Welcome to episode 437 of The Whole View! This week, Stacy and Sarah look into a nutrivore diet and how focusing on nutrient density can help your health and what being nutrivore looks like. They dive into which nutrients have the highest rates of deficiency and what health impacts those deficiencies can have overall.
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The Whole View, Episode 437: Intro to Nutrivore
Welcome back to episode 437 of the Whole View. (0:27)
Stacy welcomes new listeners and takes a quick moment to introduce herself.
Stacy had a 20-year career in Federal Regulation and Law. She jokes about how she tries not to talk about it because it’s such a boring topic.
Discovering how what she put in and her body affected her health was a life-changing experience for her.
Now she works as her own boss. Stacy leads a large team (mostly women) focused on getting safer, non-toxic products into consumers’ hands. She also does weekly podcasts with her co-host, Dr. Sarah Ballantyne.
Sarah also introduces herself to any new listeners. She has a medical research background and a Ph.D. in Medical Biophysics.
Sarah also had a similar translational type experience as Stacy. While navigating her academic research career and struggling with over a dozen different health conditions, Sarah discovered just how much the food we eat impacts the way our bodies work.
Looking at her lifestyle choices and their impact on her life opened a new pathway for her.
Now Sarah is an author, blogger, health educator, and thinks of herself as a “science translator.”
Her goal is to dig deep into the literature and act as a bridge to the academic research community she used to bring that information to everyday people who can benefit from it.
The Mission Of Nutrivore
Stacy tells listeners that one of the best things they’ve done to help bridge that gap looks at the specific nutrients within different forms of food and how they affect our bodies.
She adds that they’ve gotten so deep in the weeds, they want to look more big picture as to what being a “nutrivore” means from a whole health perspective.
Stacy also hopes that doing this will provide more context for the science of past and future shows.
Sarah tells the audience that she and Stacy have been throwing the word “nutrivore” around a lot lately.
She thinks that it would be helpful to ground ourselves in understanding what the ultimate goal is. That means getting away from diet jargon.
Sarah also shares that this is a fantastic episode to share with friends and family overwhelmed with diets.
There are so many “fad diets” approaches out there that can be next to impossible to separate out what is an influencer making commissions off of selling a supplement line versus something rooted in science that may be misinterpreted.
Sarah and Stacy try to stay as close to science as they possibly can. They use science to guide recommended health principles.
The vast majority of scientific studies tell us that focusing on a nutrient-rich fuel source, as well as other lifestyle factors, are the things that support health.
Diets vs. Health and Wellness
Stacy shares a huge mental shift of focusing on the outcome being health helped her navigate. (6:18)
“Diet” is a word used to sell you a weight loss product that actually depletes your body of nutrients. Or it could be referring to how you eat.
And so, instead of using a term used that way, it’s easier for Stacy to think of nutrient-density as a way to achieve the ultimate goal: health.
Stacy tells listeners that the justification for all the things we do are all around this idea of health and wellness.
As so, as confusing as that is, one of the things that people get askew is the idea of nutrients.
She attributes this to macro and micronutrients. And they are entirely different.
Stacy suggests they start with the very basics and go over what they mean by “nutrient.”
She also reminds listeners that the goal of every one of these shows is never to cause shame or guilt, whether for past choices or future ones.
Stacy adds one is perfect, and no one ever will be perfect. But we can make choices if we know what health looks like, and the more choices we make toward that goal, the better off we’ll be.
What Are Nutrients?
Sarah dives into what the different nutrients are. (8:53)
She explains that Macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates, and fats, and they amount to energy. So what they do is supply our body with the energy required for chemical reactions to occur.
Micronutrients are amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, and vitamin-like compounds, minerals, and phytonutrients.
These are the building blocks for cellular structures and resources needed for all those chemical reactions to happen.
Sarah explains that they’re called “macro” and “micro” due to the amount of each that we need to consume.
So we need larger amounts of energy to drive all these chemical reactions. And then we need smaller amounts of building blocks and resources.
Sarah explains that our body breaks it down into individual amino acids when we digest a protein before it’s absorbed. The protein itself is a macronutrient, while the amino acid is a micronutrient. However, the body needs both equally.
Without either nutrient, our cells stop being able to do the things they need to do their jobs.
Sarah believes it would be helpful to talk about a few examples of a biological system. And how it uses nutrients to sustain itself or drive its function in some way.
When you understand that we use these nutrients are up in chemical reactions, it becomes a lot easier to see why we need to replenish them by consuming those nutrients constantly.
Essential and Nonessential
Stacy shares how it’s been helpful for her to think about things in terms of essential and nonessential things.
Sarah agrees, saying that the classification of essential and nonessential nutrients is very interesting.
Anything labeled essential has two things in common:
- We know that our bodies can’t make it at all or anywhere near enough of what we need, so we need to get it from outside sources
- There is an identified disease that occurs from deficiency of that nutrient
Vitamin C and Iron are both classified as essential because Scurvy or Anemia comes from insufficient quantities.
With nonessential nutrients, we can make them ourselves in a dire situation, or there’s never been a deficiency-disease identified from not getting enough.
Fiber would be an example of a nonessential nutrient.
Sarah explains that this is a misnomer because we do actually need both to function properly.
She adds that with nonessential, it means that you won’t die without them. And that it’s very different from saying you’ll be healthy without them.
What It All Means
Stacy shares how mind-blowing it is to think about how her body and make something automatically when it needs to.
