In the past few decades, it has become overwhelmingly apparent that diet and nutrition plays a significant role in our overall health. The old saying “You are what you eat” is taken more literally by the day, it seems. A lack of various nutrients is linked to almost every type of disease and may lead to chronic illness or even death if the deficiency is untreated. Likewise, consuming too many of some vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients, may also lead to sickness or cause unwanted side effects (and in extreme cases, may become toxic.) In this article, we’ll discuss the “True Nutrition” concept and several easy alterations that you can make to your diet today that will put you on the course to obtaining true nutrition.
What do we mean by true nutrition?
As I mentioned in the introduction to this article, by not obtaining any of certain nutrients, not consuming enough of a nutrient, or consuming too much of a nutrient will all produce unwanted side effects or negative changes to the body that may go unnoticed for some time. So, when I refer to “true nutrition” in this article, I will be referring to an adequate amount of all nutrients with good balance. It is important to note that all individuals absorb, store, and process nutrients differently due to genetic factors. Some underlying conditions may also affect nutrient absorption. For example, people that are lactose intolerant lack an enzyme that breaks lactose down into smaller sugars. Many people that are lactose intolerant feel bad after consuming dairy products which may make them more susceptible to deficiencies in good sugars, fats, calcium, vitamin D, etc. if dairy products are not substituted with another food that provides these nutrients.
Educate Yourself about Beneficial Ingredients that Contribute to True Nutrition
The first step to achieving true nutrition is to self-educate on diet and nutrition topics and to make this a reoccurring habit so that you will be informed about the latest scientific evidence on nutritional needs. Most of the population (excluding the health / medical industry populations) has the perception that we now have scientific evidence for most biological factors of the body and that we have the majority of medical things figured out. However, this is not so accurate. While we have a much better understanding of the human body’s biological processes, there is still so much that has not been discovered, or that is not totally understood at this time. For this reason, today’s true nutrition may be drastically different than next year’s true nutrition. Most doctors will concur that we probably aren’t giving totally accurate advice, but that we have enough data to know that we’re on the right path towards true nutrition. So, most likely, true nutrition will not have drastic changes in the near-future.
I remember just 20 years ago being in middle school and learning about food groups and the FDA’s Food Pyramid. If you were familiar with this illustration, it suggested that the majority of our diets (at least 6-11 servings per day) consist of bread, grains, cereals, rice, pastas and other carbohydrates. Then, it suggested that we eat 3-5 servings of vegetables, 2-4 servings of fruits, 2-3 servings of dairy, and 2-3 servings of meats, beans, and nuts per day. The pyramid also suggested using fats and oils as sparingly as possible. However, today we understand that there were quite a few issues with this plan to achieve true nutrition. The first issue being that the minimum amount of food servings that would be consumed by an individual would be 15 servings. For a child or person with a low BMI, this can be way too much food to consume (which may have contributed towards some of our current obesity problems in the United States). Also, this is a massive amount of carbs, starches, and saturated fats (many which will convert to excessive amounts of sugar and fat in the body). In those days, we also did not fully understand the importance of certain fats and protein necessities either. We also didn’t realize the amount of benefits that phytonutrients and other nutrients present in fruits and vegetables provide. And today, there has been quite a bit of talk about how the USDA’s Food Pyramid may have been financially motivated, which would mean that the USDA was simply benefiting corporations over the US population’s health which is their primary duty. Pubmed is a great place to stay educated on nutritional topics. Almost all controlled studies are published on Pubmed for the public and others in the medical communities to view.
Determine True Nutrition Goals with Blood Work
After educating yourself about beneficial vitamins, nutrients, and minerals that contribute to true nutrition, it is important to have your dietician or physician conduct a blood test to determine if you’re getting appropriate amounts of each true nutrient. Most individuals overall consume enough vitamins and nutrients, but it is extremely common for an individual to be deficient or to have an abundance of at least one or two vitamins/nutrients.
The most common causes for nutrient deficiencies are a poor assortment of foods, genetic factors, and other conditions within the body that prevent nutrient absorption. By obtaining blood work, your physician will quickly and accurately be able to identify these imbalances affecting true nutrition and will be able to recommend the best plan of action to get these nutrients within normal ranges.
Importance of Phytonutrients in True Nutrition
When the majority of us were children, we probably all heard “Take your vitamins!” on a daily basis. These days, we still hear it – just from online ads versus our parents. Less often, do we hear that we need to take our minerals, but the importance of minerals is becoming more evident by the year. However, a new group of nutrients has come to surface in the last 20 years that go by the name of “Phytonutrients”. “Phyto” is the Greek word for “plant”, so essentially phytonutrients are nutrients in plants that assist their survival and thwart off threats like bugs, fungi, germs, etc. As science continues to reveal, if a nutrient is beneficial to the survival of a form of life, there’s a good chance that it’s beneficial for another form of life (considering that we’re all made out of the same organic chemicals).
