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Introduction to Optimal Nutrition - Part 1

August 18, 2020 8 min read

"Every day, your body has to receive 60 essential nutrients, the building blocks of healthy cells. These are the nutrients that the body CANNOT make but must be obtained from your diet and supplements. If you do not receive these nutrients daily, your health and your mind will decline rapidly to premature aging."  - Michael Colgan, Ph.D., CCN Biochemist, Nutritionist, Olympic Trainer 

It’s one thing to say, “I need to eat better” or “I need to eat a healthy diet.” It is quite another thing to define what eating “better” or what a healthy diet means. With so many types of eating strategies, from the U.S. dietary guidelines to the Mediterranean diet, the Paleo diet, vegetarian, vegan, low-carb, Keto, etc., it is no wonder that people are confused about what to eat.

This article is the first of two articles in which we will discuss micronutrients and how to measure them in order to optimize your nutrition.

What is Optimal Nutrition?

There’s an old saying, “you don’t give meat to a baby.” The natural and optimal nutrition for an infant is its mother’s milk. However, this is not the optimal nutrition for an adult. This illustrates the basic concept that to determine optimal nutrition, one must begin from the physical and medical reality. Nutrition is very dynamic and is constantly changing. The optimal nutrition during one period of your life can and will change during other periods.. It is for this reason that there is no one diet that everyone should be following, nor is there only one diet that any individual should limit themselves to over a long period of time. 

I discovered that there is only one diet that is optimal – that’s any diet that gives you the right amount of all sixty essential nutrients that your body needs every day and does no harm.

My experience

This concept was made clear to me during a period of intense stress in my personal life and business career. I was exhausted and suffering from insomnia. Nothing seemed to work so I went to an acupuncturist. After assessing my various energy systems according to traditional Chinese medicine, he told me that my spleen energy system, the system responsible for absorbing the energy from food, was extremely low and barely functioning. For my treatment, I was instructed not to eat any raw fruits or vegetables and eat only soups and stews for a few months. 

I found this very strange because, like most people, I thought that eating raw fruits and vegetables was the healthiest kind of diet. But my acupuncturist explained to me that it takes a lot of energy to digest raw fruits and vegetables, especially because you have to heat them up in the stomach first. Because there was no energy in my system to do this, I was not properly digesting the food in order to absorb the nutrition. My exhaustion was a symptom of this. By contrast, cooking soups and stews is like partially pre-digesting the food, making digestion easier, and help my body begin to absorb more nutrients, even though some of them would be destroyed in the cooking process.

I recovered and the experience caused me to understand nutrition in a completely different and expanded way. Again,there is only one diet that is optimal – that’s any diet that gives you the right amount of all sixty essential nutrients that your body needs every day and does no harm.There are as many healthy ways of achieving that as there are people. This series of articles will show you how to use micronutrient testing and the latest digital health technologies to determine your own optimal nutrition at any given moment.

There are many different diets and eating strategies, all promising various benefits, especially weight loss. However, a healthy diet is one that provides all sixty essential nutrients that the body needs every day. In part two of this series, we look at micronutrients and the consequences of nutrient deficiencies. 

What are micronutrients and why are they important?

The Introduction to Optimal Nutrition revealed that there are 60 essential nutrients that the body needs in the right amount every single day. These include the vitamins and minerals that we are familiar with like vitamins A, C, D, calcium and potassium. But it also includes such things as selenium, the amino acid methionine and others in very small micro quantities. No matter how great or small the amount required, if you are not getting the right amount of each, something in your body will not be able to perform at an optimal level.

Where do micronutrients come from?

Micronutrients are part of the earth. Plant roots absorb micronutrients from the soil which are in turn consumed by both animals and humans. This is how the micronutrients enter the body and become part of the body. The body is not able to produce these micronutrients by itself, and this is why they are called “essential.”

Are fruits and vegetables less nutritious today?

In 1911, Dr. Jacob Goodale Lipman, Director of the Rutgers Agricultural Experiment Station, discovered significant mineral loss in the soil. His research laid the groundwork for further research by Dr. Chales Northen, M.D. Two years later, Dr. Oswald Schreiner of the United States Department of Agriculture documented how the soil was losing its fertility due to mineral depletion(1).

During the period between World War I and World War II, many people, including William Albrecht, Emeritus Professor of Soils at the University of Missouri, saw a direct link between nutrient-poor crops and ill health in livestock. Albrecht stated, “The soil is the ‘creative material’ of most of the basic needs of life. Food is fabricated soil fertility”(2). Albrecht warned that too many young Americans could not pass a physical because of bad teeth, bad bones and bad health. 

