Updated: Feb 11, 2019
Digestible Bites on The Science of Nutrition in the Body
You don’t need to be entrenched in the health and wellness sphere to have been exposed to the concepts of skinny fat or being obese and malnourished. These conditions are symptoms of an extreme deficiency in our society and it is not just in nutrients but education. Most of us are not doing better because we do not know better. Many have had a basic biology class, chemistry class and even a health class at some point in our educational career, however if your education was like mine there was no class that drew it all together and made it relevant to the choices I would be making about my nutrition and health. Government led nutritional education gave us the four food groups, the food pyramid and most recently My Plate. These simplistic guidelines offer very little concrete information on exactly what your body needs to function and why. Much of the focus in the health and wellness industry is consumed by debates about macronutrients and the best weight loss measures with only a taste of all the other nutrients the body needs to function optimally. Here’s what you need to know, when we give our body what it needs to function optimally, health and weight loss naturally occur. Further it is my guess that if you really knew what your body needed to function and why versus what certain foods have to offer, different or hard choices would just make sense. This would be a lot of information for one post, so I want to start with just a brief overview of what science says your body needs to perform all its regular functions. We’ll delve into the nitty gritty of what your body is doing with all these nutrients and where to get them in future posts. So, let’s get to making some sense.
Good old H2O. If there was a category above Macro we could just name it water. It is estimated that the human body is 60-70% water. Water is essential to life and nearly every process of the body. It is likely that the body could live for three weeks or more without any sustenance aside from water which it can only survive without for 2-7 days.
As defined by Merriam-Webster a macronutrient is a chemical element or substance (such as potassium or protein) that is essential in relatively large amounts to the growth and health of a living organism. As you know for humans these are carbohydrate, fat (lipids), and protein. They are found in varying proportions in all types of food and all three are necessary for growth, development, repair, daily functioning, and energy. Many would debate me on the word necessary, however from a functional perspective this term is accurate as is demonstrated by the fact that absent consumption, the body will convert protein to glucose or glucose to fat, etc. depending on what it needs. All three have their specific functions or rolls in the body which I will delve into deeper in future post including an exploration into how they compare as sources of energy in “Fuel for Thought”.
A micronutrient is a chemical element or substance that is essential in minute amounts to the growth and health of a living organism. There are several classes of micronutrients including vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, antioxidants and polyphenols. Although some micronutrients can be manufactured by the human body the majority are defined as essential meaning they must be consumed. Micronutrients are best obtained naturally or through food as there is an evolved synergy where nutrients are working together and supporting each other for absorption and use in the body. Additionally, whole foods will contain substances which are considered beneficial for optimal health but not necessary.
Vitamins are any group of organic compounds required in small quantities that are essential for growth and function and cannot be created by the body. Vitamins are either fat soluble, meaning they must bind to a fat molecule to pass through the cell membrane or water soluble, they are able to pass directly into the cell. Fat soluble vitamins can be stored in the fat cells of the body and therefore you can overdose. Water soluble vitamins cannot be stored but can be recycled while the excess is excreted. It is generally agreed upon that humans need 13 vitamins. It is interesting to note that not all organisms require the same vitamins. Vitamin C for example can be synthesized by many other animals.
Fat Soluble Vitamins
Vitamin A • Vitamin D • Vitamin E • Vitamin K
Vitamin C • Vitamin B1 • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) • Vitamin B3 (niacin)
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) • Vitamin B7 (biotin)
Vitamin B9 (folate) • Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
Minerals are whole elements required to support life which are obtained from the soil. Minerals typically enter the body bound to proteins in food. There are 16 essential minerals used by the body some are required in very small quantities and are referred to as trace minerals. I will talk more about the importance of not just obtaining minerals but maintaining balance in “Mining for Health – The Dig on Minerals”
Calcium • Potassium • Sodium • Magnesium • Phosphorous • Chloride • Sulfur
Iron • Iodine • Manganese • Chromium • Fluoride • Copper • Selenium • Molybdenum
Amino Acids are organic compounds that contain at least one amino group NH2 and one carboxyl group COOH and are the building blocks of proteins. Ingested proteins are broken down through digestion into amino acids and then reassembled via RNA/DNA to form the proteins necessary for specific functions. The body does not store amino acids, but the liver can “conserve” some. Humans have 20 amino acids coded for synthesis. Nine of these are considered essential as we must get them from food while the remaining eleven can be constructed from the nine. Amino acids supplements have grown in popularity over the last few years and I’ll tap into why in the upcoming post “Amino Acids the Body’s Coding Language Decoded”
Histidine • Isoleucine • Leucine • Lysine • Methionine • Phenylalanine • Threonine Tryptophan • Valine
Alanine • Arginine • Asparagine • Aspartate • Cysteine • Glutamate • Glutamine • Glycine Proline • Serine • Tyrosine
Fatty Acids are comprised of a carboxylic acid with a long chain of hydrocarbons and are typically divided into four groups; monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated and trans. All cell membranes are made of fat and cholesterol. As with the other micro nutrients there are both essential and non-essential fatty acids however, little nutritional focus is given past the Omega 3 and Omega 6 families as the body is efficient at synthesizing fats. Although there is only one of each Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acid deemed essential it is generally agreed that obtaining there derivative through diet is extremely beneficial to the body, so I have listed them here.
Linoleic Acid (Omega 6) → Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA) and Arachidonic Acid (AA)
Alpha-Linolenic Acid (Omega 3) → Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and
Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)
Anti-Oxidants and Polyphenols although extremely beneficial are not essential for basic functioning. Many of the most potent anti-oxidants are vitamins such as Vitamin C. And if you are obtaining your micronutrients primarily from food you should be consuming ample polyphenols. I will delve into the benefits of these compounds in an upcoming post “Isn’t Beneficial Essential?”
So How Much?
Knowing what you need is half the battle the next obvious question is how much? This is where it gets tricky and there is much debate. Nutrition labels typically site the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA). The RDA is based on the rock bottom requirement of a nutrient to avoid a disease of deficiency such as rickets (Vit D deficiency) or Scurvy (Vit C deficiency). Hardly a sound guideline if you are going for optimal health or performance.
The Reference Range for laboratory tests which measure nutrients in the body is also sited as a good indicator. However, this range is based on 2 standard deviations (the plus or minus factor) of what the average result was for a given population who was administered the test. A couple of things to note: 1) populations across the world have different reference ranges and 2) this is based on the average population who are not necessarily “healthy” or functioning optimally. Many people who do not show a particular nutrient deficiency via lab work are functioning sub-optimally in areas driven by that nutrient.
Now add in the fact that we were all given a different genetic code and choose to live our lives in a myriad of ways and you have quite the conundrum. How many times have you tried that magic supplement or gone on the carrot only diet to achieve some result only to end up feeling even more broken? Its because you are not average, standard, or normal and you have unique needs.
The RDA and the Reference Range if you have had testing can be great jumping off points if you are looking to optimize your health and performance. But gaining an understanding of the basic functions all nutrients play in your body and then comparing that to your feeling, function and performance can help you determine where you may need to shore things up. So, do a little more research on your own or stay tuned as we explore the science of nutrition in the body. This is about claiming your authority and reclaiming your AWEsome.