In my last post I discussed how, I believe, exercise and micronutrient intake was vital to my successful weight loss. Today, I want to begin a series of posts to talk about the micronutrient side of the equation, and my long-term intention is to explain why you should focus on these rather than macronutrients, and how to do it. Please be aware that this is still only a hypothesis that seems to make sense to me. So I want to explore this idea, and see if it holds water. However, I believe that focusing on micronutrient intake is an often under-looked, briefly mentioned, yet colossally important requirement for any weight loss programme. I make this bold statement based off one simple observation – I never feel hungry when I meet my micronutrient intake for the day, and I feel more energized and motivated. This may sound like a ridiculous way to start a theory, but I know of someone else who made a simple observation when an apple fell out of a tree, and so big ideas have to start from somewhere.
Today I want to question the importance of macronutrients, and perhaps ask why we shouldn’t be putting our focus on micronutrients instead. Micronutrients often get completely overlooked in weight loss discussions, getting no more than a brief mention on how important it is that you should take them, before moving on to whether it should be carbohydrates or fat that we should be eliminating from our diet. They really are the smaller brother to macronutrients…the David to our Goliath. Yet, many micronutrients are not able to be produced in our body, and are essential for survival and well-being, and is this the case for macronutrients? Carbohydrates, for example, are deemed quintessential to life, and yet the body can reduce its dependence on them by burning ketone bodies – a fat. The body is so efficient at this it can drop the amount of glucose needed by the brain from 120g a day to 30g a day simply by using its ketone bodies as fuel. However, of that 30g of glucose, 20g can be produced in the liver from glycerol, which is itself a product of fat breakdown. Thus, there is very little argument to be made that our body needs a lot of carbohydrates to survive. This is further confirmed by the poster child of low carbers, the Inuit, who obtained 20% of calories from carbohydrate, mostly from the glycogen in the muscle of their kill, and 50% of energy from fat.
Many low carb proponents argue that this evidence is the nail in the coffin for carbohydrates and that a high-fat diet is the way to go. Yet healthy cultures in the past have existed successfully on low fat/high carb diets. The North American Pima, for example, obtained 70-80% of calorie intake from carbohydrates with a measly 10-12% from fat. It was only when they left this diet, and introduced a lower carbohydrate westernised diet that diabetes became rampant in their population. Another example, are the Kitavans from Papua New Guinea whom obtain 70% of their calorie intake from carbohydrates, and 20% from fat. Furthermore, the longest lived people in the world today from the Island of Okinawa (near Japan) obtain 85% of their energy intake from carbohydrates, and 6% from fat. Clearly, macronutrient intake is not the determining factor of living a long and healthy life. All these groups consumed a much higher proportion of carbohydrates than we do by today’s standards, and yet showed little incidence of the diseases we face in our modern society. Thus, a high fat/low carb diet, and a high carb/low fat diet can both produce healthy individuals.
So what is the similarity between these groups? The answer again lies with the people of Okinawa who ate 300% more green/yellow vegetables than their Japanese counterparts, and less rice. This indicates that a large proportion of their diet was a variety of vegetables, which would be loaded with micronutrients and free of processed chemicals. People eating a western diet, plagued with all its modern diseases, consume a large range of macronutrients right across the spectrum, and yet, one of the key differences is that 75% of these people take in less than the recommended daily allowance for vitamins and minerals. This would not be the case for any of the groups mentioned above. In my opinion, beyond the absolutely basic requirements, it seems that macronutrients could simply be considered as a vehicle to deliver the optimal amount of micronutrients to our bodies, and our bodies are highly adaptable and capable of making the necessary changes in macronutrient intake to do so. Our body can easily interchange between macronutrients, but it certainly cannot do this for vitamins and minerals, which are essential for life and non-negotiable. In fact, the very definition of a vitamin is a vital nutrient that cannot be synthesized in sufficient quantities by the organism and must be obtained from the diet. I believe, that the capability of humans, as omnivores, to adjust the macronutrient portion of our diet in order to maximise the intake of micronutrients is a key factor in our evolutionary success.
But what about the ecology of a westerner living in today’s society? How do we adjust our macronutrient intake to ensure our micronutrients are over the RDA? I will answer these questions in upcoming posts within this series along with the vital importance of minerals and vitamins in our diet, how the optimal dosage of these cannot be interchanged or swapped around like macronutrients, and I will highlight that obtaining micronutrients from food, and not from supplements, is far more important than concerning oneself with macronutrient intake. Please let me know what you think. I am no expert in this area and the more people that comment, and make suggestions, the more informative this blog will become.
I want to finish off this post with some questions. (1) name a healthy human population that does not also obtain a sufficient supply of micronutrients from their food supply? (2) name a healthy human population that does not eat a high carb or (3) high fat diet? It is much easier to come up with an example for the later questions, than it is for the former. I think this emphasises how we need to start paying more attention to our micronutrient intake, and aim for optimal nutrition.