Amy Young BANT Registered Nutritionist at Alyve Wellness
Let’s change the conversation, for too long food has been focused on deprivation, weight-loss and ‘dieting’. Food is about nourishment, culture and enjoyment. The word diet is actually nothing to do with losing weight, but simply the sum of food consumed by an individual.
A lot of modern diets lead to many of us not consuming enough nutrients. Often the focus is on quantity of macros - fats, carbohydrates and proteins, and yes, they are important but micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are equally fundamental for our nourishment
It’s true, your body needs less micronutrients than macronutrients (hence the name), but they are no less important for our health as they are vital for our biological functions. We must obtain micronutrients from our diet since for the most part, our bodies cannot produce them internally. Vitamins are organic compounds made by plants and animals, minerals are inorganic and exist in soil or water. When we eat we consume the vitamins that plants and animals have created or the minerals that they have absorbed. For example, nuts are often a good source of selenium, which is a power-full antioxidant, however the content within the nut depends on how selenium-rich the soil source was. Where your food comes from, and how it was grown or reared, is therefore very important for its nutrient content.
Vitamins and minerals also support the many biological functions of hormones and neurotransmitters that control our mood, metabolism, sleep and many other functions. Vitamin B12 for instance acts as a co-factor for our happy hormone serotonin showing how B12 deficiency can affect mood, emotions and even sleep. Vitamin B12 is not present in many plant based foods but naturally found in animal products, including fish, meat, poultry, eggs and milk. Vegans can source B12 from tempeh, algae and seaweed, mushrooms, nutritional yeast and fortified foods. Supplementation is often recommended for vegans and vegetarians however seek professional advice if you are unsure of your personal circumstances.
There are 13 essential vitamins and about 20 essential minerals that are needed for optimum wellbeing, here are some tips to ensure you get the array of vitamins and minerals that you need in your diet and just some of the reasons why.
1. Add Variety Into Your Diet
The best way to obtain the micronutrients that you need to flourish is to eat a balanced and varied diet. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is one of the best and maybe the simplest things we can do to enhance our health. Aim for five portions of vegetables a day and one portion fruit. A portion is roughly weighed at 80 grams.
Variety not only helps us hit our nutritional needs, it is essential for the health of our gut microbiome. A recent study on the gut microbiota found that individuals who ate 30 different plant-based foods a week had more diverse populations of microbes living in their intestine. Diversity acts as a protective feature that helps the gut prepare for antibiotic use, stress or infection. If we restrict our diet or the variety of foods that we eat, we reduce the diversity of our gut microbiomes. Conversely, if we eat the wrong foods (refined sugars, processed foods) we can increase the populations of bad bacteria in our gut.
So, if you are prone to cooking the same food each week try to change up what’s on your list. Look up a simple recipe, with a vegetable you don’t normally buy and get creative. If you have got stuck with a particular fruit each day, try something new. Maybe you are used to having the same breakfast? Even if you have a healthy option of porridge you can still change the toppings and include things like nut butter, different fruit and a variety of nuts and seeds.
2. Mix Up Your Grains
Often we can get stuck in a cycle of bread, potatoes and rice, but don’t forget about the lesser popular grains such as couscous, quinoa and buckwheat.
Whole grains are an important source of B vitamins and other minerals that are fundamental for energy production. They are also good sources of fibre which is vital for digestive health. Carbohydrates can be somewhat demonised in ‘diet culture’, but the knock on effect is low fibre in the diet culminating in digestive issues. A simple tip to get more vitamins and minerals in your diet, is to swap white rice for brown rice as it has superior nutritional benefits. As well as more fibre, brown rice contains manganese, a mineral that helps us break down carbohydrates into energy. It is also a slow releasing carbohydrate so it can help to stabilise blood sugar levels which is important for energy balance.
3. Eat Local and Seasonally
As most fruits and vegetables are being grown somewhere in the world at any one time, eating seasonally more specifically can also mean eating produce that’s being grown locally. Whilst this is sometimes easier said than done, in the spirit of adding variety in the diet, you sometimes need to step out of this boundary, but it is certainly something to improve upon.
Vegetables in season tend to be more nutritionally dense, fresher and even tastier. If you can source a local farm shop or veg delivery box it is a great way to support the local economy and reduce your carbon footprint as well as upping your veg intake. In veg boxes you often get lesser known vegetables which will help you to think outside the box a little with your cooking.
If you are a meat eater, knowing where your meat comes from and how it is reared is equally important. A study by the British Journal of Nutrition showed that grass-fed beef is leaner and contains more of the healthy omega 3 fats than its counterparts and provides more in the way of vitamins and minerals such as beta-carotene and vitamin E.
So let us no longer fixate on restriction in our diets and add some variety and extra nourishment into your life. If you do feel you need an extra boost of nutrition at Alyve Wellness we provide our customers with personalised vitamin formulas according to their unique requirements and health goals – please visit our website for more information here.
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