Why do we need to eat?
Because we’re hungry, connect with others, put an end to hangry feeling that has us about to say some nasty things to strangers, and to nourish our bodies. How often do we focus on the later? Lets journey down that rabbit hole for a minute, to create the essential template of what our bodies need, and how we can obtain it, and then perhaps we can use that perspective included in with the other reasons we eat.
As an aside and an acknowledgement, before we get delve into the biological, lets remind ourselves that we know that in addition to getting energy and building substrates, there are lots of other reasons that we eat too. Connection, culture, family, cost, mood and emotions, access, environmental, health, and more, but for the point of this discussion, we will focus here on out, on eating as a way to get the substances that we’re created from: Micronutrients.
2. Nutrients: The micros, and macros
From a purely physiological perspective, we need to eat to get two things.
1) Energy in the form of calories. These are from the Macronutrients of which there are only 3:
and, with a much less commonly burned, contribution from Protein.
2) Building substrates, the micronutrients that we’re literally composed of. These come in four kinds:
Essential Fatty Acids,
Essential Amino Acids.
We derive a certain amount of micronutrition from our mothers before we’re born, and a bit from the air we breathe and water we drink, but most, throughout our life are obtained from our food.
3. Vital Ways Food as Medicine Curriculum
Before we get more deeply into food itself, let’s bring to our awareness the reality that food is powerful. Discussing it, and even thinking about it evokes strong reactions, and inspires deep emotions. In our society, and in our media, too often the strong feelings that food evokes clouds the understanding of how food influences health. In the world of internet based research, there are biased and unfounded but authoritative sounding opinions being passed off as hard facts. And since most people aren’t trained in how to investigate these opinions, (you will be trained to do this in this course though), we as a nation are stuck in an extremely confused nutritional place. Our nutritional confusion is one of the 4 or 5 primary reasons that we have so many health conditions worsening, increasing in number and even emerging.
2) Vital Ways Food as Medicine Curriculum, and Nutritional Misinformation
Our Food As Medicine (FAM) curriculum, (as well as the rest of the curriculum for that matter), is derived from an intensive effort to be as accurate, effective, experience-based, practical, applicable, and evidence driven as possible. As practitioners and researchers we base all that we teach on an integration of traditional sources and modern science verified by our experience.
In our FAM curriculum, we will teach you how to go far beyond the overly simplistic ‘one diet is best’ discussions such as everyone should be Paleo, Keto, Veg, Vegan, Macrobiotic, Blood Type etc. In health discussions today, each time a universal broad brushstroke generalizations, without adequate specificity of the details is used, there are almost always substantial inaccuracies.
So, we don’t too often discuss the dogma driven arguments of one broad diet over another that dominates the pop culture’s level of nutritional discussion. People can follow any broad way of eating and do so in a very health promotional way by choosing the foods that are health-promoting. And on the flipside, any way of eating can be very health-diminishing, again, based on what the person is eating. So, remembering that understanding health-promoting food is based on a slightly more nuanced and developed discussion or else, why would even have any nutritional schools or programs at all. We would just say be Vegan, be Keto, be Paleo etc., but in reality, we need to discuss what is eaten, regardless of a persons broad perspective.
4. The Vital Equation and Nutrient Density
A very useful tool that was created by Vital Ways, and used by our students and graduates very successfully when discussing nutrition with their loved ones and clients is the Vital Equation. You’ll learn this and use it throughout this course.
It has nutrient density built into it, but adds other features as well. We’ll discuss this later in the program.
Here is the part of the Vital Equation that we’ll discuss for now.
Nutrient Density= Micronutrients/Carbohydrate
Density just means how tightly packed something is. The more dense with micronutrients something is, means the more micronutrients that there is confined to a certain space. In many instances density is described as units per volume, meaning how much of one thing per amount of space. Consider lettuce. Most people think its a health choice of food-Hello 1970s information filtering down to today! You’d literally need to eat a 5 gallon bucket’s full of organic lettuce to obtain the same nutrients as a bowlful of nutrient dense greens such as kale, sea veggies, or cabbage.
