues, and so on.
In short, clinical nutrition is making food part of a treatment plan. It also happens to be very effective.