A Quick Guide to Optimizing Nutrition with a Focus on Micronutrients
A large part of our work here at YWP centers around optimizing nutrition and educating our patients on consuming nutritious, good-for-you foods. We encourage our patients to begin to shift their perspective on the role of food in their lives. Ask yourself: what does food do for you? It should be a source of pleasure, information, nourishment, fuel, and medicine. High quality, whole foods do all these things. Many individuals, apart from eating to satisfy a craving, view food simply as the fuel (or calories) that they need for energy. Of course, this is valuable and necessary, but this is a limited viewpoint that misses an entire part of the picture.
It’s important to note here that over the last seven decades many changes have occurred to our food supply. We will probably discuss this more in a future blog, but for now let’s chat about one particular event. In the 1950’s, heart disease began to ravage America. This change became impossible to ignore when the former US President, Dwight Eisenhower, suffered a heart attack. The event shook America and led to an unprecedented change in dietary recommendations. Top experts and scientists were in a frenzy to unlock the mystery of this seemingly non-discriminatory disease. They mistakenly placed the blame on dietary fat and over the next 30 years Americans embraced a low fat, high carb “solution.” Other shifts also began to occur during this time. American lives became increasingly fast-paced. The need for convenience began to outweigh the value placed on nutrition. These changes have led to America being ranked as one of the “sickest” countries in the world. Pre-packaged, processed, high-fructose corn syrup laden, and fast foods have led to our epidemic of chronic illness and obesity.
How can one better optimize nutritional status? Micronutrients are so often overlooked, and their role underplayed. They are the vitamins and minerals that our cells need to orchestrate all our body’s physiological processes. The vitamins we need include vitamin A, B3, B6, B12, choline, C, D, E, K, and other B vitamins: thiamine, riboflavin, folate, and pantothenic acid. The minerals that are important for our body are: calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, iron, zinc, copper, chromium, selenium, manganese, iodine, silicon, boron, molybdenum, and nickel. While it is rare for individuals in developed countries to have severe micronutrient deficiencies, suboptimal micronutrient status is actually rather common. Some individuals benefit from a high-quality multi-vitamin, but we encourage and educate our patients on how to optimize micronutrients through high-quality food intake. There are some great grass fed, grass finished blends of ground beef and liver and wild-caught fish available for those who include animal protein in their diets. Lean meats, nuts, seeds, avocado and coconut oils, onions, peppers, garlic, organic fruits and vegetables are all examples of whole food sources of bio-available vitamins and minerals. Nuts for example can be an excellent source of magnesium, zinc, vitamin E, and folic acid. They are a handy replacement for processed foods such as chips, crackers, cookies, etc. We also enjoy educating our patients on the concept of “eating the rainbow,” or focusing on eating whole foods of a variety of different colors each day: bananas, oranges, different colors of potatoes, spinach, peppers, squash, zucchini, beans, chard, radishes, onions, etc.
Remember that food is not just energy or calories, it is actually information. It tells our bodies how to function and what job each cell should be performing. We could look at our immune system as an example. Our immune systems function in many ways—by providing physical barriers to pathogens via our skin, GI tract, and respiratory tract as well as by innate, inflammatory, and adaptive responses. Each of these stages of the immune response require different micronutrients to functions optimally. Vitamins A, D, C, E, B6, B12, folate, iron, and zinc aid in strengthening the physical barriers. Additionally, selenium, iron, copper, and all the B vitamins play crucial roles in optimizing our immunity. Focus on giving your body the best information that you can. Eat fresh, whole foods with a wide variety of colors and textures. Avoid processed and packaged foods and you will be well on your way to a healthier lifestyle!