This article is from the 3-hour course “A Clinician’s Guide to Improving Therapeutic Outcomes: Why Is Nutrition Important?” presented in partnership with HomeCEU.
The body is an engine — one driven and powered by nutrients. Remarkably, it breaks down and rebuilds tissue every single day. But 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.
The big three
Most people are familiar with the body’s three macronutrients: carbs, protein, and fats. All are necessary to maintain good health, 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, flaxseeds, walnuts, and canola oil.
Mighty micronutrients and where to find them
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. On the other hand, 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 actually form about 4% of the body’s mass. Major players include calcium, potassium, sodium, chloride, phosphorus, magnesium, sulfur, iron, copper, zinc, iodine, and others.
And though supplements can provide both vitamins and minerals, they can also be found naturally in dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, citrus fruits, tomatoes, avocados, soy, eggs, meat, and fish.
That all looks good on paper, but…
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.
Dietary habits can also be affected by external circumstances — like a demanding work schedule, high TV consumption, or little access to healthy foods — as well as internal changes (think pregnancy, smoking cessation, hormonal imbalances, dementia, or emotional distress).
In patient evaluation, considering these factors is integral, as is the practice of setting realistic, specific, and obtainable patient goals.
To learn more about nutrition and rehabilitation, consider following courses for therapy professionals, offered in partnership with our sister school, HomeCEU: