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In Defense of Nutrients
When people come to me seeking nutritional advice, they often ask me what amount of macronutrients, or even calories, they are supposed to eat to meet their goals. Many of them focus only on reducing the size of their meals, or on the ratios of proteins, fats, and carbs, and very often they vilify one or another and blame the consumption of it for their weight problems. Oh yes, I should have added that most people looking for advice have weight loss goals. I know many tricks for sustainable and healthy weight loss (or I should say fat loss, because this really is about losing body fat, while keeping or even gaining some lean muscle mass), but for people with a long history of dieting, the answer I give them is not what they want to hear. But here is a simple truth: the path to an ideal body weight is the one that starts with a focus on health. A healthy body knows its ideal weight, all you need to do is support each of your bodily systems with proper nutrition and optimize your lifestyle choices. It is very simple to understand, but more often than not, it is not very easy to execute. Life often gets in the way with unexpected events, special occasions, or stressful situations, and we can easily get thrown off course. Long-term, lasting results require long-term, lasting changes, and many people struggle with this concept.
We live in a world where we can instantly get whatever we want at that moment. We are consumers, we want things now. Today, things don’t get fixed, they get replaced. We don’t take our broken television to the repair shop, we just get a new one. We don’t fix holes in our jeans anymore, because a new pair is cheap and easy to access. It’s a welcome excuse to get the latest new thing, to keep up with trends, fashion, etc. When a certain eating style doesn’t show fast results, we tend to skip on to the next fad diet. But when approaching a new lifestyle pattern, whether it is a diet, exercise plan, or creating any new healthy habit, we have to give our body enough time to adapt. Adaptation is not an event, it is a process, and every process needs time. How long your body will need depends on many factors, and it definitely will not take the same amount of time for everyone. It is very important to understand the importance of nutrients in the food we put on our plates. Especially if we already suffer from one or more health issues, we need a daily dose of healing, nourishing foods.
Recently, the IFFYM concept has become very popular within the health and fitness community. IFFYM is short for “If It Fits Your Macros,” and this concept suggests that it is okay to eat anything and everything you want, as long as you stay within the range of macronutrients you need (or more specifically, the range someone else suggested that you should strive for). This concept makes me sad for a number of reasons, but the main one is that it does not give appropriate care and attention to nutrition. Based on this trend, it doesn’t matter what your source is. IFFYM fans and supporters believe that 50 grams of carbohydrates from cupcakes are basically the same as 50 grams of carbohydrates from grilled vegetables or a fruit salad, or that a serving of protein from grass-fed steak is similar to a serving of protein from a highly processed and artificially sweeten protein shake. This diet template is welcomed with open arms by those who are looking for an easy way to lose weight, and in the short term, it really might be effective for fat loss, but fat loss doesn’t necessarily mean health.
A slim body does not equal a healthy body. You can have a very good looking physique and still be very inflamed, diabetic, or metabolically damaged inside. More often than not, autoimmune diseases fall into the category of invisible illnesses, but their invisibility doesn’t make their effects on the body any less of a problem. Nutrition, health, and metabolism are not a mathematical equation that can be simplified into the idea of calories in minus calories out. You can’t eat less and move more to get a healthy body. What you eat matters more than you might think, and even though reducing our food to a strategic list of chemical structures is not a smart move, we have to consider all the nutrients we ingest, because nutrients are what make or break our health. The foods we eat either make us more healthy, or less healthy (and more sick). Like Dallas and Melissa Hartwig say in their amazing book It Starts With Food, there is no ‘Switzerland’ when it comes to food; no foods are neutral, or without an impact on our health. Food either nourishes us or takes away from us. In this series, we will talk about micronutrients, their best sources, and the reasons why we should always do our best to obtain them from their natural sources. Food rich in valuable nutrients is what makes us healthy. Not all nutrients are created equal, though. Taking an isolated vitamin D supplement will not have the same therapeutic effect as vitamin D found in nature in synergy with other important nutrients that the body needs to absorb it and put it to work.
Just as systems in our body don’t work in isolation, micronutrients exist in synergy with one another and with other important compounds that make them more available to the human body, so we can easily absorb them and use them. When we take a supplement of one isolated nutrient that in nature is accompanied by other vital substances, we most likely eliminate/excrete this nutrient without our body being able to properly use it. I like to call these commercial supplements expensive urine because it is exactly what they give you. You pay for the colorful bottle of pills, you take them, and you eliminate them via urine. Many of the widely available supplement brands are owned by pharmaceutical companies, the same companies that sell medication used to mask symptoms without treating the cause. These manufacturers often use very cheap ingredients in their products, like additives, artificial colorings, GMOs, gluten, toxic fillers, and sweeteners. They are easily available and cheap, but for a reason. Stay away from these supplements – you will save your money and save your health.
