WHY YOU SHOULD COUNT MICRONUTRIENTS NOT CALORIES
All living things need nutrition. Plants get nutrition from the soil, animals get nutrition from plants and (other animals). most humans get nutrition from plants and animals. This is often referred to as the wheel of life. Each phase feeds the next and the cycle repeats itself. When talking about nutrition there are two main groups of nutrients – Macronutrients and Micronutrients. Macronutrients include protein, fat and carbohydrates. Micronutrients include vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and amino acids. Most diets are built around three basic ideas.
Calorie restriction, dieting and other "starvation" techniques.
Adjusting the ratio of different macronutrients (low carb, low fat, high protein, high carb or some set ratio, etc.)
Restricting or eliminating certain foods or food groups (vegetarian, vegan, grain-free, gluten-free, raw, no fruit, fruit-only, etc.)
The belief is that by playing with some or all of the above you will lose weight and feel better. While this may or may not work, an often overlooked component of constructing a nutrition program that will help you reach your goals (especially weight loss) is ensuring that you are getting all of the necessary micronutrients you need. Unfortunately, many people following the approaches above may see results initially, but this is later followed by stalled progress, that is often coupled with hormonal imbalances. Research shows that micronutrient deficiency could be a major driver in this pattern. According to USDA published statistics, more than 96 percent of Americans are not reaching adequate intakes of micronutrients from food alone, based on the government’s average requirement standard. If this is more info than you want you can see an abbreviated version of this article on HARPERSBAZAAR Check it out.
In the modern era, glaring nutrient deficiencies such as scurvy (Vitamin C deficiency) and rickets (severe Vitamin D deficiency) are not common, yet subtle deficiencies across a wide array of nutrients have been show to be a major driver in many health problems. The vast majority of diseases are not infectious or genetic they are degenerative and build over long periods of time, often the result of micronutrient deficiencies.
WHY MICRONUTRIENT DEFICIENCY IS SO COMMON
PROCESSED FOOD | The standard american diet (SAD) is notoriously nutrient poor. Processed and refined items, artificial sweeteners are all lacking in key nutrients. Often times processed items are so nutrient “poor” that they need to be fortified with synthetic vitamins and minerals.
RESTRICTIVE DIETS | Many people are following what they believe to be healthy diets when in fact they are restricting foods which are notoriously nutrient rich
LOW QUALITY FOOD | Soil that has been depleted due to commercial farming makes for plants that will contain less nutrients. Additionally, animals that are fed grains and other items that they are not supposed to be eating will produce less nutrient dense meat, milk, eggs, etc. (Compare the color of an egg yolk from farm raised chicken vs. that of a commercially raised chicken, that deep orange means more nutrients). Additionally, organic foods have been shown to contain significantly more nutrients when compared to non-organic items.
STRESS | Stress of any kind means that your body will demand more nutrients to function properly. Bears hibernate because it reduces their nutrient requirements. Humans don’t hibernate. In fact many humans overtrain and under eat, which may impact your body weight, but often at the expense of your health. See any number of celebrities who were required to lose drastic weight for a role and the ensuing hormonal problems they encountered.
TOXINS | Toxins can deplete nutrients in your body and increase your requirement for certain nutrients. Toxins are present in the environment, in low quality food and water, in many personal hygiene and cleaning products.
MEDICATIONS | Numerous medications impact your nutrient requirements. For example, those taking statins for cholesterol imbalances are often advised to take CoQ10. There are numerous other examples.
DIGESTION | Even in the presence of an overall nutrient dense diet, if you can’t digest, absorb and assimilate the food you are eating you will likely encounter nutrient deficiencies. Overuse of antibiotics, overconsumption of processed foods, general stress, alcohol and not being mindful when you eat, can all impact your ability to absorb nutrients from your meal.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU HAVE A DEFICIENCY
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY | Your body gives you all sorts of valuable information. Deficiencies can often present as a specific outward manifestation, i.e. skin problems, especially that rough skin behind the arms (keratosis pilaris) is often the result of a deficiency in Vitamin A. It is no secret that Vitamin A helps the skin as it is used in various skin treatments (both over the counter and prescription). The link between certain B-vitamins and hair quality is well-known, woman taking pre-natal type supplements often experience noticeable changes in hair growth and quality. If something seems off in your body, consider a micronutrient deficiency.
THE MICRONUTRIENT MIRACLE | This excellent book by Mira and Jayson Calton gives a step-by-step plan for addressing micronutrient deficiency with food and lifestyle changes. They also provide far greater detail than I was able to provide in this article. With your help they intend to start a “micronutrient movement” and to help you get started they are providing (for a limited time) $200 worth of gift certificates towards nutrient dense food sourcing. Details HERE
BLOOD TESTING | There are some basic and more advanced tests which can tell you if you are deficient in certain micronutrients. The standard blood tests that you will often receive is for Vitamin D, but there are numerous other tests available that can provide a greater level of clarity. Remember it is not about one single nutrient, it is about ensuring you are meeting all of your micronutrient needs. Talk with your healthcare professional.
TIPS YOU CAN IMPLEMENT NOW
- Eat a wide variety of “Real” Food and avoid processed and refined items.
- Don’t become dogmatic in your approach to nutrition as chances are you will be missing out on some key nutrients.
- Limit your exposure to toxins.
- Manage Stress.
- Optimize Digestion
MICRONUTRIENT DEFICIENCY EXAMPLES
- Acne – Vitamin A, B Vitamins, C, E, Zinc
- PMS – B6, C, E, Magnesium, Zinc
- Varicose veins – C, E, Copper
- Osteoporosis – A, B9, B12, D, K, calcium, Magnesium
SIGNS OF MICRONUTRIENT DEFICIENCY
Per the narrative above, nutrient deficiency likely plays a role in many common health problems. Rather than listing all of the possible issues, I would suggest that if you are experiencing any health issues, you should see your doctor, but you should also consider addressing any possible nutrient deficiencies through food and lifestyle. I have seen personally and professional the powerful and therapeutic affect nutrition and lifestyle changes can have on the body and mind. Nutrition is a lot more than counting calories, playing with macronutrient ratios and restricting certain foods. Micronutrients play a major role in ensuring that can you look and feel the way you want for years to come.
1. The Micronutrient Miracle by Jayson Calton and Mira Calton
2.K. M. Fairfield and R. H. Fletcher, “Vitamins for Chronic Disease Prevention in Adults: Scientific Review,” Journal of the American Medical Association 2002.