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In modern times where dietary and nutritional information is ubiquitous on social, print, and visual media, it is vital that every person who is genuinely concerned about their wellbeing arms themselves with the necessary skills for sifting through the multitude of information and misinformation available to select that which is evidence-based and founded on sound science.

23 JAN, 2023

Learning the scientific principles that govern human nutrition is essential to leading a long and healthy lifestyle. In modern times where dietary and nutritional information is ubiquitous on social, print, and visual media, it is vital that every person who is genuinely concerned about their wellbeing arms themselves with the necessary skills for sifting through the multitude of information and misinformation available to select that which is evidence-based and founded on sound science. Taking part in the Biol1322 class has presented an opportunity to reevaluate longstanding personal beliefs about food and nutrition, some of which turned out to be correct and congruent with expert opinion on the subject, while others were revealed to be misconceptions and possibly harmful.

Knowledge of food groups and different types of nutrients that the body needs has stood out in this class as a critical component of good nutrition. Any diet plan must account for the energy demands of the individual. The diet must adequately meet these needs, lest they become malnourished. However, a balance is vital because oversupplying energy leads to a positive energy balance that is highly likely to lead to undesirable weight gain, which might pose health risks such as cardiovascular disease and certain cancers like colorectal carcinoma (Tremmel et al., 2017). The concept of a balanced diet is fundamental because it ensures an easy and efficient way for individuals to minimize their risk of malnutrition, even without necessarily consulting a nutritionist. The class has also highlighted the social and psychological consequences of malnutrition, such as feelings of low self-esteem, depression, and rejection. While it was already apparent that people need food to survive, the class highlighted the more complex ways nutritional choices can affect a person.

The body’s utilization of foods is a complex process involving different tissues and organs, with failure in any of these stages producing nutritional problems. The first step in the human body’s utilization is their introduction into the body or their consumption. Once in the gut, the food undergoes digestion, which involves mechanically breaking down foods into smaller particles to increase the surface area for the action of digestive enzymes. Chemical digestion involves the action of digestive enzymes breaking down the complex compounds in food into simpler compounds that the body can absorb. Following digestion, the body absorbs the now simpler molecules into the bloodstream using the gut’s mucosa. The absorbed nutrients are then transported to the rest of the body either freely or with transport proteins. The body utilizes these nutrients through a wide range of metabolic reactions, either to produce energy or aid in the manufacture of tissue components like structural proteins. These metabolic processes yield waste products that must be removed through excretory organs like the kidneys. When the body absorbs more nutrients than it metabolizes, it stores the excess. For example, it converts excess carbohydrates into triglycerides which it stores in fat tissue. When confronted with a nutritional problem such as obesity or other forms of malnutrition, one must attempt to localize the problem to any of these processes since interventions target these problematic areas.

There are numerous reliable guidelines that individuals can follow to prepare adequate meals to ensure good health. For instance, the United States Department of Agriculture compiles and publishes the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are a reliable source of information about a proper diet. The guidelines provide evidence-based information on how much food and what types of food a person should take, based on their age, size, levels of physical activity, and even health status (United States Department of Agriculture, 2020). Because of the Biol1322 class’s emphasis on basing diets on sound science, participants of the class are likely to have developed an appreciation for the painstaking work that nutritionists and other scientists, as well as policymakers, put into the establishment of these guidelines to promote the health of Americans. Additionally, one must appreciate that even organizations like the USDA, which have vast resources, cannot exhaustively investigate the impact of these diets. As a result, update their recommendations periodically to highlight new research findings.

Even though guidelines exist to guide people on what types and amounts of foods they should eat, it must remain clear that what works for one person might not necessarily work for another person. A nutritionist or individual intending to formulate a meal or diet plan must account for the individual factors which affect a person’s nutrition choices. For instance, one of the most critical determinants of nutrition choices is the cost of various foods. Although this class did not cover the intricacies of the food economy, it conveyed to its participants how individual factors like these might affect a person’s diet. Some foods might be nutritious but unaffordable, while others might be unhealthy but readily available and affordable. The nutritionist or individual planning a diet or meal plan must familiarize themselves with the range of foods available to the individual, particularly the substitutability of different foods of different costs with comparable or similar nutritional value. Many other factors influence nutrition choices, including taste, smell, culture, personal preferences, religious beliefs, health problems, among others. Understanding the principles of nutrition allows one to design a proper diet and meal plans to circumvent the challenges that individual factors might pose to healthy nutrition.

Many fad diets exist which promise to rapidly correct energy balance. However, many of them fail or harm their users because they do not respect the fundamental scientific principles governing human nutrition. Obesity is a public health concern in the United States and many other countries. It places a massive burden on the healthcare system because it predisposes people to many other diseases such as diabetes mellitus type 2 and atherosclerosis (Tremmel et al., 2017). Furthermore, American beauty standards idolize muscular or lean bodies, with obese or overweight persons largely considered unattractive (Puhl and Heuer, 2010). When health, social expectations, and psychological effects of being overweight or obese intersect, many people find themselves desperate to lose weight and fall prey to fad diets. When trying to lose weight, individuals should follow reliable sources, such as nutritionists and doctors. The American Heart Association (2017), for example, advises individuals to set realistic goals by first measuring their body mass index to determine what their healthy weight should be, to track their food intake, eat reasonable portions, switch to healthier foods and be physically active. Such sound advice aligns with the nutritional principles of energy balance and encourages healthy weight loss.

While careful attention to dietary practices is beneficial, individuals must also incorporate adequate physical activity in their routines to lead a healthy lifestyle. Dieting alone is unlikely to allow an individual to maintain a healthy weight. The National Weight Control Registry reports that 94% of people who managed to lose weight and maintain the loss increased their physical activity (Catenacci et al., 2014). A person who intends to lose weight but only modifies their diet without increasing their level of physical activity is highly likely to fail. The same is true for those who only increase physical activity without modifying their diet. The explanation lies in the principles of energy balance, where individuals who spend more energy than they consume on food are likely to lose weight. In comparison, those who consume more energy than they expend are likely to gain weight.

People who intend to lead a healthy lifestyle must acquire knowledge on nutritional practices that allow their bodies to get the nutrients they need in the right amounts and at the right time. However, knowledge of these principles alone is insufficient to enable a person to maintain a healthy body. Individuals must be firm in their decision to lead a healthy lifestyle and make this decision every day, lest they slip back into malnutrition. Further, one must be critical in their consumption of nutritional information, ensuring that it is up to date and correct, with robust evidence basis.


American Heart Association. (2017, January 9). 5 Steps to Lose Weight and Keep It Off.

Catenacci, V. A., Odgen, L., Phelan, S., Thomas, J. G., Hill, J., Wing, R. R., & Wyatt, H. (2014). Dietary Habits and Weight Maintenance Success in High Versus Low Exercisers in the National Weight Control Registry. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 11(8), 1540–1548.

Puhl, R. M., & Heuer, C. A. (2010). Obesity Stigma: Important Considerations for Public Health. American Journal of Public Health, 100(6), 1019–1028.

Tremmel, M., Gerdtham, Ulf-G., Nilsson, P., & Saha, S. (2017). Economic Burden of Obesity: A Systematic Literature Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(4), 435.

United States Department of Agriculture. (2020). Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020 -2025 Make Every Bite Count with the Dietary Guidelines.