I consider myself on a lifelong journey to optimal health. My interest in health and wellness was instilled upon me at a young age, probably around 1992, when my mom became interested in health food. There wasn't a health food store near us, so she started up her own co-op through Frontier, and at one point probably had around fifty or so members. To this day, I remember climbing into the freezing cold truck and locating each item and crossing it off the list as the driver unloaded and our members helped to carry the boxes inside. Looking back, I admire my mom just taking charge and never settling. No healthy food sources nearby? Start your own co-op!
Anyway, I've been interested in health and wellness for a long time, but I really learned quite a bit from my poor gut health after longterm antibiotic use for Lyme disease (which consequentially lead me to write my book Namaslay). I learned all about gut health and how to optimize it when it's in a damaged state from the book The GAPS Diet. Through my own personal journey and in talking with many people (including Carley from Fairy Gutmother), the trend seems to be that once the gut is healed, hormones need to be addressed. There are a number of ways to naturally balance hormones, and I went the route of tracking macros. That helped me tremendously. Within three months I was seeing improvement, and within nine months, I was feeling like everything was pretty much evened out.
And then I turned my focus to micronutrients, for no other reason than I just wanted to learn more about nutrition. For Christmas, I received the book The Micronutrient Miracle. I was initially turned off by the subtitle (A 28-day plan to lose weight, increase your energy and reverse disease), because any kind of quick-fix weight-loss tout makes me feel like the people behind it are preying on insecurities, but once I opened the book, I discovered a wealth of information. Here are five vital nutritional lessons I learned about micronutrients:
1. While macronutrients are important (fats, proteins, carbohydrates), micronutrients are equally (if not more) important.
- Micronutrient deficiency can cause a wide range of health issues and disease including: restless sleep, frequent headaches, low energy, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, unexpected weight gain or stubborn weight loss, autoimmune issues, digestive issues, hormonal changes, extreme PMS, memory loss, brain fog, mild depression.
- Too many people get blinded by "hitting their macros" that they fill their diet with empty calories simply because "it fits the macros," but they do themselves a huge disservice because their food is not nutritious.
2. Micronutrients in foods are affected by heat, air, light and processing
- Why is this a big deal? Well, it means that every mile our food is exposed to the hot temperatures of a shipping truck or cargo plane, or the fluorescent lights in a storage warehouse, it is losing micronutrients we need for optimal health. Also, farmers often pick their crops prematurely, before they have fully ripened and before the food's overall optimal micronutrient level has been reached. They do this so that during the time it takes to ship the food to your local grocery store, the food won't rot. That's why we see green bananas in the store, for the example.
- While it's pretty easy to identify heavily processed foods (ie, if it comes in a box, bag or bottle, there's a good chance it is processed), other foods are being processed in ways that may not be so obvious. Conventional milk, for example, has usually been pasteurized, or worse - ultra-pasteurized. Pasteurization is a heat process that "cleans" the milk, extends shelf life, and also kills gut-friendly bacteria and reduces many important micronutrients. For example, unpasteurized, natural, raw milk contains:
- up to 60% more vitamin B1 (thiamine), and B6 than pasteurized milk
- up to 100% more B12
- up to 30% more B9 (folate)
- increased amounts of calcium and phosphorus
3. Sugar is the enemy (surprise, surprise)
- Not that we needed another reason to get away from sugar, but sugar actually depletes your body of calcium, magnesium, chromium, and copper. One of the things I really loved about this book is that it tells you why these minerals are important. Like, ok, sugar depletes my body of chromium...ok...well, why should I care? What the heck is chromium anyway? The book has a whole chart explaining this. Here's chromium's explanation:
- What it does: Assists insulin function, increases fertility, it's required for carb/fat metabolism, essential for fetal growth and development, helps lower elevated serum cholesterol and triglycerides
- Symptoms and Problems: Metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, decreased fertility, diabetes, obesity, hypoglycemia, cold hands, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, cold sweats, need for frequent meals.
4. Plastics are everywhere, and they're a huge problem for our health
- 93% of Americans have detectable levels of BPA in their bodies, and 75% of Americans have phthalates in their urine, according to the book. Apparently what we eat, along with what we touch, can contribute to this. Here are some random things that contain BPA: toilet paper, reusable drink containers, cell phones, eyeglass lenses, plastic water bottles, thermal paper used for cash register receipts. Phthalates can be found in food packaging, plastic wraps, pesticides, many children's toys, PVC pipes, air fresheners, laundry products, personal care products and medical supplies. Why is this all a big deal? Well both BPA and phthalates affects calcium absorption. Calcium deficiency leads to: osteoporosis, osteomalacia, osteoarthritis, rickets, muscle pain or cramps, tooth decay, colon cancer risk, high blood pressure, PMS, sugar and salt cravings, bone pain, numbness or tingling in extremities, insomnia.
5. Everyday "good for you" foods are not actually that good for you (unless you properly prepare them).
- There's this really useful chart in the book that discusses everyday foods and drinks that are actually doing more harm than good. For example, high oxalate foods like spinach, Swiss chard and beets can actually deplete you from calcium, iron and magnesium unless you cook them first. So that raw spinach you throw into your smoothie every morning? Stop! Same with beans, seeds and nuts. These are a high lectin food group, and unless they are soaked, sprouted, fermented or cooked, they deplete all micronutrients. The biggest takeaway for me was realizing why I was so unhealthy as a vegan/vegetarian way back in the day. In case you're new around here, I followed a vegan/vegetarian diet for about thirteen years on and off and by the end of that time, my hair was falling out, my nails were brittle, I was bloated all the time, and I was extremely, painfully thin. In looking back, I thought I was being so healthy by getting my protein through beans (which I did not soak overnight and wash multiple times to reduce the lectin, so they were really just draining my body of micronutrients). I thought i was being so healthy with my morning spinach smoothie, but really it was a high oxalate food that was depleting me of calcium, iron and magnesium. This book is such an eye opener, and I'd recommend it especially if you are someone who is following a vegan or vegetarian diet and not feeling 100%.
Overall, I highly recommend The Micronutrient Miracle if you're interested in making small changes to improve your overall health. While I didn't do the 28-day plan, just because my goal was not to lose weight, but rather just to learn and make better choice for myself, I think it's an excellent resource.
I'd love to hear your thoughts down in the comments section below. Have you read this book? Any others that you would recommend as I continue to learn more about nutrition?