The Role of Micronutrients in Optimal Nutrition | Daily Dose

The Role of Micronutrients in Optimal Nutrition

August 18, 2020 7 min read

Hands holding a bowl of food

"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's quite another thing to define what eating "better" or what a healthy diet means. With so many dietary trends, from the U.S. guidelines to the Mediterranean diet, the Paleo diet, vegetarian, vegan, low-carb, Keto, etc., it's no wonder people are confused about what to eat.

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

What is Optimal Nutrition?

To determine optimal nutrition, you must begin with context. Nutrition is dynamic and is constantly changing. The optimal nutrition during one period of your life can (and will) change during other periods. 

We know this to be true when considering babies. The optimal nutrition for an infant is its mother's milk. However, this is not the optimal nutrition for an adult. 

For this reason, 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.

There is only one optimal diet, and that's any one that provides you with the right amount of all 60 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 my spleen energy system—responsible for absorbing the energy from food—was barely functioning. I was instructed not to eat any raw fruits or vegetables and eat only soups and stews for a few months for my treatment.

I found this very strange. Like most people, I thought eating raw fruits and vegetables was the healthiest diet possible. But my acupuncturist explained that it takes a lot of energy to digest raw fruits and vegetables, especially because you have to heat them in the stomach first. Because there was no energy in my system to do this, I could not properly digest the food to absorb its nutrition. My exhaustion was a symptom of this. 

In contrast, cooking soups and stews was like partially pre-digesting the food. This improved digestion, helping my body absorb the nutrients it so desperately craved. I recovered, and the experience allowed me to view nutrition in a wholly expanded way. 

There are many different diets out there promising various benefits, especially weight loss. However, an optimal diet provides all 60 essential nutrients the body needs every day. This series will show you how to use micronutrient testing and the latest digital health technologies to determine your own optimal nutrition at any given moment.

What are micronutrients, and why are they important?

As we've mentioned, there are 60 essential nutrients the body needs in the right amount every single day. These include the vitamins and minerals you're 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 micro-quantities. No matter how great or small the amount required, if you're not getting adequate amounts of each micronutrient, your body won't be able to perform at its peak.

Where do micronutrients come from?

Micronutrients are part of the earth. Plants absorb micronutrients from the soil, which are in turn consumed by both animals and humans. The body cannot produce these micronutrients on its own, which is why they're 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. 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.

Between World War I and World War II, many people, including William Albrecht, Emeritus Professor of Soils at the University of Missouri, observed 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." Albrecht warned that too many young Americans could not pass a physical because of bad teeth, bad bones, and bad health.

In 1936, Florida Senator Duncan Fletcher read an article about Dr. Northern's work into the 74th USA Congressional Record 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."

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 protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin B2 (riboflavin), and vitamin C.

Scientists have claimed that potatoes, for example, have lost 100% of vitamin A content, 57% of vitamin C and iron, and 28% 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. To put that into perspective, you would need to eat eight oranges today to get the same amount of vitamin A that your grandparents got from a single orange.

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 the nutrition we need through eating the foods grown in our soil is now improbable. Even livestock consume 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

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

Even the fittest people consuming the "healthiest" diets—organic produce, grass-fed, free-range meat—have micronutrient deficiencies, primarily due to soil depletion. 

One study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition showed that both athletes and sedentary subjects fall short of the recommended 100% RDA micronutrient level from food alone. Men averaged deficiencies in 40% of the vitamins and 54% of the minerals required. Females averaged deficiencies in 29% of the vitamins and 44% of the minerals required.

Health Consequences of Micronutrient Deficiencies

Research has shown a connection between micronutrient deficiency and a higher risk of being overweight and other dangerous and debilitating diseases. More than two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, and more than one in three are following a specific diet or eating pattern. 

Unfortunately, a study of four of the most popular weight-loss 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 of 27 micronutrients.

Even more alarming, DNA damage from micronutrient deficiencies is a likely major cause of cancer. According to one study, a lack 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. 

That same study claimed that "the quarter of the population that eats the fewest fruits and vegetables 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 some epidemiologists recommend vitamin and mineral fortification and supplementation policies on a grand scale. 

Today, cutting-edge research examines the use of probiotics to regulate the gut microbiome, especially soil-based organisms (SBO) probiotics. This is important as having the right balance of gut bacteria is critical for digesting food. Properly digested food will increase the amount of nutrition absorbed in the body. SBO probiotics are the latest supplements to improve nutrient absorption and help replace some of the gut-friendly microbes that have been lost in food over the years.*

Micronutrient testing is also available, along with digital health innovations and nutrition tracking apps that allow you to assess, monitor, and achieve optimal nutrition.

Here are the main functions and sources of the micronutrients you'll want to monitor in your diet:

Chart of essential micronutrients you must get from your diet for optimal nutrition

Chart of essential micronutrients to get from your diet

In addition, there are 11 amino acids the body can’t produce and must get from food sources:

Chart of eleven essential amino acids you must get from your diet

In summary

Mounting evidence has revealed that our soil provides fewer and fewer nutrients to the plants and animals we eat as time passes. It's now almost impossible to get the recommended daily intake of the 60 essential nutrients our bodies need from food alone. 

Failure to obtain adequate nutrients can result in suboptimal performance, from the cellular level to elite-level athletic performance. The damage from nutrient deficiency can be as severe as cancer. Now more than ever, optimizing your nutrition should be a priority.

Do you have any nutrient deficiencies? The next article in the series will discuss micronutrient testing to determine how much nutrition you're really absorbing from food.

Siphiwe Baleka - Contributing Writer, Physician's Choice

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