Food as…Instructions? Understanding the Necessity of Micronutrients (Video)

 


We’ve been talking a lot about the effect that minimizing fat intake has on boosting insulin sensitivity, and reducing your risk for heart disease, cancer, hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

In case you missed those previous articles, you can read about What Causes Insulin Resistance? Lipid Overload, and more in-depth information about The Causes of Insulin Resistance in Type 1 Diabetes, Type 2 Diabetes and Prediabetes as well as Eggs: Friend or Foe?.

In this article however, I’d like to introduce a different way of thinking about food – not as fuel, but as instructions.

Food as Fuel

Whole foods contain fuel that provides carbohydrates, fat and protein to power tissues. In the same way that a car burns gasoline for energy, your body “burns” carbohydrates, fat and protein for energy. These macronutrients are what allow your heart to beat, your brain to think and your muscles to contract.

Food as…Instructions?

Beyond the macronutrient fuel that whole foods provide, micronutrients play a very specialized and incredibly important role. Nutritional science used to think of micronutrients as just a collection of vitamins and minerals that were essential for tissue function. But over the past 10 years our understanding of micronutrients has evolved by leaps and bounds, and now researchers are beginning to understand the complex and fascinating roles that micronutrients play in directing the digestive orchestra.

Micronutrients account for the hundreds of players that affect how we digest, process and use the nutrients we eat.  And truth be told, micronutrients are incredibly important stars of the show.

In the same way that blueprints are the instruction manual for building a house, micronutrients are instructions that dictate how carbohydrates, fat and protein are digested, absorbed, transported, uptaken and burned for energy. Failing to give credit to the hard working behind-the-scenes micronutrients only tells a small part of the story.

WAV-FM

Perhaps you’ve never heard the new radio station WAV-FM. Playing all your favorite hits of the stomach, small intestine and large intestine. This radio station is dedicated to optimal well-being, and speaks to all tissues in your body, including your brain, liver, heart, kidneys, pancreas and liver (to name a few). Let’s take a look at the meaning behind each letter in this acronym to get a better understanding of what each really mean.

W Stands for Water

Most nutritionists would call me crazy for labeling water as a nutrient. “False,” they say, “water is not a nutrient, it’s just water.” I like to think of water as a nutrient because its presence in food is absolutely required for optimal nutrient metabolism.

Water is not only a nutrient, it is an essential nutrient required for optimal nutrient digestion, absorption, transport and oxidation.

Water is a cofactor that assists in thousands of chemical reactions in your brain, heart, lungs, liver, muscles etc. These reactions happen on a second-by-second basis, and are responsible for keeping you alive.  Every second of every day, thousands of chemical reactions are taking place in your body simultaneously.  And guess what helps facilitate these reactions? Water.

Water helps in many aspects of food digestion. In your stomach, water helps facilitate the digestion and unfolding of intact food material. In your small intestine, water helps facilitate the continued digestion of partially digested food material, and plays a significant role in the absorption of macronutrients into the bloodstream. Air large intestine, water is a vital player in regulating the formation of feces, to feed your microbiome, and to regulate blood volume.

Refined and processed foods in generally don’t contain a significant amount of water, because water is been removed during the manufacturing process. That’s one of the reasons why these foods can be kept in boxes, packages, and cans for long period of time, because minimal water content prolongs their shelf life.

So whenever possible, opt for food that contains water, because the internal water supply aids your digestive system in understanding how to digest, absorb and transport vital macronutrients.

A Stands for Antioxidants

Antioxidants are front line soldiers with a large task at hand: donate electrons to damaged cells (1–6).

The reality is that every second of every day, you are damaging tissues in your body. You damage tissues by being in the sun. You damage tissues by breathing oxygen. You damage tissues by eating refined sugar. You damage tissues drinking alcohol. You damage tissues by exercising.

But the nice part about being a living, breathing organism is that you also possess the ability to repair tissue. And it’s the antioxidants in food that assist in limiting the damage caused by your environment and your habits, and assist in the repair of cells after those insults have occurred.

Think of antioxidants as the front line soldiers that limit the damage caused by life. They are electron donors that circulate through your bloodstream and essentially hand out electrons to neutralize dangerous free radicals that have lost electrons. Missing electrons is a bad situation, and must be avoided at all costs.

  • Antioxidants assist in the repair of mitochondria.
  • Antioxidants assist in the repair of cell membranes.
  • Antioxidants assist in the repair of damaged cell nuclear membranes.
  • Antioxidants assist in the repair of damaged DNA.
  • Antioxidants assist in the repair of mitochondrial DNA.
  • Antioxidants assist in the repair of the endoplasmic reticulum.
  • Antioxidants assist in the repair of the organelle membranes.

What is the result of this repair work? Extended cellular longevity.

If cells are able to live for a longer period of time in an undamaged or repaired state, then tissues are at a decreased risk for disease, de facto.

Antioxidants are easily recognizable as colors in food. You’ve been told to “eat the rainbow.” Why? Because colors are pigments, and pigments are antioxidants. The more colors you eat, the more antioxidants you consume, the more front line soldiers are made available to perform complex cellular repair work.