We offer carefully sourced, real food based products, created with the knowledge that certain nutrients need to come together for the supplement to be effective. For example, fat soluble vitamins, which we will cover in the next part of this series (these include vitamins D, K, and A) have to be taken along with the right amount and type of fat, otherwise your body can’t use them. Many Vitamin D supplements on the market use unstable fats as a carrier for this extremely important vitamin, containing only ALA omega-3 fatty acids, and not the essential EPA and DHA types. Taking a calcium supplement might not solve your deficiency if your calcium absorption is compromised, and if you don’t get enough vitamin K2 with it. And you can also easily overdose on a supplement, especially if you fall into the pharmaceutical trap of more is better and don’t consult with a healthcare professional about what your body specifically needs.
Decades ago, getting all the important nutrients from our food was much easier. Vitamins, minerals, and important enzymes were present in the food nature intended us to consume. Green leafy vegetables were rich in iron and calcium, the fruit was jam-packed with all kinds of vitamins with just a hint of sweetness, and organ meats from pastured animals were nutritional powerhouses our great-grandparents used to enjoy on a regular basis. Where did those nutrients come from? They did not just appear in the food out of nowhere, they came from the soil we used to grow our food on (and that animals consumed their food from, just as nature intended). Today, our real food doesn’t contain as many micronutrients for a simple (and sad) reason: our soils are very depleted and our environment is polluted to the degree where we can suffer from nutrient deficiencies even if we follow a strict real food based diet. Vegetable fields are sprayed with fertilizers and pesticides that contain toxic compounds like glyphosate. Rain might wash some of these toxins away, but the polluted rainwater soaks right into the soil. We then eat a salad that was sprayed with this poison, as well as a steak that also contains these poisons that were consumed by the animals we raise for meat. With the addition of air pollution and a toxic load from personal care products, we often carry a toxic burden before we are even born. Toxic buildup in the body can cause a number of issues, including serious deficiencies in certain nutrients, or even minerals ending up being stored in the wrong places in the body (for example, lack of Vitamin D3 and K2 can cause a calcium buildup in your arteries, joints, and even the brain! At the same time causing a deficiency of calcium available for bones, teeth, etc. This is another example of the importance of the natural synergy of minerals).
Food manufacturers are aware of these issues, so they enrich or fortify their products with vitamins and minerals. Nutrients are added back into processed foods, like skim milk or cereals, because the high levels of processing used to make these products removes most of these important compounds, but adding them back in artificially doesn’t make them more available to the body. You might suggest that adding milk to a bowl of cereal will provide the fat that is needed for the minerals to be absorbed, but the problem is that milk is also usually stripped of the fat, because the decades of the demonization of fat as a cause of heart disease still persist in our minds (and in the minds of food manufacturers and many so-called nutrition experts). There is no way we can outsmart nature, no matter how hard we try. And with every frankenfood creation, we are distancing ourselves from what was once natural and healthy for us, all for the sake of the profit of someone else. It is time we take back control of our food, and with that, our health too.
Yes, we should still eat for pleasure (because food is delicious!), but we should consider the nutritional profile first. While a glazed donut might give us the pleasure of being able to enjoy that sweet sensation for about 30 seconds, this high will not last. What happens in the end is that you probably will start to feel guilty after eating that donut, or even worse, the evil spiral will make you want to eat more. The main reason why we don’t feel satisfied and satiated with processed food is that it lacks nutrients. You can enjoy a grass-fed steak with green salad and delicious homemade mayo with a few nuts sprinkled on top, just as much as you would enjoy the fast-food pizza (or a delicious autoimmune friendly calzone) if you realize how important it is to look for nutrition instead of just flavor (or convenience). Once you start feeding your body with nutrient dense foods, you will soon notice your cravings going away and the feeling of satiation without the need to go back to the kitchen for seconds, because your body will get all it needs and it will signal it to you. You will not just benefit from the nutrient dense diet physically, you will also experience a mental clarity and energy boost you might have never experienced before, all because you started giving your body what it needs. What it needs is not another frustrating, depriving, strict fat loss 30-day plan, or a crazy, chronic cardio based exercise regime. All you need is love… and nutrients. Love your body enough to nourish it!