Many people I meet outside of the clinic think their diet is OK – not perfect (especially at the weekend!) – but just about OK. And they’d be right – especially if it’s not full of fried food, junk food, sweets or pastries; and take-aways or ready-made meals are at a minimum. However, Western diets are often severely lacking in micronutrients – vitamins, minerals and essential fats – so vital in combating stress, fatigue and boosting our metabolism, enabling us to feel physically ready to embrace the day.
Micronutrients – Spark Plugs of the Body
Vitamins, minerals and essential fats are what I call the ‘spark plugs’ of the body. Keeping with the car analogy, protein, carbohydrates and non essential saturated, and monosaturated fats are the fuel – but the car (our body) often fails to really “start up” without those additional spark plugs in the mix. Magnesium for example is needed for over 300 enzymes (chemical reactions) in the body, and it’s the same for Vitamin C. B vitamins are essential to our energy production; zinc for immunity, reproduction, skin, digestion; selenium, a trace mineral, essential for detoxification; copper for our nervous system; Vitamin D for calcium metabolism, immune health and to help with depression.
How many of us exceed the recommended 5-a-day? Recent UK statistics state that on average Brits struggle to reach 3 a day. Brightly coloured vegetables (including white and green) are some of the best sources of minerals, vitamins and phytonutrients. Latest nutritional research has shown the importance of phytonutrients in our diet. These phytochemicals that protect plants (flavonoids, carotenoids, axtaxanthin etc) have huge health benefits for us too, protecting both our immune and digestive systems. Beta-carotene, for instance, is not only a potent antioxidant but also converts to Vitamin A in the body. There is some truth to the old wive’s tale that carrots make you see in the dark – being rich in beta-carotene, they are one of the highest sources of Vitamin A which our body needs for vision. A simple rule of thumb to ensure you get your five-a-day fix is to have vegetables as half your plate, twice a day.
Although we are unlikely to be deficient in Omega 6 fast found in vegetables oils, it’s Omega 3 which is often low. Foggy head, poor memory, cracked heals, PMS and inflamed skin can all be signs of low Omega 3. This essential fat is a potent anti-inflammatory, essential for healthy brain function, cell wall structures, healthy blood vessels and hormone function to name a few of it’s roles.
Stress and Anti-nutrients
Not only do we need to make sure that we have enough of these spark plugs, we have to be aware of what depletes our body even further of these essential microminerals. The big ones are stress, caffeine, sugar and alcohol. Both sugar and alcohol are classed as anti-nutrients – not only do they both include zero nutrients aside from glucose, precious micronutrients are used up to metabolise them –zinc for example, is needed to help get alcohol out of the body.
Stress is so omnipresent in our Western world. It’s interesting to note that the term stress was only ever used as an engineering terms up until the 1950s – two world wars and no talk of stress! Our body hasn’t changed in 60,000 years so our survival mechanism ‘fight or flight’ still dominates all systems when we are stressed.
Unfortunately the body can’t tell if you are getting stressed sitting at your desk or needing to run away from a wild animal – the results are the same! Every time we have one of these stressful events the body utilises Vitamin C and B vits (which is why low energy is also often present, as these nutrients are essential for energy production). Vitamins C isn’t stored very well by the body so it is essential to get enough in our diet on a daily basis. Caffeine too can also create more internal stress exacerbating this situation. Unfortunately it’s often hard to change your external stress but you can help minimise the internal stress to better help deal with whatever life flings at us!
7 easy ways to boost your micronutrients:
- Micronutrient hit breakfast – a green smoothie (avocado, celery, cucumber, blueberries, lemon juice, spinach is a particular favourite of mine) for breakfast and add in our Alchemy Morning Elixir (a 10g servings gives you 100% UK RDA Vitamin C, 19% iron and 18% folic acid, along with gentle fibre and 3.8g of protein)
- Nuts, seeds, trail mix as a snack. Nuts and seeds are a great source of minerals needed for detoxification, especially brazil nuts for selenium.
- Have half your plate as veg 2x a day – vegetables are such an amazing source of minerals AND vitamins. Steamed or have raw to minimize losses of water soluble vitamins.
- Boost your B vitamins to help support energy production – chicken, eggs, wholegrains such as oats, fish, vegetables and eggs.
- Brain food omega 3 fats – oily fish at least 2x per week (sardines, trout, salmon, mackerel), linseed oil is a great vegan source to have with salad dressing, or in capsules, not to be heated.
- Remember if you are vegetarian or vegan, then you need to make sure you are taking enough vegan iron in your diet – greens, brown rice, eggs, pulses.
- Magnesium is often low in our diets and is SO important for energy production (twitchy legs, poor sleep or PMS cramping can be a sign of low levels). Food sources: dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, chard), pumpkin seeds, almonds, dark chocolate. Epsom Bath Salts are also good in a bath before bed as they promote sleep (magnesium is one of nature’s tranquilisers).