Foods verse nutrients: The practise of reductionism

Often in the healthy eating world, we can get caught up focusing on single nutrients. For example, over the years the media have spewed out over-hyped claims on eating low fat, eating high protein, completely quitting sugar and even avoiding carbs. This notion is called reductionism, which refers to the practice of analysing and describing a complex phenomenon (nutrition) in terms of its simple or fundamental constituents (e.g. a single nutrient such as protein, fat or carbs).

We know that this practise of reductionism will not result in the optimal diet, nor will it result in optimal health.

In the past we have experienced the “low-fat” message, which sent consumers down a rabbit hole of focusing on low fat this, 99% fat-free that, resulting in an increased consumption of refined carbohydrates and sugars, as well as a low intake of all fats, including the healthy ones. However because of nutrition science we know that not all fats are bad and that moderate amounts of the unsaturated types are actually really good for us. That is the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated types of fats, found in nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocado and fish.

We then saw a mass push for avoiding all sugars, including the natural ones. Now this is a good idea on the most part (bar the natural ones), however because of nutrition science we know that the increased intake of whole fruits (natural sugars) is associated with a reduced risk of chronic disease, as well as the delivery of an abundance of nutrients like vitamin C and fibre. Again showing that we cannot generalise healthy eating to just one single nutrient, nor can we condemn one single nutrient as the root of all nutrition evil.

At the moment, we are seeing lots of media and food marketing on “high-protein” foods. Yet again, singling out a particular nutrient to promote particular foods as healthy (or "the best"). Yes... protein is important, however a chocolate bar can be “high in protein”, but may also contain a bazilion unheard of ingredients, as well as no fibre. And so does its high protein status make it healthy? Not in my opinion.

The crux of this story is that no single nutrient will result in you feeling your best, nor will it fix all of your problems. Be wary of your food environment and what it is trying to sell you, wether it’s high in nutrient X or free of nutrient Y, the practise of focusing on single nutrients will not get you to a healthy you.


Focus on a variety of good quality whole foods.

Eat mostly plants daily.

Enjoy your food.