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How to get enough of what your body needs

Vitamins and minerals are essential for our bodies to function optimally. Ben Warren explains how you can maximise your nutrient intake. 

By Ben Warren. Illustration by UNA Studios

When nutritionists talk about nutrition, we are talking about giving your body all the nutrients it needs to function optimally. In the Western world, it’s rare to see people starving from a lack of calories, but many of our bodies are still starving… starving for micronutrients, the vitamins and minerals used as co-factors in every aspect of our body’s metabolic processes. In the modern world we are overfed and undernourished – essentially getting too many calories and not enough minerals and vitamins.

Not many people realise it’s these minerals and vitamins that are the limiting factor in how their bodies operate. For example, your body uses B vitamins and magnesium in the production of energy. The more energy you use, the more of these nutrients you will require.  

You can’t go one step in any direction in the body without needing a vitamin or mineral co-factor. The ability to make serotonin, your feel-good happy hormone, is zinc dependent; so without adequate zinc you are unable to make enough serotonin and this is when depression can ensue. 

When it comes to what we eat, we want as many nutrient-dense foods as possible, as these have the most nutrition (vitamins and minerals) per calorie. 

Here are my top five tips for maximising the minerals and vitamins you are getting from your food: 

Leafy greens
I’m a huge fan of people eating leafy greens three times a day. These are foods like kale, silverbeet, spinach, watercress and mesclun salad greens. Leafy greens hold the prestigious position of being the most nutrient-dense plant foods on the planet. Remember, nutrient-dense means having the most nutrition per calorie.

When it comes to what we eat, we want as many nutrient-dense foods as possible, as these have the most nutrition (vitamins and minerals) per calorie. 

Fresh is best
The more quickly you can get fruit off a tree or  vegetables out of the ground and into your body, the better. The water-soluble vitamins (B vitamins and vitamin C) will get lost over time and unfortunately most of the food we are eating is old. To maximise nutrition, hunt out your local farmers’ market, or if you have space, plant a vegetable garden at home. Eating fresh, local and in-season is key to maximising the water-soluble vitamins.

Whole grains
The Paleo food movement means many people are avoiding grains. However, whole gluten-free grains like buckwheat, quinoa, millet and brown rice are a fantastic source of micronutrients, provided they are eaten in their ‘whole’ form and not processed into a flour of some kind.

Liver
If all you wanted from your food was micronutrients, then opt for liver. It’s the storehouse of fat soluble vitamins for the animal (vitamins A, E, D and K) and many B vitamins are stored there in a very stable animal active form too. If you’re new to offal, start with chicken liver paté, then work up to liver, onions and bacon on mashed kumara and don’t forget to add some leafy greens!

Brazils, seaweeds, sardines
When you start trying to get all your minimum micronutrient requirements from your diet, then these are the three foods to feature heavily in your diet: Brazil nuts and seaweed for the selenium and iodine respectively (both of which are deficient in New Zealand’s soil), then sardines or other oily fish to supplement your vitamin D levels (on top of some safe sun exposure in summer).

Convenience food and agricultural practices make it very difficult today to get all the vitamins and minerals you need from your diet. Including the above foods each day will certainly help you maximise the micronutrients from your food, but I still recommend taking a high-quality multivitamin and mineral supplement to pick up any nutrients you may not be getting and to raise your levels to the optimal amount for health and performance.

Ben Warren is a nutrition and holistic health expert. For more visit bepure.co.nz

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