I spent the past week working with a dietitian who preached whole foods nutrition. Nutrition is a broad field, and unfortunately, you’ll find some dietitians working at Pepsi or promoting sugary cereals to kids. In my opinion, nutrition goes way beyond calories and macronutrients (carbs, proteins, & fats).
One thing she explained to patients was the idea that calories are the fuel for your body, but micronutrients (the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and more) are the spark plugs to keep your body running optimally. When it comes to vitamin & mineral supplementation, I say food first.
For breakfast, you could choose a bowl of Special K cereal, skim milk, and a banana and think you’re choosing a pretty healthy breakfast because it’s low-calorie and low-fat. However, there’s little protein, and all the carbs will turn into sugar and put you on the blood sugar rollercoaster. It’s also low in micronutrients – your spark plugs – and high in sugar, which depletes micronutrients.
Or, you could choose a 2 egg omelette (with the yolks!) with mushrooms, kale, and avocado, and a banana. This breakfast is balanced with protein (eggs), fat (avocado), and carbs (banana). It’s also loaded with micronutrients, including choline (egg yolks), mushrooms (vitamin D), kale (vitamin K), potassium (banana), and hundreds of other antioxidants and plant compounds. If you’re skeptical, try it out and notice how energized you are after this breakfast compared to cereal.
When I talk about eating a nutrient-dense diet, I mean using food as medicine. Disease rates are at a high, and people worldwide are growing wider and getting sicker. At the same time, people are also eating more processed, micronutrient-poor foods – McDonalds and Pepsi can be found all over the world now.
Food is our most powerful medicine to fight and prevent disease. Even Hippocrates knew this thousands of years ago when he said, “Let medicine be thy food and let food be thy medicine.” We’re eating empty calories that are depleting our nutrient stores rather than fueling our mitochrondia – our energy makers – with all the vitamins and minerals it needs to work optimally. If you want to watch a powerful story about healing with food, listen to this women with MS’s story.
A low-nutrient diet is a prime environment for cancers, heart disease, and other chronic diseases. The processed foods Americans eat along with medications, stress, depleted soils, and more all contribute to poor micronutrient status.
Vitamin D is a hot nutrient these days, and over half of Americans are thought to be deficient. Very few people reach optimal levels for health. One study found that women who are vitamin D deficient have a 253% increased risk for colorectal cancer and 222% increased risk for developing breast cancer. Women with low levels at diagnosis were more likely for the cancer to metastasize and die within 10 years of diagnosis. It’s very easy to get your vitamin D level tested these days – it’s a simple blood test your doctor can do.
The story is the same for most other micronutrients. Eating real, whole foods stocked full of micronutrients gives your cells the nutrients to undergo biochemical pathways to make energy, repair your DNA, and keep your body working optimally. It’s about thriving – not merely surviving. When you look down at your plate, you should ask yourself if you’re giving your body the nutrients it needs.
Here’s my simple tips to boosting your micronutrient stores with FOOD, not supplements. Supplements have their place, but just popping a multivitamin while eating a poor diet does not help.
1.) Aim for 5 or more servings of vegetables per day.
Don’t settle for the same few veggies you like – carrots, broccoli, and peas. The produce section is full of opportunities to try new vegetables. Each week, pick up a different leafy green veggies – try kale, swiss chard, or beet greens. Grab dark, richly pigmented veggies, which are guaranteed to be stocked full with antioxidants. If you’re unsure how to cook a veggie, roasting with olive oil is always an easy and delicious route to go. Once you hit 5 per day, go for even more. I aim to include veggies at most meals. Yes, you can eat veggies for breakfast – with eggs or leftovers!
2.) Mix it up with a variety of foods and colors.
Take a look at your meals and snacks. Are they colorful? Do you eat the same foods everyday? Instead of the same boring chicken and broccoli every night, try a new recipe out. Add new foods to your salads, such as almonds, avocado, or a homemade olive oil-balsamic salad dressing. When you mix up the foods you eat, you get a wider variety of nutrients and a ton of new flavors.
3.) Add some spice!
Spices kick your meals up a notch. Sometimes, I like simple meals and just letting the flavor of the natural foods shine, but most of the time, I’ll add a little spice for flavor. However, spices are powerful medicines as well. Ginger can be as powerful for pain as ibuprofen, and cinnamon aids in insulin sensitivity. Spices & herbs pump up the flavor of your meals, but they also have their health benefits. Go to your local natural foods store, and explore the spices in all the bulk bins.
Lastly, focus on adding foods or making simple switches to increase the nutrient-density of your diet. Get rid of the foods that deplete your micronutrients – sugar is a huge one. Just make one change per week, and soon, your plate will be filled with healing micronutrients!
What’s your favorite spice to use when cooking? Cinnamon for sweet foods & curry for savory!