Changing our approach to nutrition

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160809_TSF_BlogHero_04Despite brilliant and life-changing advances in nutritional science, especially in the first half of the 20th century, we humans seem to be getting bigger. And our cardiovascular and metabolic systems are suffering.

Following 20 years of research, Professor David Raubenheimer and Professor Stephen Simpson from the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre have suggested a new framework in which to approach human nutrition with respect to obesity and our cardiometabolic health.

Nutritional geometry – a new way to analyse the diet and health relationship

Nutritional geometry is a modeling framework that seeks to analyse what we eat and how it impacts our health holistically by incorporating ecological and evolutionary theory behind food needs and food choice.

“The ‘nutritional geometry’ framework enables us to plot foods, meals, diets and dietary patterns together based on their nutrient composition, and this helps researchers to observe otherwise overlooked patterns in the links between certain diets, health and disease,” says Professor Raubenheimer.1

In other words, as opposed to focusing on a single nutrient, we should be looking at the food in its entirety and the context in which it is consumed, using this as a treatment approach when working with particular conditions – like obesity and associated cardiometabolic disease.

Keeping sights set on one nutrient to cure all may no longer be an effective strategy, the researchers suggest.

It was this reductionist approach that led scientists to believe that a single nutrient could cause obesity and associated cardiometabolic disease in the mid 20th century. Fat and carbohydrates became the subjects of intense focus, and conjecture among experts of their role in weight gain and cardiometabolic diseases remains (leaving many people confused!).2

But foods and dietary patterns are complex! They provide a mixture of nutrients, working in synergy to effect health outcomes. The nutritional geometry modeling system focuses on how mixtures of nutrients and dietary components (rather than isolated nutrients) interact. It can help to determine “nutritional properties of foods and how foods in turn combine into meals, diets, and dietary patterns to influence health.”2

The ecology of nutrition

Whilst the complex interaction between nutrients and human physiology should remain an important component of evaluating the impact of food on health and disease, the quantity, quality, and context in which a whole food is eaten is important.

The term ‘Nutrition Ecology’ seeks to address this, by examining the effects of foods from four aspects – the society, the economy, the environment, and human health.3 All are deeply connected to what we eat,4 and the nutritional geometry modeling framework considers such factors.

“This multilevel framework provides contact points across the many domains that affect human nutrition, from biology to economics and other influential facets of modern food environments”.1 This enables multiple influences to be integrated into a single model to help ascertain what myriad of factors may contribute to obesity and associated cardiometabolic disease.

Sustainability, such as environmental factors and the global food supply, are also considered in this mix for their impact on human health. Ensuring people are fed is an on-going concern. How, what, and if we eat matters!

We also need to consider the inundation of clever marketing, and exposure to an abundance of food-stuff. Our cultural and emotional connection to food (because, let’s be real, we love a big food hug) also plays a part in influencing what and how much we eat, and therefore health outcomes.

Where to from here?

What does this mean for us? For now, watch this space, and consider the quality of food you choose. Eating real food that is seasonal, locally grown, and as close to its original form will likely be more beneficial to human and global health than the heavily processed and refined versions.

Click here for the full article.

By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med.)



  1. University of Sydney 2016, ‘Researchers develop new framework for human nutrition’, viewed 4 August 2016, <>
  2. Raubenheimer, D & Simpson, SJ 2016, ‘Nutritional Ecology and Human Health’, Annual Review of Nutrition, p. 603.
  3. Schneider, K, & Hoffmann, I 2011, ‘Nutrition ecology–a concept for systemic nutrition research and integrative problem solving’, Ecology Of Food And Nutrition, vol. 50, no. 1, pp. 1-17.
  4. Allison, DB, Bassaganya-Riera, J, Burlingame, B, Brown, AW, Le Coutre, J, Dickson, SL, Van Eden, W, Garssen, J, Hontecillas, R, Khoo, CH, Knorr, D, Kussmann, M, Magistretti, PJ, Mehta, T, Meule, A, Rychlik, M, & VA[paragraph]gele, C 2015, ‘Goals in Nutrition Science 2015-2020’, Frontiers in Nutrition, viewed 4 August 2016, <>

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