Back to density: instead of considering volume or space as important to consider, with micronutrient density, we consider micronutrients per carb calorie. We look at how many (micro) nutrients we are getting divided by the number of carbohydrate calories. The best scenario for our health and nourishment is a lot of micronutrients, and just enough carb/fat calories to match our needs. In an optimized nutrient dense way of eating, we like to have the right amount of energy to fuel us and a high level of micronutrients to use as building substrates.
How do we use this idea to help us heal? That’s our goal at Vital Ways. It allows us to do what we want most, from how we feel in the moment to moment experience, to how we accomplish our goals and dreams to how we show up for those we love.
Oh, and did you know that.
Human need for nutrition is increasing
Did you know that? Due to increasing illness levels, and toxicity, both of which consume extra nutrients, and impede digestion/absorption, we feel it is now more necessary than ever to understand where these nutrients are and how we can take full advantage of our few meal times per day to get them.
Obviously, the more nutrient dense something is, all other things being equal, the more health-promoting it is.
Of course, there is more to consider than just nutrient density when determining how health-promoting a food is, but this concept is the first and fundamental step in evaluating the first question:
The first questions when considering if something is health promoting or not is:
Should we even consider eating the thing?
Does it have a lot of what our bodies need?
*This is only the partial Vital Equation. It does not address the other things that may be in the foods, that are health diminishing, such as food antigens or other nasties, such as pesticides, FODMAPS etc., so this is not a complete equation at this stage. You can get the whole equation which is an amazingly useful tool, in our Health Coach, and Holistic Herbalist Certificate Programs.
We keep referencing (micro) nutrients but not really saying what they are, so here is a brief overview of the micronutrients.
Are the elements, those essential bits of stardust that form our universe and also form our bodies. You may remember them from a science class and the Periodic Table of Elements that we’ve all seen at one time or another. See below for some of the minerals in the human body. There are many more in our bodies, and we’ll discuss the key ones throughout the course.
These are organic molecules constructed of elements, that cannot be made in the body at all, or not in sufficient amounts but are essential for life. So, even though we may eat the elements that compose the vitamins, our bodies can’t construct them. We need to eat them already made. There are roughly 14ish, the water soluble 8 Bs and C, and the Fat Soluble ADE and 2Ks .
Essential Fatty Acids:
Fatty acids are the long chains of carbon and hydrogen that make up fats, along with glycerol. Our bodies can make some that we need, but not 2 Omega 3s and one Omega 6. For some reason, fats are very confusing to people and are by far the most commonly overlooked and misunderstood of the group of micronutrients.
Essential Amino Acids:
The building blocks of protein. There are 21 common Amino Acids to all life forms. 9 are essential to humans, meaning we cannot make them. 6 others are conditionally essential, meaning that we need them, and can make a bit, but many factors including stress, illness and certain genetic predispositions can impair our ability to create them so they too may need to be eaten.
6) Nutrient Dense Foods and the Surprise Non-nutrient Dense Foods
Now that we know what nutrients are, and how we can consider them, how can we go about ensuring that we’re getting them? Well, we can enter all of our food into a program like cronometer.com, and that can give us a ballpark idea of what we’re getting. In most instances, that will be enough to give us a pretty good measure of what we’re getting and not. You can open a free or paid account at their site and enter the food under consideration to determine its nutrient levels.
An even easier way to ensure adequate nutrients if health is our goal, is to target nutrient dense foods, and prioritize them, over non-nutrient dense foods at every meal.
