What is Personalized Nutrition and Functional Medicine?

The Masters program of study I am working on at the moment is Personalized Nutrition and it is grounded in Functional medicine.  I'm often asked what Functional medicine is, so thought I'd take a moment to explain it here.

In functional medicine, we look at the underlying causes of disease, engaging the patient with the practitioner in a therapeutic partnership.  There is a shift from traditional medicine being disease focused to functional medicine which is patient focused, and addresses the whole person, not a set of symptoms.


Functional medicine involves understanding the origins, prevention and treatment of complex and chronic diseases.  So for example, if someone is obese and diabetic, the approach isn't to look at their symptoms and prescribe a diabetic medicine, but rather to go back into their health history and look at what imbalance may have caused this shift.  It could be that a situation years ago affected their microbiota in the gut, which led to obesity; or it could be that they have leaky gut and food sensitivities, and that was the trigger; or there could be a polymorphism; or they could be deficient in certain co-factors (micronutrients or macronutrients) that are needed for chemical reactions in the body.

Another example would be someone who has GERD - or reflux disease and has been given Nexium by their doctor.  For one person, the cause of the GERD could be their diet and eliminating the foods that caused the program can solve it. For another, giving probiotics to adjust the microbiota and nutrients to heal the lining of the gut solved the program.  For a third person, they were actually low on HCl - the acid in the stomach and this was because of a deficiency in zinc, which is involved in forming HCl, so restoring zinc sufficiency, solved the problem.

So personalized nutrition then comes into play in trying to correct the imbalances that are at the root of the cause.   It is personalized because what causes one person to present with symptoms can be very different to what causes those same symptoms in another person. The pathway by which they got there can be completely different.

As you can see from the Institute of Functional Medicine tree, we look at all aspects of a person's life, their stress, relationships, sleep, spirituality etc, as all these can create imbalances in the body. Its not about diagnosing disease, it is about looking at root causes, some of which may have started many years ago.  The approach is evidence based.

It is grounded in nutrition and in fact, their annual conference this year is all about nutrition. Its in San Francisco in May - and nearly sold out, so if you want to know more, take a look.

IFM conference
For me personally, I am not a doctor, but after my program is completed, I can work with clients within my scope of practice to help people nutritionally restore balance and also through my health psychology background.

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Food as Medicine class - beans, legumes and lentils


We had a great class this morning, focusing on beans, legumes and lentils.  All wonderful sources of fiber - not to mention also great source of protein, molybdenum, B vitamins, calcium, anti-oxidants, folic acid...the list goes on.


Beans have many health benefits eg in heart disease for reducing homocysteine levels, stabilizing blood sugar levels, anti-inflammatory effects, and from the high fiber content, assisting elimination of excess hormones, cholesterol, toxins and carcinogens.

Coriander and coconut dahl with chickpea pancakes


We also discussed ways of cooking, soaking and how to reduce the gas-producing effect of beans by combining with certain spices and herbs or through the cooking and soaking techniques.

We cooked some yummy food too, including:

  • cannellini bean and basil dip
  • lentil and caper pate
  • coconut and coriander dahl served with chickpea pancakes
  • Moroccan bean stew
What a filling lunch that was! I don't think any went home hungry and we got our 35+g of fiber today, just in one meal!

Moroccan Bean Stew with black beans, garbanzo beans and lentils

And we restrained from the black bean brownies and not-so-dumb blondies this time!


Next time we will be focussing on fats, oils, essential fatty acids and the effects they have on our health.

Let me know if you are interested in attending a class.
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Health Benefits of Oats

Oats are now quite famous for their health benefits and have grown in popularity.


Unlike other grains, although oats are hulled, this process does not strip away their bran and germ which allows them to remain a concentrated source of fiber and nutrients.  Different types of processing techniques are used to produce different oat products.

  • oat groats - this week I've been trying recipes using whole kernel oats - also called oat groats or oat berries.  They look similar to a grain of brown rice (see photo below).
  • steel cut oats - produced by running oat groats through steel blades to slice them , creating a denser chewier texture.
  • old fashioned rolled oats - these oats are steamed and then rolled to have a flatter shape.
  • quick cook oats - similar to old fashioned but these are steamed and then cut finely and then rolled.
  • instant oatmeal - these oats are partially cooked rather than just steamed and then rolled very thinly.  Often salt, sugar or other ingredients is added.
  • oat bran - the outer layer of the grain.
  • oat flour - made from the hulled oats.
Oat groats/oat berries
Oats are a very good source of the minerals manganese, selenium, and phosphorus. They are also a good source of magnesium and iron and heart protective polyunsaturated fats.  Oats have more than three times as much magnesium as calcium and are a good source of vitamin B1 and soluble dietary fiber.

Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Rolled Oats

Oat bran's dietary fiber is high in beta-glucans, which helps to lower cholesterol by binding bile acids and removing them from the body via feces.  In individuals with high cholesterol (above 220mg/dl) the consumption of 3 grams of soluble oat fiber per day (1 bowl for breakfast) typically lowers total cholesterol by 8 - 23 %.  This is highly significant as with every 1 percent drop in cholesterol, there is a 2 percent decrease in the risk of developing heart disease.  


The polyunsaturated fats in oats actually contribute as much to its cholesterol lowering effects as the fiber does.

Oats also have beneficial effects on blood sugar as well so are a good food for diabetics to consume.

Oats are also good for the skin.  Four tablespoons tied into a muslin bag, soaked in the bath and used as a sponge are healing and soothing for dry skin, eczema and psoriasis.  This amount is enough for 4 or 5 baths.  You can also buy oat based creams and ointments for topical applications.