Some examples of phytonutrients are resverotrol, flavanoids, glucosinolates, carotenoids, phytoestrogens, and Ellagic acid. Phytonutrients seem to be amazingly effective at fighting cancer, fighting free radicals in the body that destroy tissues, and many can even be converted into vitamins and other nutrients in the body. Scientists have been studying these phytonutrients heavily and are finding that they are beneficial for a long list of diseases and conditions that humans often contract. Many scientists are also toying with curing disease with large amounts of the nutrients, since they’re only currently available to us in small amounts in the food that we eat.
As we said, achieving true nutrition is a concept of packing your body full of as many healthy nutrients as possible. So, why wouldn’t we try to get as many of these phytonutrients as possible? Well, it may be kind of difficult to get every single one of them, as there are over 25,000 forms that have already been discovered, but the good news is that most common fruits and vegetables come with a huge assortment of them.
Buy REAL produce for true nutrition
It’s becoming more and more evident that people that buy real produce (from local farmers) tend to have higher amounts of several healthy compounds that contribute to true nutrition. Over the past decade, produce from local/organic farmers versus big box store produce (usually coming from “power farms”) has been heavily debated and studied by scientist and nutritionists. Power farms are typically corporate suppliers that harvest huge amounts of food in certain pieces of land. They are equipped with very efficient tools to harvest crops and also use pesticides to thwart off insect threats and other chemicals to help yield high amounts of quality produce. However, many scientists have hypothesized that the soil that the produce is grown on eventually becomes depleted in nutrients due to plant consumption of these nutrients. This repeated consumption of nutrients by plants may lead to lower levels of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients in the soil.
In addition to soil nutrient depletion, many scientists have also argued that the pesticides and other chemicals used by power farms may be excessive and possibly toxic to humans. There have even been claims that some of the “harmless” chemicals aiding in maximum produce yields may build up in certain individuals bodies and eventually become harmful versus harmless. However, most of these claims were not backed up by any scientific evidence until recent years. Now, many scientific communities are discovering methods of testing not only the nutrient concentration in certain crops, but also discovering methods to test how many nutrients our bodies actually absorb after eating certain foods.
One of these very important studies backing real produce nutrition content, published by the The British Journal of Nutrition, proves that organically grown produce from local farmers contains significantly higher amounts of antioxidants, phenolic compounds, flavones, flavanones, flavoids, carotenoids, xanthophylis, and healthy carbohydrates – all which greatly contribute to total nutrition.
Don’t Forget Raw Foods for True Nutrition
You may have heard of the “Raw Diet” before because the concept of this diet has existed since the 1800s and has been pretty popular in recent years in the United States and other parts of the world. The diet suggests that people should consume at least 75% of all food intake in its raw form. Most forms of the raw diet also suggest only eating 100% natural, organic, non-processed, and non-genetically modified foods. The reason that many believe in this type of diet is because cooking food denatures enzymes and other true nutrients in the food and may denature many of the enzymes that are also available.
Indeed, cooking food does kill off some of the vitamins in the food (especially water-soluble vitamins), and cooking foods may change the form of some important enzymes in the food. However, I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it’s important to eat 75% raw food. I believe that the 20-40% range may be more appropriate considering that the majority of people often consume plenty of the essential vitamins and produce many of the enzymes (that are denatured by the cooking process) inside their bodies. The reason that I would only recommend eating around 30% vs 75% is because studies have shown that eating almost entirely raw does not help contribute to true nutrition and can sometimes even result in negative effects. Bacteria could be a large contributing factor of these negative effects because cooking food kills nearly all of the harmful bacteria that are found on common foods that we eat.
Add Black Pepper Extract for a True Nutrition Boost
You wouldn’t think that black pepper would have much of an effect on true nutrition at all (besides possibly making foods that we don’t particularly care for taste better). However, black pepper extract has shown to increase absorption of many different nutrients, and can also increase bioavailability of a wide variety of herbal supplements (ex: curcumin). What’s also impressive is that only about 5mg of black pepper extract is needed to achieve this huge boost in true nutrition.
Black pepper extract’s patented form goes by the name “Bioperine”. Black pepper is a form of Piperine which doesn’t have a significant impact on the body alone, but black pepper extract has the ability to inhibit many enzymes that target certain molecules. By inhibiting the enzymes from breaking down these molecules (like herbal supplement or produce nutrients), the body has a much higher supply that can be absorbed.
A Detailed Diet Plan is Essential for True Nutrition
Nobody said that obtaining true nutrition was going to be easy. In addition to adapting your taste for healthy foods, feeling hungry, and possibly spending a little more than you normally would while grocery shopping, you’re going to have to do quite a bit of planning. This step should occur after educating yourself about nutritional content in different foods and how those nutrients interact with each other and your body. The steps that I take to achieve true nutrition diet planning are:
- Educate yourself about the most beneficial vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that contribute to true nutrition
- Determine what you need or lack in achieving true nutrition – The easiest way to determine this is to get blood work done by your physician or a nutritionist
- Determine your goals for achieving true nutrition – Your physician or nutritionist knows best!
- Find your favorite ingredients – Find ingredients that are easy to eat and help you achieve your true nutrition goals
- Determine the right amount of each ingredient needed to achieve your true nutrition goals
- Coordinate shopping and meal schedule to ensure that food does not spoil
- Stick to the plan!