So far we have discussed energy balance (calories in vs calories out) and Macronutrients (Ratios of Protein, Carbs and Fats) as the main two considerations for anyone dieting, whether to lose body fat or gain muscle mass. These 2 factors are far and away the most important to consider, and must be addressed first before considering the other factors, one of which we will discuss today.
Micronutrients: What are we talking about?
Micronutrients = A discussion about food quality
Why is Food Quality an Important Consideration?
-Prevent Vitamin and Mineral deficiencies
-Hormone production and regulation
-Bone and tendon strength
-Weight loss - increased TEF of whole foods: -
Food quality also matters because minimally processed, nutrient dense, whole foods will have a higher thermic effect than processed foods. The thermic effect of food (TEF) is the amount of energy required by your body to break down, digest and absorb a particular food. On average, the TEF accounts for around 10-25% of overall daily expenditure.
So, for an individual consuming 2,000 kcal per day, this accounts for between 200-500 kcal daily. The TEF of mixed meals consisting of processed foods is lower than that of whole foods. Whole-grain bread with cheddar cheese has a TEF of 19.9%, whereas white bread with more processed cheese (you know, the rubbery kind) only has a TEF of 10.7%: a nearly 2-fold difference in energy expenditure for meals with the same macronutrients.
Processed foods make it far easier for the body to harvest energy from food. So, from that example you can see how focusing on minimally processed foods has an effect on the body, not only from the amount of nutrients you will receive from the food, but also from the amount of calories needed to break that food down. This is also another reason why I dislike people drinking too many of their calories. Relying on shakes and smoothies minimises the TEF as the body doesn't have to do a great deal to break down and digest food in this form.
To understand whether you are deficient in any particular vitamin or mineral, the only way to know for sure is to get blood tests. Below is a list of common deficiencies: -
- Vitamin D3: An essential vitamin produced naturally by the skin after exposure to UV radiation such as sunlight. It is estimated that one billion people worldwide are deficient in Vitamin D. Why is Vitamin D important? It is necessary for optimal bone strength, mineral metabolism, immune function, neuromuscular functioning and testosterone synthesis. 10-30 mins of daily near full body sun exposure is needed to acquire the optimal amount of D3. The darker someone’s skin is, the more sun exposure is needed.
- Magnesium: One of the body’s most important minerals and electrolytes. The results of insufficient body magnesium include insulin resistance, low testosterone, bone loss, stress hypersensitivity, high blood pressure and disturbed neuromuscular functioning. Getting enough magnesium can thus increase your testosterone, strength and endurance level. Magnesium taken pre-bed can increase sleep quality. Magnesium is most prevalent in cocao/chocolate, nuts, beans and grains.
- Zinc: Zinc is an essential mineral required for immune functioning, protein synthesis, testosterone production and wound healing. If your diet contains red meat, you most likely consume enough zinc. Just 300 g of beef or 500 g of pork or lamb is required to consume the optimal daily zinc intake of ~15 mg. Crab and lobster are great too. Oysters contain so much zinc that you barely need 100 g to get over 15 mg of zinc, so consuming a large portion of those once or twice a week should have you covered. Zinc deficiencies are associated with compromised immune function, diarrhoea, loss of appetite and low testosterone and depression.
- Iron: One of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world (especially the developed world). Females are at a higher risk of deficiency than males due to monthly blood loss during menstruation. Foods rich in iron include beef, oysters, chicken liver, tuna, eggs, sardines.
- Calcium: The most common mineral in the body. It is required for optimal neuromuscular functioning, the regulation of blood flow, bone health and a host of other processes. Calcium is found mostly in dairy products. Outside of dairy it can be found in sardines, salmon and green vegetables.
- Iodine: Iodine is an essential trace element that your body uses to create thyroid hormones. It is primarily found in seawater and soil close to the sea. However, because modern drink water and salt is so refined they are now devoid of iodine. However, you can buy iodised salt or consume seaweed 1-2 times per week.
Here are 9 tips to reduce nutrient loss when cooking: -
- Use as little water as possible for poaching and boiling
- Consume the liquid left in the pan after cooking vegetables
- Add back juices from meat that drip into the pan
- Don’t peel vegetables until after cooking them (or better yet don't peel them at all to maximise fibre and nutrient density)
- Cook vegetables in smaller amounts of water to reduce loss of Vitamin C and B vitamins
- Try to finish cooked vegetables within a day or two, as Vitamin C content may continue to decline when cooked food is exposed to air.