There are some obviously nutrient dense foods that we’re all pretty familiar with, and then there are some that are overlooked, and then there are some, that people may consider to be nutrient dense, but when examined aren’t at all. The short list below gives you a sense of what some of these foods are:
6a) Nutrient Dense Foods in no particular order
Veggies and the Few Fruits that are Nutrient Dense (meaning not all fruits are: More sugar=less nutrients)
Kale, Broccoli, Cabbage and pretty much all the Cabbage Family-Brassicas
Dark Berries: Blue, Huckle, Rasp, Black, Red, Straw
Sea Vegetables: Seaweed
Red Bell Peppers
Alliums: Garlic, Onions, Ramps
Seeds and Nuts generally score medium to high
*Fruits with high sugar are not, due to high sugar content, able to have as many nutrients as there simply isn’t enough space. So when you total the nutrients, and divide by the sugar, you realize that most fruits are not nutrient dense even though they are conflated with veggies as being something health-promoting by the mainstream. Veggies, which are often lower in sugar and carbohydrates, are more nutrient dense and really shouldn’t be considered in the same sentence; ”Eat your Fruits and Veggies”. For health, it would be better phrased as ‘Eat your nutrient dense foods, which are most veggies and a few kinds of fruits.’
Nutrient Dense Herbs:
*must be eaten to get the full nutritional medicine. Long decoctions can also provide many of the nutrients but destroy some vitamins.
Small fish such as sardines, anchovies, sprats and related.
Shellfish, particularly bivalves (clams and related) from non-polluted areas.
Grass Fed Meats (and especially their organs)
Eggs, especially the yolks
*To reiterate: Don’t forget, in this conversation, we’re only talking about nutrient density, there are many other reasons to avoid or consider avoiding foods, and dairy, above is a great example of a nutrient dense food, that can be health-diminishing
6b. Foods that are not nutrient dense but some people think are
Grains: Whole or Otherwise. Repeat a lie often enough, and it will seem like truth. Look it up in cronometer if you doubt. Whole grains are not health promoting foods as first off, they are not nutrient dense, and they are full of inflammatory and nutrient blocking compounds that we cover in class.
Oats: including the sugar bomb granola, and worse yet oatmeal with honey.
Bulgar, Rye etc.
Lentils and most beans
Lettuce Based Salads (how many people if asked would say that a lettuce based salad is nutritious?)
Sugary Fruit like bananas!, and mangoes and oranges.
7) Final Thoughts
When you consider just nutrient density, its easy to see that there are many nutritional myths and falsities that already quickly become clear for what they are. In the process of becoming a holistic herbal healer, a qualified transformative health coach, and a positive influencer in this universe, well-versed with actionable steps in helping others heal with food as medicine, you’ll learn far more than what is healthy and unhealthy to eat -You’ll learn why and with this, you’ll help others be empowered.
We’ll be discussing far more than nutrient density in this course but as we mentioned above, this is the essential starting point.
Later we’ll discuss what each nutrient does generally, how common or uncommon each one is in our food, and how it might appear if one or more are lacking. In addition, we’ll talk about nutrient availability and nutrient degradation. And we’ll talk about the broad ways of eating and discuss what each way of eating may require to be the most health promoting. And then, especially in year 2 we talk about all the things in food that people may react to, such as lectins, FODMAPs, thiols, oxalates and much more. Along the way we’ll talk about food myths, and how you can share your evolving food knowledge with others in a non-threatening supportive, holistic transformative way. At Vital Ways you’ll learn how to incorporate Food As Medicine effectively and
8. Key points
All Ways of Eating, AKA Diets, can be health-promoting, or health diminishing depending on whats specifically eaten, and not simply a large sweeping
Food myths pervade food conversations in the public’s mind. You will know much more than the average person about health and nutrition by digging just a tad deeper.
Nutrient Density is the amount of micronutrients in food.
Micronutrients are things that we need to eat because we can’t create them in our bodies to the amount we need.
Focusing on obtaining as many nutrients as we can, can be a very good starting place when investigating creating a meal
Food myths fall quickly when carefully considered, but since food is so powerfully emotional, it can take time for others to accept even obviously data driven, well-accepted truths such as that of nutrient density.