The Science Behind Holistic Nutrition

By: Jennifer Camirand, R.H.N, CNE

What, in this age of pervasive internet authority,where a quick ‘Google’ search can and often does undermine deductive reasoning, experience, and well sought-after facts, is the true meaning of ‘Holistic Nutrition’?

Holistic is a term conceived in the early 20th Century to describe inclusivity or holism. It is concerned with the notion that reality is an interconnected whole and focuses on the total entity and interdependence of the diverse parts of a totality.

Nutrition itself is not a new ‘science.’ The word as we know it today finds its roots in Latin and the translation from the original nūtrīre, meaning TO NOURISH.  In a 2005 article published in the Journal of Public Health Nutrition(Sep;8(6a):701-705) Geoffrey Cannon tells us that, “The Egyptian Imhotep gave accounts of the use of food as medicine about 6000 years ago.” and that sometime near 2500 BCE both Chinese and “Indian Ayurvedic traditions also stress the importance of specified dietary patterns, foods and drinks,” and that these methods were “ways to a spiritually, morally, emotionally and mentally enlightened life”.

Now, as Holistic Nutrition Practitionerswe would never purport that our practice would either raise one’s moral standards, or pretend to be the purveyors of enlightenment, but we most certainly, bound by a very clear code of ethics and well-defined scope of practice, consider both the ancient wisdom brought forward into a modern world, burdened by an ever-increasing tsunami of chronic illness,and partner it with the methods of modern research.

Holistic Nutrition is simply NOT just about whole food – it is about what makes US whole.
To be clear, it most certainly is not about throwing the superfood of the day at a complex health problem, along with the promise to wash it away; not just because, like other educated healthcare modalities we make no promises, but because such a claim makes no logical sense, to anyone.

Holistic Nutrition is about how we look at the whole person. Looking at health through a holistic lens is not like looking through a telescope, with its singular viewfinder allowing for the magnification of a faraway object, its field of view,narrow, and its depth of field, flat. A better analogy is looking through a set of binoculars. Although still able to see things from a distance, and to focus on a singular chosen object, the two viewfinders allow for a coming together of perspective in three dimensions, bringing into focus surrounding objects that may, from time to time, have had, or continue to have, an effect on the object under examination.

Holistic Nutrition most certainly is not a straightforward case of once ill, and now, well. There is a great chasm between the two, a distance that spans over time, short for some, decades for others, that is created in impactful increments of seconds, minutes, days, months and even years.  This distance, over time, indicates that there is the potential for this process to move as though travelling a continuum and at various points along this spectrum we find ourselves moving either toward or away from wellness. Health and illness do not happen in a straight line, nor is the journey ever the same for two individuals.

Given that Holistic Nutrition looks at the whole person and is NOT solely interested in food, food as the medium through which the body can, and does, if it is in a state of homeostasis, obtain usable isolated nutrients, we are also interested in the How, When, Where, Why and with Whom, of each individual we see.It is here that we find OUR science.  Not simply hard science – but a weaving of hard science and social science. This blending of the two allows us to celebrate research outcomes that promote longevity, connectedness, culture, both ancient and new, the good and the bad of each, and of course we do look at food, whole food.

In evidence of this blend, CSNN imparts upon its students a curriculum balanced in both hard and social sciences. The first is represented through courses in Anatomy, Physiology, Pathology, Chemistry and Bio-Chemistry, demonstrating how nutrients are utilized in bodily processes, pathways and protection.  The social sciences, defined by the study of people, individually and in groups, their customs and relationships, are respectively studied in courses focused on Prevention, Life-stages, Ecology, and Symptomatology. Symptomatology, with its primary focus on the individual’s reporting and identification of health-concerns, symptoms and overall well being, is in itself a perfect blend of both the hard and social sciences.

Our investment in sourcing quality research by reputable people whom we have judged based on their credentials and links to reputable institutions, provides us with answers in a variety of different ways.  As Holistic Nutrition Practitioners we ensure that the research we employ, developed from original questions or hypotheses, has been tested and replicated by others.This need for confirmation is satisfied by individual experimental studies or review papers, a rigorous and systematic method, assimilating a collection of research literature on a particular topic.Systematic reviews are well placed within the research hierarchy and allow for sound, firm, qualified decisions.

In keeping with other healthcare professions,Holistic Nutrition Practitioners, when sourcing out valid research, will be looking for both quantitative and qualitative research. The first identified by its rich representation of data presented in numerical fashion, the latter focused on an in-depth understanding of the reasons for and meaning of the results. A well-written Systematic Review should provide a practitioner with both. These trustworthy and credible, action-based studies, carried out and evaluated under practical circumstances must be transferrable to the relevant context, specifically the individual’s primary or accumulated health concerns.

You see, we consider Holistic Nutrition to be a well-constructed framework. A framework that results in client-centred, individualized, evidence-based practices, and leads to informed and well-educated choices, for YOU, and your current challenges.

From where we stand, the definition of Holistic Nutrition lies in the partnership established between client and practitioner. It is about bringing the WHOLE person into focus, past and present, internal and external.