Optimum nutrition – what even is that?!

“Kale me Crazy Wheatgrass Shot” 

There is so much information out there about what is good for you and what’s not. These are questions that sprung to mind when I started thinking about this.

What is the ideal way of eating, is there such thing?

What should we be getting out of our food other than energy?

Are the majority of people in the developed world getting what they need?

What are the implications of the narrative around meat, the health and the climate?

In the context of health, we need our food in terms of what our bodies require from it rather than just macros ( protein, carbohydrate and fat).

I do think there is a template that we can use to organise ourselves and choose food sources which suit our individual palates and sensibilities whilst meeting our health needs.

Lest we misunderstand. Nutrition is a fundamental building block of health. Inadequate nutrition and obesity (which is multifactorial and not simply poor judgement as we have been hoodwinked to believe, dripping in shame and guilt) causes illness, suffering and early death.

So, an ideal diet in our opinion

1. Should taste good!

2. Is nutritionally dense.

3. The nutrients are bioavailable.

4. There are few competing toxins reducing the nutritional value or causing independent health problems. 

5. It has good protein quality and a good protein to energy ratio.

6. Your intake is at an appropriate energy density for your needs.

What does all this mean?

1. It should taste good!

Eating should feel enjoyable. We don’t tend to be consistent with tasks we are trying to get over and done with as quickly as possible. Enjoying your food makes it much easier to make a choice that is directionally the same as your goal – health and longevity.

2. It is nutritionally dense.

Nutrient density is defined by the World Health Organisation as a means of ‘classifying and/or ranking foods by their nutritional composition in order to promote human health and to prevent disease’ 1.

This essentially means how many beneficial nutrients are there in this food.

We need vitamins and minerals to literally build our bodies. We need them to keep the thousands of reactions, pathways and cycles working. From gene expression, to the production of energy. When this doesn’t happen, when we don’t have enough B vitamins, magnesium, vitamin D, iron and the hundreds of other micronutrients – we get symptoms; some benign, often very hard to explain, commonly we use the phrase ‘tired all the time’ but these issues absolutely affect our quality of life and some become deficiencies leading to serious illness.

With these nondescript but joy depleting symptoms we then seek a diagnosis and sometimes get prescribed a tablet. In most cases or we’re told – ‘your blood tests are fine, there’s nothing wrong with you’. But, half these things are difficult to test for, most we can’t test for and some of them we test for in the blood serum rather than in more accurate places like in the red cells. The references ranges are all out of whack so normal today is not what was normal 30 years ago, we end up confused, disheartened and STILL bloody tired all the time!

Perhaps we need to go back to the basics and think about what we’re eating.

3. The nutrients are bioavailable.

Bioavailability of nutrients has long been misrepresented by, well, nearly everyone in the health space. Defined as  ‘proportion of the administered substance capable of being absorbed and available for use or storage’ 2,3. It basically means – when I eat something, how available for use are the vitamins and minerals in that food?’

How available a nutrient from food is depends on a number of other things:

  • The physical form of the nutrient within the food stuff and how easily it can be removed from this structure.
  • The chemical form of the nutrient. Is it instantly available for use or does it need to undergo some chemical changes itself to become useful? If that’s the case can the human body make these changes efficiently? Is some of the nutrient lost along the way?
  • Does the food itself carry within it some enzymes that prevent the body from accessing the protein, vitamins or minerals? e.g the proteolytic enzymes in legumes – beans, soya that actively reduce our ability to digest the protein in them. Or the oxalates, polyphenols and lectins that prevent nutrient absorption from many plants?

Within our own bodies there are limiters to accessing nutrients:

  • Gastric acidity
  • Gut motility
  • The gut microbiome
  • Anabolic demands (e.g. growth in infancy and childhood, pregnancy, and lactation)
  • Infection and stress
  • Genetic polymorphisms (e.g. MTHFR and folate absorption)
  • Some vitamins are fat soluble, we need fat to access them and potentially in this failing low fat, low calorie, move more eat less paradigm we are missing key nutrients.

Let me give you an example -the iron in spinach is not readily available to us for use in the body – it is a type of iron called non-heme iron. The body utilises heme iron for its jobs. The non – heme doesn’t do well with our stomach ph AND in spinach it comes with a load of oxalic acid that is thought to further hinder absorption . Factor in that most of the non-heme is lost as soon as it is picked and we are left with pitiful amounts to try and use to build things like red cells.

4. There are few competing toxins reducing the nutritional content

Another hotly contested, controversial area – plant toxins. I’m not entirely sure why.

We have long been told that plants are brilliant. They fill us up, they are full of fibre and antioxidants, flavonoids and vitamins, polyphenols, the list goes on. We are told about the properties of curcumin in turmeric or sulforaphane in broccoli. We are told that these plant molecules are acting as little insults to the body that bring about an advantageous effect, for example stimulating our liver to make glutathione – the bodies natural antioxidant. This process is known as hormesis. This is all true. But what other effects do they have along with these effects. Things that in some people result in some plant molecules causing adverse effects that cause symptoms?

Is there another way to engage in ‘hormesis’ without activating potentially harmful pathways? If we are living well and feeling fine perhaps this is of not interest to us but simple general symptoms of being a bit achy or a bit of pain in a joint could be addressed by paying attention to some of the plants that we are consuming. Are we getting what we bargained for from our wheatgrass kale shots?

I’m not suggesting plants are not delicious with health benefits, it just strikes me as odd that unlike the demonisation of saturated fat, or meat, or eggs, plants seem to get off scot free when it comes to the potential issues they may cause.

When we dig a little deeper into plants we find that they contain compounds that our bodies just don’t get on with very well. And indeed we can develop insidious symptoms that we just wouldn’t relate to plant eating. For example the oxalates in spinach can influence joint pain and kidney stone formation4.

