We live in an era of intense interest in nutrition and diet. We are constantly bombarded by all kinds of information and misinformation about food and how it can make us healthy.
There are so many ‘facts’ that are instantly available on the internet, food blogs, newspapers, magazines, – it is hard to make sense of it all and to know what to believe. In this course we will try to give you skills so that you can judge different sources of information for yourself and make decisions about what is true or untrue and what is going to be right for your own body.
This course has been developed as a starting point for people interested in learning more about food, and how it may be used to support health. It is designed for members of the general public. We assume that you will have no prior knowledge about nutrition science and we have attempted to avoid using too many technical terms. If you already have a medical or nutrition background you may find that our content is not sufficiently detailed. You should then investigate our other courses for dietitians and nutritionists and healthcare professionals
The complexities of nutrition science
Nutrition science is a complex area. Media reports often talk about the results of research studies carried out on a single food- slating the food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for health. Certainly research studies often look at single foods because then it becomes easier to pinpoint changes related to eating that food. Important compounds in the food can then be isolated and tested. While this reductionist approach is useful for understanding the function of specific nutrients in food, it does not reflect how we normally eat. People choose to eat a variety of foods and each meal will vary. This must influence how we think about using foods as medicine.
A whole diet approach
In this course we take a whole of diet approach – that is although we can talk about the benefits of single foods we also stress that these foods will be combined in a complex diet. The addition of any so called ‘superfood’ isn’t going to correct the overall balance of a poor quality diet. If food variety is decreased, concentrating on one ‘superfood’ can even make a total diet quality worse. For this reason, we will stress the importance of whole diets, dietary patterns and diet quality. Food are not drugs and unfortunately there are no magic bullets!
It is also important to understand that nutrients in single foods, when eaten together in a meal, will interact. There may be synergies that multiply a beneficial effect and vice versa. So when we consider food as medicine we will recommend sources of nutrient-rich foods that are good to include as components in a complex, diverse and healthy diet.
In this course we use a body systems approach –recognising that body systems interact. There is for example, cross talk between the brain and gut which signal to us when to feel hungry and when to feel full. From this course you will find how body systems and nutrition are related.
All of you will have different ideas or expectations of what Food as Medicine means. Here we will focus on the role of foods and how they can be important both in preventative health and as an aid in the management of certain chronic diseases today, in the past and in the future. In this worldwide audience we also must remember the diversity of peoples’ genetic profiles which can affect responses to food. In this course we can only provide a taster of the exciting world of nutrition science. We have tried to pick areas of greatest interest as well as areas applicable to the majority of learners - I hope you enjoy Food as Medicine as much as my team here at Monash University have enjoyed putting it together.
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