- Cut food after rather than before cooking, if possible. When food is cooked whole, less of it is exposed to heat and water
- Cook vegetables for only a few minutes wherever possible
- When cooking meat, poultry and fish use the shortest possible cooking times for safe consumption
Freezing tends to have little effect on the nutritional value of food. In fact, frozen fruits and vegetables are often more ripe than ‘fresh’ foods as the latter are usually picked days and weeks before they are fully ripe to take account of transportation times.
When it comes to organic food there is no universal definition of what exactly ‘organic food’ is, but there are some definite principles: -
- No use of synthetic fertilisers
- No use of chemical pesticides
Organic crops tend to be higher in antioxidants, such as phenolic acid and flavanols. Organic crops have been found to have lower levels of heavy metals (such as Cadmium) and pesticide residues.
However, Chris Kresser argues that local trumps organic when it comes to fruits and vegetables. Most produce sold at supermarkets are grown hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away (especially when eating foods out of season). Food starts to change as soon as it has been harvested and its nutrient content begins to deteriorate. “So while it certainly makes sense to eat organic, if you’re interested in maximising the nutrient density of your food, eating foods that are grown locally and consuming them as close to harvest as possible is even more important” (Kresser).
If affordability of organic food is an issue, here is a list of foods you should always try to eat organic wherever possible: -
The reason is due to the high amounts of pesticides found in these foods when farmed using conventional practices.
When it comes to grains, the picture is far more complicated. There are 2 main types of grain: -
- Cereals (wheat, oats, barley, maize, rice)
- Legumes (lentils, beans, peas and peanuts). Legumes can be considered healthy - there is little controversy about this.
However, many grains contain anti-nutrients which is a defence mechanism developed by plants to stop their seeds being eaten by animals.
Of all the grains, wheat seems to cause the most amount of problems in people. Up to 33% of the population have some kind of sensitivity to wheat, the main symptoms being bloating, gas, mild stomach cramps and fatigue. A sensitivity to the gluten in wheat can cause leaky gut syndrome, which can lead to chronic inflammation, not only in the gut, but throughout the whole body.
Tier 1 ‘Diet staples’
- Unprocessed meats (ideally wild/grass-fed), particularly organ meats like liver
- Fish (ideally wild)
- Poultry (ideally wild/flax-fed), particularly organ meats like liver
- Unprocessed bone broth
- Eggs (preferably from flaxseed fed/free-range chickens)
- Non-starchy vegetables (Green vegetables, such as broccoli, zucchini, kale, spinach etc)
- Fermented, non-cheese dairy products (e.g. kefir, yogurt, quark)
- Pure coconut products
- Pure olive products
- Herbs & spices, gelatin, decaff coffee, decaff tea, herbal tea, seaweeds, nori, vinegar (all
Tier 2 ‘Healthy additions’
- Whole fruit (all kinds)
- Non-fermented dairy (e.g. whole milk, cottage cheese, cheese, (grass-fed) butter)
- Fermented, sprouted or soaked whole grains (e.g. Sourdough/Ezekiel bread, soaked
- Soaked nuts/seeds (notably chia seeds and broken/milled flax seed)
- Potatoes (all kinds, incl. all similar root vegetables)
- Fermented soy products (e.g. natto, tempeh)
- 80+% pure chocolate
Tier 3 ‘Okay’
- White/parboiled rice
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains (incl. legumes)
Tier 4 ‘Neutral’
- Potato/rice flour
- Sugars & syrups (all kinds)
- Milk/white chocolate
- Artificial sweeteners (all kinds)
- Zero calorie sodas
Tier 5 ‘Avoid’
- Refined grains
- Non-fermented soy products
Tier 6 ‘Avoid at All Costs’
- Heat processed vegetable oils
- Processed red meats
- Anything with rapeseed oil, canola oil, hydrogenised or (partially) hardened vegetable
fats and artificial transfats
- Tobacco products
So what might a “Healthy Diet” contain: -
-Red meat 1 - 2 times per week
-Organ meat 1 - 2 times per week
-Oily fish (sardines, salmon, mackerel etc) 1- 2 times per week
-Eggs 1 - 2 times per week
-For a person consuming between 1,200-2,00cals per day: 2 cups of fibrous veg and 2 cups of fruit per day. For a person consuming 2,000-3,000cals per day: 3 cups of fibrous veg and 3 cups of fruit per day. (unless on a ketogenic or ultra-low carb diet where you can swap the fruit for extra veggies.
-Beverages of water, coffee, herbal tea
-Avoid using vegetable oils - opt for coconut oil or grass fed butter/ghee to cook with
-Minimise alcohol intake