What is Nutrition Informatics?

Nutrition informatics is a field that describes the collection, analysis, and application of dietary data. While this simplistic definition does aptly describe the term, the field itself is far more complex and fascinating. For individuals interested in pursuing an educational path in the realms of dietary sciences, such as dietitian, personal nutritionist, institutional research, and research of autoimmune and allergy-related conditions, familiarity with both nutrition and the science of informatics is vital. In the article below, we’ll explore how nutritional information is collected and analyzed.

Novel Applications

Informatics is not restricted to the dietary world. In fact, without much effort, it’s possible to see this mathematical approach applied to almost any human endeavor. Essentially, it is the effective collection, storage, application, and display of numerous data relevant to a particular research effort or professional discipline. But how is it applied to food and nutrition?

If you’ve ever turned over a package to read the ingredients, you’ll notice the Nutrition Information chart on the back panel. While a relatively new approach to consumer awareness, implemented in the last quarter century, we now expect this information to be included with any product we consume. But within this seemingly simple graphic, a great deal of informatics has been employed. Percentages based on a certain daily caloric intake are reported for everything from carbohydrates and sugars to protein, types of fat, and trace minerals. This is the most ubiquitous example of nutrition informatics, but it far from the only application.

Who Uses It and Why

Beyond providing consumer awareness, this application of informatics is integral to the professions of dietitians, personal nutritional counselors, institutional nutrition managers, and researchers in both the public and private sectors. However, first the information must be gathered and organized into usable formats. Informaticists, or specially trained researchers, gather food data and nutritional content from a variety of sources.

They also apply known data about food-sensitive allergies and diseases in order to better understand triggers, underlying conditions, and potential nutritionally derived relief strategies. These specialists form a part of a team that, while they may not always work together, work towards a common goal—understanding human nutritional needs and furthering the aims of beneficial research programs.

These data, once collated and stored in databases, assist dietetic professionals in a variety of fields to serve their clients and patients. For example, a dietitian seeking to craft a focused regimen for a client might compare their electronic health record (EHR) to data that has been collected and organized in a nutritional database. In this way, specialists can determine allergens that may be causing seemingly unrelated health complaints or conditions, physicians can more easily diagnose autoimmune diseases, and nutritional deficiencies can be rectified.

It may seem simplistic, but nutrient deficiencies and other related issues can contribute to poor health in a surprising number of ways. Because greater attention has been paid to this area of human well being, and data is made more widely available in a format easily understood, even the diagnosis of mental illness has been refined.

Healthy foods and adequate exertion form the basis of good health. Researchers who specialize in the collection of data related to foods’ available nutrition compliments, availability of nutritional resources within communities, and human reactivity to nutrients are integral to our social well being. Thus, nutrition informatics is the first step in the process, providing the necessary information for both private individuals and dietary specialists to craft a way of life that fulfills the human nutrient requirements.

See also: Top 10 Health Informatics Online Associate’s Degrees 2016