5. It has good protein quality and a good protein to energy ratio.

Protein. So important, so undersold.

The guidance with regards to our daily requirements is woefully underestimated. The amounts recommended allow for the bare bones of health5 . Muscle is a longevity organ, without muscle we are frail and susceptible to all sorts of illness, we can’t dispose of glucose efficiently and it stay in our blood stream = type 2 diabetes.

We need to lead our diets with protein sources with all 9 essential amino acids – meat, fish, eggs, some dairy.

The DIAAS score Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score (DIAAS) is a protein quality score that helps us understand  amino acid digestibility. It provides an accurate measure of the amounts of amino acids absorbed by the body and the protein’s contribution to our amino acid and nitrogen requirements. Essentially not all protein is created equal. We want to be choosing high quality protein sources, ensuring we get enough leucine, this is an essential amino acid that is required in certain quantities to stimulate our muscles to grow.6

Adequate protein intake coupled with resistance exercise is gold for your muscles, staving off frailty, increasing longevity and healthspan as we get older78

We require a certain amount of protein a day (between 1-1.2g/kg body weight is a good starting point. We want to hit this amount with and supplemented by the foods that gives us our vitamins and minerals and energy without loads of un-required empty calories.

The theory of protein dilution suggests that in modern life we eat until our protein and nutrient needs are met but instead of doing it with meat, fish, eggs, dairy and green veg – we do it with lots of processed foods. As we gather the things we need, we also gather calories and loads of other badness!

Ted Naiman at Burnfatnotsugar.com illustrates this idea perfectly. Whole animal foods balance protein, fat and nutrients particularly well.

http://www.burnfatnotsugar.com/ 

The website has an excellent Protein:Energy ratio resource .You can pop what you’re eating into the calculator and it will tell you the protein to energy ratio!

An addition to this I believe that we remain hungry until we meet our micronutrient needs – often these are never met. We are surrounded by easily accessible, ultra processed food. Its highly palatable and convenient. It’s likely that these foods lead to appetite dysregulation9 . We are told that they are good for us and fortified with nutrient. Even the stuff that purports to be healthy isn’t hitting these few criteria laid out.

6. Your intake is at an appropriate energy density for your needs.

When we are looking to lose weight (ie. lose fat) we want to burn our own excess fat FIRST not the extra fat or carbohydrate in our diet.

However we choose to fuel ourselves, whether we want to be predominantly fat burners or glucose burners we must aim to be able to switch efficiently been the two systems.

We want to make sure that we have the appropriate amount of energy to burn for our day to day needs. Sedentarism is a real issue here. You can now see how protein and nutrient dilution in a world of hyperpalatable ready made deliciousness is the ultimate recipe for disaster. Too few calories will cause problems just as too many do.

We can build an efficient, enjoyable, sustainable, adjustable system using simple nutrition and exercise ideas, we don’t need expensive kit or cupboard loads of supplements.

Optimum nutrition!

Lead with protein

Eat whole foods that are nutrient dense – we like meat, offal, fish, eggs, vegetables, low sugar fruit, dairy. Relatively unprocessed, organic soybeans – tofu, natto, contain all the essential amino acids with less of the pesticides and is a protein option for vegetarians with moral objections)

Minimise refined carbohydrates and fats.

In our opinion whole foods, animal based is the way forward with regenerative agriculture, sustainable farming and ethical rearing of animals front of mind.

The climate narrative against meat is scary and pervasive but is it accurate?

The ‘science’ as it’s sold to us in the media, seems to be much like nutritional epidemiology – misleading, alarmist and with a hidden agenda. I’d implore people who are not eating meat for implied health concerns to remove themselves from echo chambers and cross the isle to an opposing view, have a read of an opposing point of view before making a decision.

The Sacred CowThe case for (better)meat by Diana Rodgers and Robb Wolf is a great starting point.

Nutrient Profiling: Report of a WHO/IASO Technical Meeting, London, United Kingdom, 4-6 October 2010, accessed 10/15/2014.2

Srinivasan, V. Srini (2001). “Bioavailability of Nutrients: A Practical Approach to In Vitro Demonstration of the Availability of Nutrients in Multivitamin-Mineral Combination Products”. The Journal of Nutrition131 (4 Suppl): 1349–1350S. doi:10.1093/jn/131.4.1349SPMID11285352.3

Nutrient bioavailability is defined as the fraction of a nutrient in a food that is absorbed and utilized. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/nutrient-bioavailability

Lorenz, Elizabeth C et al. “Update on oxalate crystal disease.” Current rheumatology reports vol. 15,7 (2013): 340. doi:10.1007/s11926-013-0340-https://www.ncbi.nlmnih.gov/pmc5

https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/what-are-reference-intakes-on-food-labels/6

Dietary protein quality evaluation in human nutrition. Report of an FAQ expert consultation. FAO Food Nutr Pap. 2013;92:1-66.7

Phillips, S.M. The impact of protein quality on the promotion of resistance exercise-induced changes in muscle mass. Nutr Metab (Lond) 13, 64 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12986-016-0124-8 https://doi.org/10.1186/s12986-016-0124-88

Berrazaga I, Micard V, Gueugneau M, Walrand S. The Role of the Anabolic Properties of Plant- versus Animal-Based Protein Sources in Supporting Muscle Mass Maintenance: A Critical Review. Nutrients. 2019;11(8):1825. Published 2019 Aug . https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6723444/9

Vadiveloo, M., H. Parker, and H. Raynor, Increasing low-energy-dense foods and decreasing high-energy-dense foods differently influence weight loss trial outcomes. Int J Obes (Lond), 2018. 42(3): p. 479-486.

2 thoughts on “Optimum nutrition – what even is that?!

Leave a Reply