The body is an engine driven and powered by nutrients.
Remarkably, it breaks down and rebuilds tissue every single day. After an injury, healing requires an increased number of macro- and micronutrients.
As clinicians, therapists, and healthcare professionals structure rehabilitation programs for patients, understanding this interplay of nutrition and healing is vital.
Nutrition and macronutrients
Most people are familiar with the body’s three macronutrients: carbs, protein, and fats. Maintaining good health requires all three, though the ratios of each vary depending on age, physical condition, lifestyle, activity levels, and other factors.
- Carbohydrates serve as the body’s first energy source. Simple carbohydrates like sugar break down quickly, while complex carbs like grains, oats, and beans take longer to digest, providing the body with a more sustainable source of energy.
- Strung together from amino acids, proteins are necessary for building muscle mass and other tissues. Of the 20 existing amino acids, the human body cannot produce nine naturally, which means they must be obtained through diet. Lean meats, pork, poultry, eggs, seafood, low-fat dairy, and plant-based proteins like quinoa, beans, and nuts are good sources of protein.
- Fats tend to get a bad reputation. But fats, specifically essential fatty acids, are a vital macronutrient, responsible for providing energy, processing fat-soluble vitamins, and keeping the organs warm. A healthy diet contains a balance of omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 fatty acids. Good sources include fatty fish and fish oils, flax seeds, walnuts, and canola oil.
Micronutrients like vitamins (organic materials) and minerals (inorganic materials) are needed in smaller amounts than macronutrients, but they’re just as vital when it comes to repairing injuries and rebuilding tissue.
In excess, fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) can be stored in the body’s fatty tissues and cannot be excreted easily. Water-soluble vitamins like B complex and vitamin C are excreted in urine when the body has too much. Thus, these vitamins need to be consumed daily.
While the names may look better suited on the Periodic Table than the dinner table, minerals form about 4% of the body’s mass. Major players include calcium, potassium, sodium, chloride, phosphorus, magnesium, sulfur, iron, copper, zinc, iodine, and others. Supplements can provide both vitamins and minerals. Dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, citrus fruits, tomatoes, avocados, soy, eggs, meat, and fish are good holistic sources of micronutrients.
The standard American diet
Unfortunately, the standard American diet is deficient in micronutrients. Here are some quick facts:
- 98% of Americans don’t get enough potassium in their diets
- 95% of Americans don’t get enough fiber
- More than 92% of Americans are deficient in one or more vitamins (Note: This doesn’t mean they’re receiving less than the amount needed for optimal health; it means they’re receiving less than the minimum amount necessary to prevent deficiency diseases.)
- Up to 80% of Americans are deficient in magnesium
- Almost 75% don’t get enough zinc
- 70% don’t get enough vitamin E
- 50% don’t get enough vitamin D
- 40% don’t get enough iron
- Up to 40% don’t get enough vitamin B12
- 37% don’t get enough vitamin C
Evaluation and assessment
When it comes to diet, nutrition, and eating habits, change can be difficult. In a culture where calories are cheap, plentiful, and often devoid of most nutritional value, reframing an attitude toward food takes real work. Significant factors play into everyday food choices, from upbringing to ethnicity to religious beliefs to geographic location and more.
External circumstances can also affect dietary habits. A demanding work schedule, high TV consumption, or little access to healthy foods can make nutrition eating a challenge. Internal changes (pregnancy, smoking cessation, hormonal imbalances, dementia, or emotional distress) can also impact diet.
Inpatient evaluation, considering these factors is integral, as is the practice of setting realistic, specific, and obtainable patient goals.