Vitamin & Nutrients
Amidst all of the confusion about what to eat versus what to avoid, which diet to follow, which new superfood to consume, and what nutritional advice to follow and which to question, there are several fundamental nutritional basics that every health expert can agree upon. Building the following two guidelines into your daily routine until they become a habitual part of your lifestyle is a guaranteed way to ensure you are on track nutritionally!
Eat more vegetables
Well, of course! This comes as no surprise, but perhaps knowing specific examples of why vegetables are so vitally important will convince you to incorporate more into each meal. Vegetables are packed full of the vitamins and minerals your body needs in order to function properly. Many diets will tell you what foods to cut out, without emphasizing the importance of what to nourish your body with. If your body does not have the tools it needs to function, any health goal, such as weight loss or increased energy, will be difficult to obtain. Non-starchy vegetables, especially dark leafy greens, should become the main component of each meal. Check out the following micronutrients found in spinach, cauliflower, and radish.
Vitamin K: Vitamin K assists with blood clotting, bone health, and the maintenance of blood vessel elasticity. A deficiency can lead to hemorrhagic disease and osteoporosis. This nutrient is one of the four fat soluble vitamins (A,E,D, and K) and thus must be absorbed through a fat source (for example, consume spinach drizzled with olive oil, or in a salad with avocado, olives, or cheese). Vitamin K is found as Vitamin K1 in vegetables and is actually converted into a more potent form by the bacteria in our gut.
Glycoglycerolipids: A nutrient that helps protect the lining of our digestive tract from the damage of inflammation.
Vitamin C: this vitamin enhances the absorption of iron, helps our immune system function optimally through its anti histamine effect, plays a role in the synthesis of important neurotransmitters, including serotonin, and is essential for the development and maintenance of skin, tendons, cartilage, bone, and capillaries.
Pantothenic Acid: Historically known as Vitamin B5, this nutrient, as well as the whole complex of B vitamins are essential for the conversion of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins into useable energy. Pantothenic acid in particular is extremely important because it becomes a component of Coenzyme A, one of the most important chemicals needed for life.
Magnesium: Magnesium is a catalyst for energy production, helps synthesize proteins, lipids, and DNA, and is needed for muscle contraction. This major mineral is involved in over 300 biochemical processes. While this makes magnesium very important, it is among one of the most common nutritional deficiencies. In case radishes are not your favorite, magnesium is also found in pumpkin seeds, swiss chard, and cashews.
Manganese: This minor mineral is needed for the proper function of many proteins. Lack of manganese has been correlated with type 2 diabetes and seizure disorders.
Increasing your vegetable intake to 8-10 servings per day (Don't panic! A large salad alone can account for 5-6 servings!), as well as diversifying your vegetable intake by eating all of the different colors available will help guarantee that you are consuming the greatest amount of essential vitamins and minerals. Each vegetable contains different important vitamins and minerals.
Non starchy vegetables to prioritize include: Garlic, onion, leek, scallion, chive, arugula, bok choy, broccoli, brussel sprouts,cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, mustard greens, horseradish, kale, radish, rutabaga, turnips, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, celery, asparagus, zucchini, cucumber, spinach, artichoke, green beans, mushrooms.
Starchy vegetables include: Beets, carrots, corn, green peas, parsnips, plantains, pumpkin, sweet potato, taro, white potato, winter squash, yams.
Avoid processed food
The simpler your food becomes, the healthier it is for you. The more manipulated by man a food becomes, the more likely it is to be a toxin in our body. The food journalist Michael Pollan concisely summarizes the importance of avoiding "food-like substances"; items that look like food and are meant for consumption but more closely resemble chemicals and additives. Pollan concludes that you should not consume anything that your great-great grandmother would not recognize as food. Many processed items are easy to identify as "unhealthy". We do not try to convince ourselves that Oreo's or Twinkies are going to contribute any nutritional value to our diet. However, many more processed food items are more difficult to identify as "food-like substances" to avoid. Many food items today that are best avoided are advertised as "all natural", "heart healthy", or "cholesterol free". To make matters even more confusing, governmental recommendations are misleading, and sometimes down-right wrong. So how can you best nourish your body and avoid "food-like substances" ? Read food labels, shop the perimeter of the grocery store, and turn to local farmers.
Read Food Labels
If you ask me, I want to consume food in its natural form. This means unprocessed, with nothing added. I tend to purchase food that does not have a food label (fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, raw milk and cheese, pastured eggs, and grass fed meat). However, when I do buy a packaged food item, I carefully read the food label. The most important part of the food label is the ingredient list. This tells you exactly what is in the product, and thus exactly what you will be putting into your body. Avoid packaged food with a long list of unfamiliar ingredients. If you cannot pronounce an ingredient, if an ingredient sounds like a chemical rather than a food, or if sugar or any form of it is among the first three ingredients, it is likely that the product is not nutritionally beneficial, and may be damaging to your health. Ingredients you should take special precaution to avoid include high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, partially hydrogenatedanything, monosodium glutamate, artificial coloring, vegetable oil, butylated hydroxyanisole, sodium nitrates, and sodium nitrites.
Shop the Perimeter
A great strategy to employ during a visit to your grocery store is to avoid the middle aisles as much as possible. Instead, shop the outskirts, which include the fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs and dairy, meat, and bulk foods sections. This way, you are not coming into contact with many of the packaged, highly processed food items in the center of the grocery store.
Shopping locally and knowing where your food comes from is best achieved at your nearest Farmers Market, Food Co-Op or CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). If possible, check out the next farmers market, where you will find fresh whole foods and high quality meat and dairy. You will also have the opportunity to talk with your local farmer about how your food is being grown, as well as support local, small businesses.
To conclude, eating best for your health does not have to be a challenging puzzle. By implementing the above information you will enhance your health through the addition of nutrient dense (mainly non-starchy) vegetables, and the removal of heavily processed, packaged food items containing toxic ingredients.
Till next time! - Tristan Faville, MScN
References: Pollan M. (2011) Food Rules: An Eaters Manual.New York,NY:Penguin Group.
Higdon, J., Drake, VJ. (2011). An evidence-based approach to vitamins and minerals (2nd ed.). New York:Thieme.
Haas, E., Levin, B. (2006). Staying healthy with nutrition. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts.
Groff, JL., Gropper, SS. (2013). Advanced nutrition and human metabolism (6th ed.).Belmont, CA:Thomson Learning.