There are many different ways to prepare oats.  Yesterday I shared my recipe for oatcakes made from rolled oats. Last week, I shared my prize winning marmalade granola recipe with you.  I also frequently make a simple muesli from :

2 cups of old fashioned oats, 
4 tablespoons of ground flaxseed, 
handful of raisins.  
Mix the ingredients together in an air tight container and use 1/2 cup per serving, with non-dairy milk or yoghurt and fruit and nuts.


I'll be sharing some recipes using whole kernel oats soon.  If you do have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, make sure you purchase gluten free oats. 
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Neal Barnard on Diabetes

Here is the latest talk, published this month, from Neal Barnard on Type 2 Diabetes and how is it curable. Recorded at the TED Talks in Fremont.

This research has been available for some time now, yet so many are still ignoring it.  Hopefully this talk will help share the information to those who need it.  I ran a Food as Medicine group yesterday - and another tomorrow which was all on this subject.  More people need to know.


If you are interested, read his great book :Reversing Diabetes  and check out the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine website for more information.  They lead an online 21 day vegan kick start program - in many different languages.

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Walnut Roulade

Yes, I'm definitely in a roulade phase! This is the third type of roulade I've made in the last few weeks. This was for an event we held on Sunday.  It is refined-sugar free, gluten free and dairy free.


I was really pleased with how it came out.  It is made with just eggs, lemon juice, xylitol* and walnuts.  Of course, I then decorated it with fresh raspberries and then drizzled a little fruit-sweetened, sugar free raw chocolate and grated lemon zest on top.

It was eaten up very quickly, but I did manage a little slice, only to check how it tasted, of course!


*Xylitol is a natural sweetener, a sugar alcohol used as a substitute for sugar.  I like it and it seems to work well.  It is a cup for cup replacement for table sugar, so it's easy to substitute in recipes.  It is also granulated like sugar but you can grind it up finer, as necessary.

Xylitol is found in the fibers of many fruits and vegetables and can be extracted from various berries, oats, mushrooms, as well as fibrous materials such as corn husks and birch.  Unlike other sweeteners, xylitol is actively beneficial for dental health, reducing caries to a third in regular use and it has also been shown to reduce the incidence of ear infections.


It has a much lower glycemic index than sugar - GI 7 for xylitol vs GI 80 for sugar, so it a great low calorie sugar substitute for diabetics  that doesn't cause a spike in blood glucose levels.

I don't notice any difference in taste at all between it and sugar, but I find it takes a little long to dissolve when I am cooking with it, for example if beating it with eggs, it stays granular longer so I just whisk it a little longer.

Have you ever used it? What are your thoughts?  If not, give it a go. I think you'll like it.
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Food Facts

Add some cinnamon to your foods!


As little as 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon powder added to your morning oatmeal or cereal not only seems to reduce blood sugar levels, but appears to lower blood cholesterol levels too.  Some of cinnamon's helpful effects are due to polyphenol polymers in the spice that have an insulin like action.

Cinnamon is a warming spice and can also ease digestive problems.  Before you go to bed, try making a warm cinnamon almond milk drink to calm you down and help you sleep. And remember, cinnamon doesn't only have to be used for sweet dishes, try it on starchy foods too, like pumpkin, squash, and brown rice and in stews.

A. Khan et al., "Cinnamon Improves Glucose and Lipids of People with Type 2 Diabetes", Diabetes Care 26 (2003): 3215-8

R.A Anderson et al. "Isolation and Characterization of Polyphenol Type-A Polymers from Cinnamon with Insulin-Like Biological Activity", Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 52 (2004): 65- 70
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Nature's Medicine

If you read my "everything is tickety-boo" post on Sunday, you will have noticed that one of the items on my list was "spending time in nature".

It sounds pretty insignificant, but there has actually been quite a bit of research going on regarding the health benefits of spending time in nature.


In Japan, "Shinrin-yoku" (defined as wood air bathing or forest bathing) has been receiving increased attention in recent years for its ability to provide relaxation and reduce stress.  Trees, sunshine, grass, and wildlife all too frequently take a backseat in city or urban life, but spending even small amounts of time in a natural setting can help ease mental fatigue, lower levels of pain from cancer, improve immune function, and lower average blood sugar in patients in type 2 diabetes.

Think back to the last time you were surrounded by nature - maybe a hike when you noticed the vibrant fresh green of a new leaf, or an insect, or the color of the bark of a tree, or saw a rabbit hop past.  These moments of discovery and fascination are spontaneous and effortless kinds of attention, not like the attention we have to use at work or during most of our day.  As we follow our curiosity from the leaf to a flower to a butterfly, we relax in an exploration of nature which gives our attention driven brain a break.

Photo by Nicholas_T
Sounds in nature are also important, for example the calming sound of water that acts to balance the body's hormones, as too as smells.  Airborne chemicals emitted by plants - phytoncides - are seen to enhance NK (natural killer) cell activity ( part of the immune system).

Photo by VinothChandar

Here are just a couple of research studies that have shown the health benefits of taking time in nature, but there are many more:

1. Weinstein BJ (Jun 2010) Spending Time in Nature Makes People Feel More Alive, Study Shows. Retrieved September 26th, 2010, from University of Rochester: http://www.rochester.edu/news/show.php?id=3639

2. Li Q (2010) A day trip to a forest park increases human natural killer activity and the expression of anti-cancer proteins in male subjects. J Biol Regul Homeost Agents;24(2):157-65.


3. Li Q (2008) Visiting a forest, but not a city, increases human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol;21(1):117-127.

Photo by VinothChandar
So consider giving yourself a break, and find some time this week to be in nature. Let that effortless attention and fascination take over.  And if you aren't up for that - try bringing some nature indoors to you - open the windows, look at the trees, listen to the sound of a waterfall on your computer, put a nature screensaver on your computer screen, watch a nature DVD....
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