What is Nutrition?

Many years ago I remember reading this simple, broad and clear definition of Nutrition: 

Nutrition – The relationship between agriculture and health.  It was in some USDA nutrition education manual.

I liked this definition for its simplicity, but I thought that the word “agriculture” should be replaced by “food”.

Merriam-Webster.com’s primary definition for agriculture is

The science, art, or practice of cultivating the soil, producing crops, and raising livestock and in varying degrees the preparation and marketing of the resulting products

Not all agriculture is food.  As far as I know, people don’t eat tobacco or cotton. So I felt that the USDA definition was flawed.   The use of tobacco certainly has health implications, but no one would ever identify a smoking cessation class as nutrition education.

Merriam-Webster.com’s primary definition for food is:

Material consisting essentially of protein, carbohydrate, and fat used in the body of an organism to sustain growth, repair, and vital processes and to furnish energy;

According to this definition, all food must contain protein, carbohydrate or fat.

Cotton and cottonseeds are not considered foods for humans because they contain gossypol, a dangerous toxin.  Cottonseed oil has been used in processed foods in America for over 70 years  because the gossypol is removed from the seed during processing.

Like all oils, all of the calories in cottonseed oil come from fat.

So, with man’s help, a non-food item is turned into an amazingly calorically dense substance that humans can consume. (All oils are the most calorically dense foods in existence.).

Cottonseed oil certainly furnishes energy, but would you call it a food? If it can be demonstrated to sustain growth, repair and vital processes, even in minimal ways, it would meet the definition of a food.

I often call oils and other highly processed foods “food-like substances” because they are so far removed from the whole food from which they are derived.

But for the purposes of nutrition, we have to consider cottonseed oil, Twinkies, Crisco and Twizzlers as food.

If we define nutrition as “The relationship between food and health” the “food” includes food-like substances.

 After reading The China Study and other writings of  T. Colin Campbell PhD, I believe nutrition is best defined as he defines it.

Nutrition –  is the highly integrated, interactive, even symphonic effect produced by countless food chemicals that maintain health and prevent disease.

Dr. Campbell came to this definition because he saw the symphonic effect at the biochemical and intracellular levels, as well as at the ecological outcome level.

His definition includes a description of how food relates to health.  It’s this definition that needs to drive nutrition researchers to veer away from their hyper-concern of how single nutrients relate to one mechanism or disease.  This type of research is not really nutrition research.

How do you define Nutrition?

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