In 1936, FloridaSenator Duncan Fletcher read an article about Dr. Northern’s work into the 74th USA Congressional Record (Document 264) stating, “Laboratory tests prove that the fruits, the vegetables, the grains, the eggs and even the milk and the meats of today are not what they were a few generations ago. It is bad news to learn from our leading authorities that 99 percent of the American people are deficient in these minerals, and that a marked deficiency in any one of the more important minerals actually results in disease. Any upset of the balance, any considerable lack of one or another element, however microscopic the body requirement may be, and we sicken, suffer, and shorten our lives”(3).

One study examining the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s nutritional data from both 1950 and 1999 for 43 different vegetables and fruits, found “reliable declines” in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and vitamin C(4). 

Claims have been made that potatoes, for example, have lost 100 percent of vitamin A content, 57 percent of vitamin C and iron and 28 percent of calcium. Over the entire 20th century, the average mineral content in cabbage, lettuce, spinach and tomatoes declined from 400 mg to less than 50 mg. A person would need to eat eight oranges today to get the same amount of vitamin A that their grandparents got from a single orange (5).

Whether the nutritional loss in our food today comes from depleted soil, the effects of pesticides or lower-yielding plant varieties, our ability to get all the nutrition we need through eating the foods grown in our soil is now improbable. Even the animals we eat are being fed these micronutrient depleted plants, resulting in far less nutritious meat.

Micronutrient Deficiencies

According to four-time New York Times bestselling author Dr. Mark Hyman, “a whopping 92 percent of Americans are deficient in one or more nutrients at the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) level…The RDA standards do not necessarily outline the amount needed for optimal health.”

The United States Department of Agriculture states that:

  • 9 out of 10 Americans are deficient in potassium
  • 8 out of 10 Americans are deficient in vitamin E
  • 7 out of 10 Americans are deficient in calcium
  • 50 percent of Americans are deficient in vitamin A, vitamin C and magnesium(6)

The Center for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC) also states that more than half of the general population is vitamin D deficient regardless of age.

Even the “most fit” people consuming the “healthiest” diets – organic produce, grass-fed, free-range meat – have micronutrient deficiencies, especially as a result of soil depletion. One study showed that both athletes and sedentary subjects fall short of the recommended 100 percent RDA micronutrient level from food alone. Men averaged deficiencies in 40 percent of the vitamins and 54 percent of the minerals required. Females averaged deficiencies in 29 percent of the vitamins and 44 percent of the minerals required(7). 

Health Consequence of Micronutrient Deficiencies

Research has shown a connection between micronutrient deficiency and a higher risk of being overweight/obese and other dangerous and debilitating diseases(8,9,10,11,12,13). More than two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese(14) and more than one in three are following a specific diet or eating pattern(15). Unfortunately, a study of four of the most popular diets (Atkins for Life diet, the South Beach diet, the DASH diet, the Best Life diet) showed that all failed to provide the minimum recommended daily intake for 27 micronutrients(16).

Even more alarming, DNA damage from micronutrient deficiencies is a likely major cause of cancer.According to one study, adeficiency of any of the micronutrients:folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, niacin, vitamin C, vitamin E, iron, or zinc, mimics the damage caused by radiation (17). That study also claimed that “the quarter of the population that eats the fewest fruits and vegetables (five portions a day is advised) has about double the cancer rate for most types of cancer when compared to the quarter with the highest intake.”

The global micronutrient deficiency has become so widespread, that it has been recommended that “vitamin and mineral fortification and supplementation policies need to be promoted as the epidemiologic, nutritional, and sociological scientific basis of human nutrition expands, specifically addressing widespread deficiencies of micronutrients essential for individual and population health”(18). Today, cutting-edge research examines usingprobiotics in order to regulate and keep the gut biome in balance, especially soil-based organisms (SBO) probiotics. In other words, having the right kind of gut bacteria is important for digesting food. Properly digested food will increase the amount of nutrition absorbed in the body. SBO probiotics are the latest supplements to improve nutritional and well-being and help replace some of the gut-friendly nutrients that have been lost in food over the years. 

Micronutrient testing is available and digital health division and nutrition tracking apps allow a person to significantly assess, monitor and achieve nutritional sufficiency and optimal nutrition.

Here are the main functions and sources of the micronutrients:

In addition, there are 11 amino acids that the body can’t make and must get from food sources: (19)

In summary

More evidence is revealing that as time passes, our soil is providing fewer nutrients to the plants and animals that we eat. It is now almost impossible to get the recommended daily intake of the sixty essential nutrients that our bodies need from food alone. Failure to achieve nutrient sufficiency can result in suboptimal performance from the cellular level up to an elite-level athletic performance. In addition, the damage from nutrient deficiency can be as severe as cancer. Now more than ever, optimizing your nutrition is a priority.

Do you have any nutrient deficiencies? The next article will discuss micronutrient testing to determine how much nutrition you are absorbing from food.

Read part 2 here.

Siphiwe Baleka - Contributing Writer, Physician's Choice