Plant foods contain on average 64 times more antioxidant content than animal foods.

Watch this humorous video from Dr. Greger at to get an idea of exactly how much more powerful plant foods are at donating antioxidants than are animal foods. So the next time that someone tells you to eat meat, cheese or dairy products because they contain antioxidants, tell them that they are severely…confused.

V Stands for Vitamins

Vitamins are essential compounds in foods that partake in thousands of biochemical reactions in tissues all throughout your body. They are called “cofactors” for biochemical reactions, and are required for thousands of chemical reactions, in every tissue.

There are fat soluble vitamins and water soluble vitamins. Fat soluble vitamins include vitamin A,  vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K. They are found in foods with a higher fat content, including meat, fish, cheese, eggs, nuts, seeds and avocadoes (to name a few). Water soluble vitamins include mainly vitamin B and vitamin C, and are found in foods with a higher carbohydrate content, such as fruits, vegetables, greens, beans, lentils and peas (7–10).

Vitamins are required for thousands of metabolic reactions, including (but not limited to):

  • DNA synthesis and repair
  • Protein synthesis and repair
  • RNA synthesis and repair
  • Glycogen synthesis
  • Fatty acid synthesis
  • Hormone synthesis
  • Neurotransmitter synthesis

While animal foods do contain vitamins, they contain mainly fat soluble vitamins, and are low in their overall vitamin content.

Plant foods contain more vitamins than animal foods. Period. End of story.

F Stands for Fiber

Fiber is one of the most interesting nutrients that we eat, mainly because our understanding how fiber behaves in your digestive tract is evolving over time. As a scientific community, we used to believe that fiber only swept cholesterol into the toilet, protecting you against heart disease, hypertension and certain types of cancer, including most notably colon cancer.

Now, the scientific community is beginning to understand that fiber is actually a food. Not for you, but for your bacterial microflora housed in your large intestine.

Believe it or not, you have more bacterial cells in your body than you do human cells. You are outnumbered more than 9:1, meaning that for every human cell in your body there are at least 9 bacterial cells.

You are only 10% human and 90% bacterial. Your body is merely a transport vehicle for the bacteria in your gut (11).

 

Fiber is simply a long chain of glucose called cellulose. The problem is that humans don’t possess the enzyme cellulase that is capable of breaking the specific type of bond between each glucose molecule. Bacteria in your large intestine produce copious amounts of cellulase, and because of that they derive energy from fiber and use it to produce short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that promote immune function.

Maintaining gut health is absolutely critical for maintaining total body metabolic health. A healthy microflora provides protection against infection. A dysregulated gut microflora has been linked with autism, depression, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, inflammatory bowel disease and type 1 diabetes (12,11,13–17).

Fiber supplements do not equal high-fiber foods.  This misconception could not be farther from the truth.  Studies have shown that the addition of fiber (from a product like Metamucil) to a poor diet does NOT protect against colon cancer, but that diets rich in high fiber foods do protect against colon cancer (18–21).

Let’s get out of the habit of thinking that a packaged supplement can mimic the effect of the complex food from which it was derived.  Nutrients in isolation do not have the anti-disease power that they do in food.  Adding them to your diet may not increase the bulking effect of fiber from real food, and do not have the same cholesterol-reducing effects as real food.  So do yourself a favor and don’t waste your money.  Just eat more plants.

Your fiber takeaway: Fiber is a food for your microflora. Eat fiber-rich foods, and minimize or eliminate fiber powders altogether.

M Stands for Minerals

In the same way that vitamins are cofactors that assist in thousands of metabolic reactions, minerals also act as cofactors to facilitate in:

  • DNA synthesis and repair
  • Protein synthesis and repair
  • RNA synthesis and repair
  • Glycogen synthesis
  • Hormone synthesis
  • Neurotransmitter synthesis

Minerals like sodium and potassium also help regulate water balance across cellular membranes, in order to protect cells against overhydration and dehydration.  Minerals like calcium are required for optimal bone health, skin health, hair health, nail health and fetal development (to name a few).

Take Home Messages

  • Carbohydrates, fat and protein are fuel.
  • Micronutrients including water, antioxidants, vitamins, fiber and minerals act as instructions to assist in thousands of chemical reactions in tissues throughout your body.
  • Every time you open your mouth, maximize your intake of foods with high nutrient density.
  • How do you do that? Eat more plants.

Leave a Comment Below

Sometimes knowledge isn’t enough. We understand complex issues, but we still misbehave. Because of that, leave a comment below with the answer to a simple question. The wittiest answer wins!

You know that refined foods don’t contain a complete instruction manual. But yet you still eat them. Why?

References

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About The Author

Cyrus Khambatta

Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 22, I have spent over a decade learning the fundamentals of nutrition at the doctorate level. My goal is to share my knowledge of practical nutrition and fitness with people with prediabetes, type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is an OPPORTUNITY to attain excellent health. Reversing the effects of insulin resistance can be a fun and enjoyable process if the right system is in place. That's why I've spent over 10 years developing a rock solid system that can minimize blood glucose variability and insulin resistance.

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