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.
There are several factors that contribute to the why; modern stress, modern farming methods, convenience foods and environmental toxins. I will elaborate on each of these points in upcoming blogs.
It is a paradox of modern living. We are “overfed but undernourished”. The word ‘malnourished’ often evokes images of someone who is underweight or sick. But that’s not necessarily the case. You could be missing out on vital nutrients – and be at risk of serious health consequences – but show no symptoms.
You may be eating enough, but may not be absorbing enough nutrients - even if your diet is made up of nutritious foods. In this blog I’m going to look at the five most common nutrients we are missing and why getting these is critical to your health – and the best ways to boost your intake of each of these essential nutrients.
Selenium is an important antioxidant which helps immune function and some studies have shown it may even be protective against cancers – especially prostate cancer. Because New Zealand soils have low levels of selenium and modern farming methods fail to remineralise our soils, foods grown here reflect that, and our dietary intakes of selenium are lower than many other countries. It is estimated we get only 10-20% of the selenium we require to hit our recommended daily intake of 60 mcg per day(RDI). Given this figure is the amount needed to prevent disease, I personally would like to see selenium intake much higher than this.
Good sources of selenium include brazil nuts, beef and fish.
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and it is vital for healthy bones and muscles. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to depression (especially in winter) infertility, joint pain and insomnia.
As far as nutrient deprivation goes, this one is right up there in the list of things we are most often deficient in.
We spend far more time indoors than we have historically, and we tend to use sunscreen when we are outdoors.
To get your daily dose of vitamin D, it takes about half the time taken to get sun burnt. What we absorb in summer has to support our vitamin D levels throughout winter. Because of this, we often need to supplement our vitamin D in winter.
President of the Australian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society Professor Rebecca Mason says “research suggests that among the general population, around one in three of us will be vitamin D deficient by the end of winter.”
Vitamin D insufficiency affects most segments in the New Zealand population including pregnant women and children. There is a higher incidence among ethnic groups such as African, Middle Eastern, Asian, Maori and Samoan people. It is also problematic for groups of people with osteo conditions or compromised bone health such as post-menopausal women, people with osteoporosis, arthritis and growing children. This is because vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium from our food sources. Food sources of vitamin D include egg yolks, beef, fish, organ meat and dairy.
Because it’s hard to change our lifestyle to be constantly aware of this, we have included vitamin D3 in our BePure ONE product. It’s the product we recommend everybody takes every day to support overall health.
3. Vitamin K2
Vitamin K2 isn’t often spoken about as an essential nutrient. Vitamin K1 is found in leafy greens and helps with blood clotting. Vitamin K1 doesn’t convert well to K2 in humans. K2 is responsible for many integral functions in the body but is especially important in controlling where your body lays down calcium.
A study in 2007 found undercarboxylated osteocalcin was consistent with low levels of vitamin K2. This supports a study in 2004 that showed most people are severely deficient in vitamin K2.
K2 has also been found to inhibit the osteoclasts that breaks down bone and activates osteocalcin that lays done bone, this has been shown to compensate for bone loss associated with menopause and the development of osteoarthritis.
The best source of vitamin K2 is Natto - fermented soy beans. This is the form we use in our BePure ONE product. BePure ONE is also the only mutli on the market that currently includes vitamin K2. We have added K2 to our BePure ONE product to make it complete. K2 is needed to help assimilate fat soluble vitamins into your body and quality sources of dietary K2 are hard to find and expensive to get the amounts you need.
Interestingly, Japanese women of postmenopausal age have the least bone fractures of women of similar age in other countries.
Vitamin K2 has also been linked to increased insulin sensitivity in diabetic patients, helps to remove calcium deposition in the aorta and a recent study found that patients with alzheimer's consume half the dietary sources of K2 than their healthy counterparts.
Sources of dietary K2 include Natto - about 1000 mcg, Goose liver - 369 mcg and soft cheese such as Brie and Camembert. It is thought the reason the French have such a low rate of cardiovascular disease - in spite of high levels of cigarette and alcohol exposure - is because of the level of K2 inherently in their diet.
Iodine is needed to make thyroid hormones which help control metabolism, growth and development; including in your brain. Iodine deficiency is the number one cause of preventable intellectual disability in children, and recent studies have shown evidence of iodine deficiency re-emerging in New Zealand. 91% of New Zealanders tested were iodine deficient. The 478 cases tested were received consecutively from a broad range of practitioners throughout New Zealand. Source; Thyrodine Iodine Statistics November 2013.
The biggest groups at risk of iodine deficiency we see at the clinic are pregnant mothers, whose growing baby depletes them of their own levels and require a large amount themselves, and in people with autoimmunity - especially thyroid conditions. Great sources of iodine are seaweed, especially kelp.
Zinc is a vital nutrient for healthy immune function, energy and metabolic regulation, as it is needed to make insulin. It is also key for male reproductive health.
We don’t know exactly how common zinc deficiency is by way of a comprehensive study, but in our clinic it is incredibly common. So common we have an oral zinc test available on our website.
Several studies suggest that in New Zealand many adolescent girls have low zinc intakes which fail to meet their needs for growth, intakes of premenopausal women may have fallen over time, and for older women, low zinc intakes are a big concern. This appears to be partly because people are eating less zinc-rich food such as red meat and seafood, and partly because food-processing methods often remove a lot of the zinc, for example, highly processed grains.
Because of problems with the quality of our soils and a loss of nutrients through food storage and preservation, getting these vital nutrients is harder than ever before. We also use nutrients more quickly because the stress of modern living places a huge demand on our body.
In upcoming blogs I will talk specifically about how our modern food is drastically different to foods our ancestors ate, why stress and sleep affect our nutrient requirements and why I believe it is essential to add nutritional support on top of a nutrient rich diet.
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