When it comes to our diets, the devil is in the details. We can be on top of our macronutrient (carb, fat, protein) ratios and calorie intake but still not be where we should be to achieve optimal health. How can this be? The biggest reason is that we don’t just need calories; we also need nutrients — namely vitamins and minerals — antioxidants, and other phytonutrients. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of Americans are obese, which implies that we have no shortage of calorie-dense food available. However, calories alone may not be responsible for our nation’s problems. Most of our diets lack a variety of nutrient-dense foods.
What Are Vitamins and Minerals…and Are They Really That Important?
The term “vitamin” (or as one of my professors called it. “witamin”) comes from the words “vital” and “amine,” because they were originally thought to be amines (nitrogen-based compounds) necessary for life. In truth, vitamins are required for life. A human deficient in vitamins will experience physical symptoms and eventually disease. You may have heard of rickets, scurvy, night blindness, and even neuropathy that can result from severe vitamin deficiency. Our bodies can make 4 of the 13 vitamins necessary for optimal health, thus the remaining 9 need to come from our diet. We also need adequate amounts of nutrients that support the production of the four vitamins our bodies make.
Although severe micronutrient deficiency is uncommon in the U.S., we still see don’t meet general vitamin and mineral requirements.
“According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 93% of the US population do not meet the estimated average requirement (EAR) for vitamin E, 56% for magnesium, 44% for vitamin A, 31% for vitamin C, 14% for vitamin B6, and 12% for zinc. Many Americans are exceeding energy (caloric) requirements but not meeting micronutrient recommendations, presumably due to excessive consumption of energy-rich, nutrient-poor foods. Data from NHANES found that energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods comprise 27% of daily caloric intake in the American diet, and alcohol constituted an additional 4% of daily caloric intake.” (1)
The best thing a person who wants to reach an optimal level of health can do is to consume more nutrient-dense foods. Nutrient dense foods give our bodies the most nutrients for the fewest amount of calories.