I’m often asked what the key to good health is. The key is to look at your body as one big intricate and amazing system. All of our bodily functions rely on the effectiveness of other systems, organs and pathways to be working correctly too. So how do we get these functions operating optimally?
Every major metabolic pathway in our body depends on essential nutrients found in micronutrients. That is, vitamins and minerals. The key to good nutrition, health and energy is ensuring you have enough of these micronutrients to support these bodily functions.
In this blog I’m going to look at what we mean by essential nutrients and if we are getting enough in the modern world. Lastly I’ll give you some practical tips to provide your body with the essential nutrients it needs to function optimally.
Everything we eat is broken down into macro and micronutrients. Micronutrients relate to the essential vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and nutrients within our food - they’re like the nuts and bolts of how our bodies work. If micronutrients are the nuts and bolts, macronutrients are like the bigger building supplies. They’re the timber frame, the roof and the exterior walls of your structure. You’ve probably heard of them; Protein, Fats and Carbohydrates. Some foods are incredibly rich in the nutrients our bodies thrive on, while others rob us of energy and health.
Vitamins and minerals
Vitamins and minerals are what our foods are broken down into. Foods can either be rich in the vitamins and minerals our bodies need to function well, or they can deplete us of these vital micronutrients. The richest source of vitamins and minerals are whole, unprocessed foods; fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs, meats and soaked gluten free whole grains. In particular leafy greens are an incredibly powerful source of vitamins and minerals.
Antioxidants protect your cells against the damaging effects of free radicals, which may play a role in heart disease, cancer and other diseases. Several vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C and E and selenium, act as antioxidants. They are mainly found in wholefoods, so a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is beneficial to protect against disease. Vegetables with dark colours such as berries, red cabbage, orange capsicum, eggplant and plums are all rich in antioxidants. The best way you can ensure you are getting enough is to “eat the rainbow’ everyday.
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 good quality natural fats as a core part of our diet.
However in the modern world in which we live, even if you’re eating a nutrient rich wholefoods diet you may still be lacking in a range of essential nutrients your body needs to function optimally.
I’ll explain why in the short video and the information below.
The modern environment poses many challenges to ensuring you have the essential nutrients you need for optimal wellness. Previous generations likely didn’t need nutritional support but our lifestyles of high stress, processed food, lack of outdoor movement and insufficient rest create a vastly different need for nutrients.
Let’s have a look at 7 ways our modern diets and lifestyles have changed and how these changes can lead to micronutrient problems.
1. Modern lifestyle increases need for nutrition
Our modern, fast paced lifestyles are busier than ever. Between being on the go, and always being contactable through social media and email, we have very little down time and rest. This creates a vastly different need for nutrients.
The harder you push your body, the more stress you are under, the more vitamins and minerals your body uses. In time 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!
2. Reliance on gluten and processed grains.
Reliance on wheat and grains affects our micronutrient absorption drastically. This is because gluten and un-soaked grains contain anti-nutrients that block positively charged ions from important nutrients such as zinc, magnesium and iron.
Eating all of these grains and wheat-containing products also push other foods off our plates. We have been told that red meat causes cancer - despite the meat tested being heavily processed red meats such as luncheon sausage - and so we opt for heart-healthy grains over grass fed meat. This shift has reduced our intake of B Vitamins found in meat, iron and animal fats that help us absorb fat soluble vitamins such as A, K and D.
3. Modern farming.
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.
4. We no longer eat all parts of the animal.
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.
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.
5. Modern food convenience.
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 (Bs 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.
6. Environmental factors
Environmental toxins increase our need for micronutrients. 200 Years ago organic food didn’t exist, because that’s all there was! But even if we could disregard the quality of the food previous generations had access to, compared to now, we still need to address the packaging our food comes in, the sprays and pesticides we use on our produce and the sprays we use to clean our kitchen and living spaces to clean up after ourselves.
We know environmental toxins block enzyme function and increase the need for antioxidants (found in superfoods like blueberries, liver, leafy greens and cacao) minerals and vitamins needed by the liver for detoxification. The modern world is full of environmental toxin exposure, from BPA in plastics and receipts and heavy metals found in acidic fertilisers right through to the parabens found in your moisturiser, deodorant and personal care products – 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.
7. Medication interference
Modern living has increased our exposure to medications, some of them lifesaving and necessary while others place load on our bodies systems and use what vital micronutrients we do have to restore our gut. This is critical because the human gut contains 10 times more bacteria than all the human cells in the entire body, with over 1,000 known diverse bacterial species. I say in my seminars that we’re actually more bacteria that human. Who’s really controlling who?!
We’ve only recently begun to understand the extent of the gut flora’s role in human health and disease. Among other things, the gut flora promotes normal digestive function, accounts for approximately 80 percent of our bodies immune response, and helps to regulate our metabolism. All of these functions require essential nutrients to function.
Medications such as antibiotics, the oral contraceptive pill and NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) deplete our bacterial population and we need even more nutrients to help repair our gastrointestinal system. The oral contraceptive is also problematic because it disrupts female hormonal balance leading to poor liver detoxification and oestrogen dominance.
So, as you can see our nutritional environment has drastically changed. So how do we reverse it?
In order to minimise your risk for these key nutrient deficiencies, there are several key concepts I teach all my clients.
If you’d like to start increasing the essential nutrients in your diet, join us in our challenge this week of including leafy greens to every meal for 7 days. We’ve put together some of our favourite recipes and resources for you here if you need some inspiration or help to get started.
Be sure to check in to our BePure - Ben Warren, Facebook page as we will be posting helpful tips and inspiration for this challenge as well as a weekly prize.
We’d also love to see all the delicious meals. Share your pics with us on Instagram using @bepurebenwarren.
This blog is part of our 10 pillars of health series. Each week we will deliver content, recipes and challenges relevant to each pillar of health that we believe are the foundations for living a healthier, happier, more energised life. The idea being that if we focus on making progress in one area each week it will be easier, and more sustainable, over the long-term.
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