Eating a nutrient-dense diet that is right for your genetic makeup is integral to gaining optimal health. But can we obtain all the essential vitamins and minerals we need from diet alone? Our ancestors didn’t need nutritional support, so do we?
It’s a question I’m asked a lot in my clinic and at BePure.In short my answer is no. We can’t obtain everything we need from our diet alone.
I’m a massive proponent of eating real nutrient-dense food based largely on eating foods our ancestors would have eaten. This means prioritising a diet high in plant foods; leafy greens, fresh seasonal produce, soaking and sprouting grains, eating all parts of the animal including organ meat, and utilising saturated fats as a core part of our diet. But it isn’t enough.
It took me awhile to come to terms with the fact that food alone couldn’t meet our nutritional requirements. When studying for my Masters in Nutrition I had to log all of my food into computer software that analysed the food I was eating against the recommended daily intake (RDI’s) of essential nutrients as determined by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) nutrient database.
I found that while eating a “clean” diet, I was only hitting 40-60% of my RDI’s. More concerning for me, RDI’s are the minimum amount of a certain nutrient required to stop disease and illness. What I think we should all be striving for is something called SONA. SONA stands for suggested optimal nutritional allowance. This target is set for promoting optimal health and vitality.
So here I was eating well and still not hitting my baseline nutrition requirements, let alone the amounts I needed to thrive. It wasn’t the amounts and types of food I was eating. It had to be about quality. I started to delve into it and spent 2 years researching our soils here in New Zealand and discovered that they aren’t quite what they used to be. In particular soil analysis showed insufficient levels of selenium, zinc and iodine.
Another nutrient we are commonly lacking in is Vitamin D. For me, I was inside studying and not getting sufficient exposure to direct sunlight at midday each day. It’s a common factor in modern lifestyles and diet cannot address Vitamin D deficiency.
So why are we lacking in key nutrients? Here’s five reasons why we need extra support to obtain essential nutrients for modern living.
Traditional lifestyles were more relaxed than today, there’s no doubt they had there fair share of stress. But a good friend of mine who lived with different traditional tribes around the world for 2 years told me that in his experience they basically only work 4 hours a day, in the morning, and sit around under a shady tree all afternoon…sounds great to me!
The harder you push your body, the more stress you are under, the more vitamins and minerals your body uses. In times of stress your body uses more B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc just to name a few. I believe most of us in the Western world are living beyond our nutritional limits, the evidence of stimulant use like caffeine and refined carbohydrates are good examples of the crutches people are using to deal with the day to day load of stressors. The harder you push your mind and body the more nutrients you need!
Our ancestors had access to mineral dense foods. In some cases - particularly in New Zealand - that was seafood (the ocean is the biggest source of ionic minerals). But healthy inland cultures like the Hunza – also had access to minerals, they irrigated their fields with mineral rich glacial water and carried the river bed soils up to their fields.
It is well established that modern agriculture is stripping the topsoil of essential trace minerals, and nobody is paying the farmers enough to remineralise the soils. Hence, the foods we are eating are becoming more and more deficient in minerals. Minerals are key enzyme cofactors, I see mineral deficiencies as a common factor in many people’s health complaints, from fatigue to depression and sleep issues.
Traditional diets were based on eating fresh or fermented fruits and vegetables - since no refrigeration was available to them. Fresh and fermented foods retain the highest amount of water soluble vitamins. Water soluble vitamins in fruit and vegetables are very unstable. In fact, as soon as you’ve picked them or unplugged them from the ground they start deteriorating. To the extent that after 4 days after being harvested up to 80% of the water soluble vitamins (B’s and C are lost).
In modern supermarkets produce can be for sale up to 2 weeks after harvest. Sometimes more. It’s easy to see why people feel better when they take a B vitamin supplement – seeing that they are most likely deficient even when eating lots of fruit and vegetables.
Traditional cultures went out of their way to get nutrient dense foods. Eating organs, glands and special parts of animals, such as the eyes, to maximise nutritional intake.
One healthy isolated culture Dr. Weston A. Price visited in Scotland ate fish heads stuffed with cod liver and oats for breakfast, a far cry from today’s breakfast choices!
Organs, particularly the liver, is one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet, unfortunately many people in the modern world simply cannot stomach eating such foods and are therefore missing out on the incredible nutritional benefits from doing so. For example, eye’s are known to be a great source of lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants vital to our own eye health due to the fact they protect the eye from UVB radiation. As most modern people are not eating these foods, they need to make sure they are getting these nutrients from other sources.
Traditional peoples lived in a relatively pristine environment. Let’s face it, the concept of organic food didn’t exist, because that’s all there was!
We know that environmental toxins block enzyme function and increase the need for antioxidants, minerals and vitamins needed by the liver for detoxification of these toxins. The modern world is full of environmental toxin exposure, from PCB’s and Dioxins from plastics to heavy metals mobilised in the soil by acidic fertilisers – they are simply everywhere, you cannot escape them!
All you can do is support your body’s systems for dealing with them, which means more minerals, vitamins and antioxidants.
Obviously underpinning your habits with energy-giving foods, daily gentle movement and adequate sleep are vital factors in health. We can take steps to increase the nutrition we get through our food by changing our spending habits - focussing on spray free organic produce, growing our own vegetables and reducing our exposure to toxins. All of these factors combined with quality nutritional support will help us reach our optimal nutritional requirements.
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