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  • Dr. Christa O'Leary

What is the role of nutrition in healing?

Write an article about how many people are struggling with the question of "what role should nutrition play in healing?" It can be hard to know where to start when you're just trying to get healthier. One way to answer this question is by looking at the ways that nutrient deficiencies affect our health and the importance of making sure we're taking in enough nutrients each day.

We're going to look at this question from a dietary standpoint, but there are certainly other ways that nutrition can help us heal. In fact, another way that we can think about the role of nutrition is whether certain foods promote our health or do not. For example, some research suggests that fruits and vegetables may be able to help lower blood pressure, whereas other research has shown that eating fast food may be linked to weight gain.

Nutrients are also essential for our bodies to function properly. All chemical reactions depend on the presence of nutrients, and many proteins need specific types of nutrients in order to work. Without proper amounts of sodium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin K, our bodies would not be able to regulate blood pressure, make hormones, or let you know when it is time to eat. Furthermore, certain nutrients can help regulate mood and promote a healthy immune system.

One of the best ways for most people to check whether their diets are providing adequate nutrition is by assessing themselves on the dietary reference intake (DRI). The DRI is a list of dietary guidelines that helps us determine the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals in our diets. They were developed by a group of experts in order to help people understand how much nutrition they need from their diet each day.

Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA)

The RDA recommends the minimum amount of a nutrient we should be getting each day. For most vitamins and minerals, this is based on preventing deficiency symptoms. However, these servings are not necessarily ideal for promoting optimal health or treating disease.

Adequate Intake (AI)

The AI is a recommended intake level that is set when we do not have enough information to create an RDA. Sometimes, research shows that it would be difficult for people to consume the RDA in their diets and therefore the AI is used instead. For example, there are no known cases of beriberi—a condition caused by vitamin B1 deficiency—in the US, so the RDA for vitamin B1 is 0.1 mg/day. The AI, however, is set at 0.3 mg/day because this would be much easier to achieve through food intake alone and it should decrease the risk of deficiency symptoms.

Tolerable Upper Limit (UL)

The UL represents the highest level of daily nutrient intake that is likely to be safe for almost all healthy individuals. For vitamins, this level is typically reserved for the most sensitive populations , such as children, pregnant women, elderly people, and those with chronic illnesses. The ULs are not recommendations for healthy individuals or recommended intakes—instead they are used to help prevent nutrient toxicity. The upper limit of the UL does not represent a single amount that should be consumed. Instead, it represents our intake over time and includes a margin of error to ensure that toxicity will not occur in even the most sensitive populations. For example, the UL for vitamin C is 2,000 mg/day. This means you can safely consume up to 2,000 mg of vitamin C each day for several months without any risk of nutrient toxicity. However, you would have to consume more than this amount over time in order to reach the level of intake that is actually toxic (which is around 10 g/day).

How can we tell if our diets are providing adequate nutrition?

The best way to assess how well your diet is meeting your nutritional needs is by tracking what you eat. The USDA has created a free tool to help people do this at Choose My Plate .

When using this tool, it is important to remember that many nutrients are best absorbed when consumed with other nutrients or foods. For example, calcium should be eaten with vitamin D and protein to allow it to be absorbed by the body. Eating a variety of nutrient- and fiber-rich foods will help you meet your daily requirements for most vitamins and minerals.

Tips on Improving Your Diet

  • Eat a variety of nutrient- and fiber-rich foods.

  • Choose lean meats, poultry, and fish often.

  • Eat at least half of your grains whole.

  • Make at least half of your grain products whole grain.

  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk and dairy products.

  • Replace protein foods that are higher in solid fats with choices that are lower in solid fats and calories.

  • Eat a variety of vegetables, especially dark-green and red and orange vegetables.

  • When selecting breads, cereals, rice, pasta, or other grain products that are made with refined grains choose those with the most whole grains.

Final Thoughts

Incorporating these simple changes into your diet can have a big impact on your health. If you like, Keep a Food Diary to track the types and amounts of food you eat each day and see how different foods or beverages contribute to your total intake. You can learn more about healthy eating by visiting Need support in picking a diet or creating a meal plan? We're here to help! Call us today to schedule an appointment.

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