As a nutrition professional, I cannot stress enough how important it is to eat a whole foods-based diet. A diet based on whole foods is nutrient dense and has a more natural balance between macro and micronutrients. This balance, which as you probably already know, is essential in helping you live a long and healthy life and for ensuring all the body process are carried out efficiently. What you may not know, is how to ensure the bioavailability of these nutrients in your body. After all, what good is eating if it is not doing anything for your body. After you read this, start thinking about your diet and how you can make more of your food choices whole foods.
First, let me break down the term bioavailability. It is the ability for the food you eat to be
broken down and used by your body for a multitude of processes such as protein synthesis, fat metabolism, making and regulating our neurotransmitters, and hormone synthesis. These
processes are just a few examples of the hundreds of processes happening all the time that help keep you healthy, looking, and feeling good. One of the key factors in bioavailability is whether the vitamin is soluble in fat or water. Fat-soluble vitamins, known as A, D, E, and K, need fat to be properly absorbed. For example, a diet low in fat can lead to the malabsorption of fat soluble vitamins, and in spite of someone’s outward appearance, can cause serious malnutrition. To make this point short and sweet, we need fat to make cholesterol, and cholesterol to deliver all our hormones to the cells in our bodies. Without the proper hormone balance in the body, people can suffer from all types of hormone deficiencies that tell the body to hold on to excess fat and fluid and to improperly regulate glucose, which can lead to obesity and a whole list of other diseases. Another example, a client I recently worked with presented with extreme night blindness and had for many years. Well, after probing into his diet, I found out he was so afraid to consume fat for fear of gaining weight. You remember the old myth that fat makes you fat?
Even though he was lean, had that stuck in his head. When I told him that one of the signs of
vitamin A deficiency, which he was consuming in good amounts, is night blindness, he began to add healthy fats back into his diet. Months later, he told me that he can now see at night while driving. The water-soluble vitamins on the other hand are not dependent on fat consumption for proper absorption, but many require other parts of the food source such as phytonutrients and fiber to be fully absorbed and regulated. We get these phytonutrients and fiber when we consume the whole food. For example, drinking fresh squeezed juice may feel like you are doing something good for your body but in fact you are simply spiking your glucose levels. When we juice our fruits and veggies, we are leaving behind all the parts of the plant that are crucial to our bodies. The water-soluble vitamins have hundreds of responsibilities in the body as well, but their biggest role would be as coenzymes. Think about micronutrients as being gas in the gas tank.
So, let us go back to the beginning of this article when I told you how important a whole foods- based diet is. What are whole foods? Whole foods are those that are as close to their natural form as possible and free from artificial ingredients and additives. Without getting political, the Standard American Diet (SAD) has left us confused about macro nutrients and depleted of micronutrients. The solution to these nutrient deficiencies was to fortify certain staple foods with certain synthetic nutrients or strip the fat from others. We just talked about how important fat in the diet is. Unregulated supplement companies jumped on board too and have become a multibillion-dollar industry. The problem is when we consume foods or supplements that contain these synthetic micronutrients, such as the ingredients in many processed and fortified foods, the human body loses the ability to fully absorb the nutrients either because of the size of the synthetic molecule or simply because the body does not recognize it. In a few cases, like vitamin D, the fortified version does work in our bodies. Processed foods diminish the bioavailability of nutrients by stripping the components of the food in part, or in whole, of their original nutrient content only then to be replaced by its synthetic form. Seems like such a massive effort when the manufacturer could have just left it alone to begin with. And we as consumers pay for this. Talk about a waste of money. Crazy!
So, remember, eating as close to a whole foods-based diet as possible will go a long way in
keeping you whole, healthy, and well. Some ways to ensure you are getting the right balance are to choose products as close to their natural form as possible. And do not be afraid of fat. A good way to get healthy fats is by choosing full fat dairy, or by not trimming all the fat off meats. Also, by adding avocados, nuts, and olive oil to your diet are healthy ways, too. When choosing your vegetables, go for the fresh ones in the produce section and make sure to choose a variety of colors. If you love growing your own garden, all the better. So now that you have a bit more knowledge about the importance of macro and micronutrients and how they work in the body, make what you eat count.