A Systems Approach to Human Nutrition
A Systems Approach to Human Nutrition

A Systems Approach to Human Nutrition

Lead Author(s): Kelly Lane

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This text provides a platform for continued learning in the nutrition sciences. Topics include nutrient needs, sources, processing, functions and status measures.


A Systems Approach to Human Nutrition

Human  nutrition scholarship is particularly well-suited for presentation via the “systems model” because humans are self-learning, self-adapting systems of interrelated and interdependent parts, described by their nature, structure and function; surrounded and influenced by their environment; and in need of nutrition to optimize and maintain their systems, or prevent their failures. A Systems Approach to Human Nutrition presents the study of human nutrition as a closed-loop system with five components: 1) needs, 2) sources, 3) processes, 4) functions, and 5) status, which, in turn, influences needs, and so on. 

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These five components appear as Section titles, in the same order, in all twelve Chapters. This is designed to provide the reader with a repeating framework that facilitates comprehension and enhances conceptual understanding. For instance, in Chapter 2, entitled “Carbohydrates,” the Sections proceed as follows:

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Chapter 1 introduces the systems model framework with a human nutrition overlay, identifying the five recurring components, or Sections, and describing their features in more detail. Developing a strong command of these components, their features, and their interplay will enhance the reader’s ability to process, and recall, the information delivered in the following Chapters. 

In Chapters 2-7, each of the six major nutrient classes is examined under the five lenses of the model. A separate chapter is devoted to carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water to provide a foundational understanding for Chapters 8-12, which focus on applied nutrition for life stages, health and fitness. 

Section 1 of Chapter 1, like all Chapters to follow, is entitled “Nutrient Needs.” This Section discusses biological nutrient requirements, the quantification of nutrient needs, and the psycho-social influences that shape human eating behavior. It is designed to enhance nutrition information literacy, and to heighten sensitivity to internal feedback and external influences. 

Section 2 of each Chapter, “Nutrient Sources,” introduces the food supply system, the primary nutrient sources in the human diet, and featured meals, recipes and food pairings that fit a variety of goals-based diets. This Section is meant to improve decision-making in food purchases and food preparation. 

Section 3, or “Nutrient Transformation,” highlights the anatomical features of the major nutrient processing systems and explains the major physiologic activities that transform food into biological compounds needed by body. Its purpose is to create a sequential vision of the processes that link nutrient intake to nutrient function. 

Section 4, “Nutrient Functions,” explains the structural and functional outcomes of nutrient processing on cell and molecular levels and, more broadly, at tissue levels, and finally, on whole-body levels at their broadest. This Section was designed to reinforce the importance of appropriate nutrition in human health and wellness. 

The fifth and final Section of each Chapter, “Nutrient Feedback” focuses on the anthropometric, biochemical and clinical assessments indicative of nutrient status, as well as the symptoms and conditions resulting from chronic and acute malnutrition. It will enhance critical thinking skills and provide the reader with tools to assist in influencing his or her own nutrient needs, thereby closing the system’s loop.