Sarah talks a little bit about Vitamin A and how some people are genetically unable to make their own. And how this relates to how we need to think about consuming active forms of vitamins that we can get from food.
Stacy agrees, sharing how we much rather get the nutrients her body needs from food, and not supplements, whenever she can.
Sarah also takes a minute to emphasize there is a lot of science showing that nutrients in a multivitamin are very poorly absorbed.
They tend to go straight through you, and part of that has to do without the nutrients are put into the tablet or capsules.
Sarah explains the steps folic acid goes through as an example and what can impact our ability to absorb it into our bodies.
She also reiterates that it’s best to get as much as we can from our food because it’s so much easier for us to get the nutrients we can use from there.
How Are Nutrients Used in Our Body?
Sarah wants to use this next example mostly just to show how complex these processes are. (23:22)
There are about twelve biological systems, and they are things like the muscular and skeletal systems.
Central Nervous System
She will be talking about the central nervous system in this example.
She also explains that the central nervous system controls much more than just your brain, but also your heart, lungs, etc.
Biologically speaking, without your brain controlling your central nervous system, your body can’t do anything. It turns out brains are really necessary for health!
For example, B-vitamins are used by the mitochondria in our cells in the chemical reactions (together called the Kreb’s cycle or citric acid cycle) to make the cellular energy molecule (called ATP) from sugars and fat we eat, as well as glycogen at fat we store.
The nervous system (brain, spinal cord and nerves) needs:
- Vitamin B1: neurotransmitter production
- Vitamin B6: neurotransmitter production
- Choline: neurotransmitter production
- Vitamin B12: myelin sheath
- Copper: myelin sheath
- B vitamins in general: ATP production / mitochondrial function
- Vitamin D: gene expression, biorhythms
- Calcium: nerve impulses
- Potassium: nerve impulses
- Sulfur: cell regeneration, oxygen use
- Omega-3 Fats: nerve signaling and cellular health, maintains blood-brain barrier
- Tryptophan: serotonin, melatonin
- Phenylalanine: dopamine
- Glutamate, glutamic acid: GABA
- Polyphenols: promote neuronal signaling, increase production of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents
Our brains are very unique because it has this special barrier. Not everything in the blood can get into the brain, which’s different from other tissues.
This barrier protects the brain from pathogens and toxins that might be in the blood, and without sufficient Omega-3 fats, we can’t maintain that barrier’s integrity.
Sarah adds that this is a very generalized list of nutrients the central nervous system needs to function.
Check out this study for more information on how dietary factors influence the central nervous system!
The Immune System
She adds that she often talks about the immune system as a “nutrient hog” because it’s the most greedy system in terms of nutrients it requires to function optimally.
When it’s not working properly, it tends to turn on inflammation and not be able to turn it off.
This is often called “systemic inflammation” and contributes to every chronic illness, such as autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease, asthma, diabetes, kidney disease, etc.
Sarah sums up that an immune system that cannot regulate itself is a very bad thing.
The immune system needs:
- Vitamin A: immune regulator, differentiation
- Vitamin D: immune regulator, Treg cells
- Vitamin E: antioxidant
- Vitamin K2: antioxidant
- Vitamin B12: cell production, methylation
- Vitamin C: antioxidant
- Zinc: T-cell development and activation, cytokines
- Selenium: antioxidant, cell function and activation
- Iodine: phagocyte health
- Iron: antioxidant enzymes
- Magnesium: thymus gland
- Copper: cytokine production, cell proliferation
- Flavonoids: antioxidants
- Omega 3 fats: phagocytes
It turns out that nutrient insufficiencies (which is different from deficiencies because we’re getting some, just not enough) pretty dramatically impact how the immune system is functioning.
Sarah says that specifically Vitamins A and D are really important for immune regulation, which reigns in the system, so you don’t get that system-wide inflammation.
Our immune system also identifies cells that may be up to some cancer-like shenanigans and kill them off before becoming cancerous.
So part of the process of cancer development is the immune system failing to identify those cells.
Deficiency vs. Insufficiency
Sarah explains that just between these two systems, nearly every essential and nonessential nutrient is represented. (33:55)
Stacy takes a moment say how interesting she finds insufficiencies versus deficiencies.
She adds that due to the high levels of deficiencies there are, the levels of insufficiencies much be way higher.
Sarah defines insufficiencies as not consuming the recommended daily allowance of a specific nutrient.
The “recommended” numbers are set based on a body of scientific literature for which 97.5% of the population will not show a deficiency.
Sarah also explains that that recommended number should be seen as a minimus and not a goal. And there’s still a percentage of the population that that won’t be enough for.
She defines a deficiency as, if doctors measured it in your blood, you wouldn’t have the amount considered in the normal range, or you have some sort of symptom associated with not having enough of that nutrient.
Sarah explains that deficiency in a single nutrient can impact the function of multiple biological systems.
If a biological system is missing a nutrient required for optimal function, the body can not be optimally healthy.
In fact, nutrient deficiencies are linked to every chronic illness!
How Prevalent are Nutrient Deficiencies?
Stacy asks about how prevalent nutrient deficiencies are. (39:10)
Sarah explains that one of the main ways deficiencies are studied is through food journals. Scientists have people send in their meals, and they study them that way.
The following chart includes food and supplements like multivitamins:
Sarah repeats how each of the nutrients is important to every system of the body. They all use them.
And when you’re deficient in something, a system that needs it to function isn’t functioning to its highest capacity.
Sarah adds that when you take supplements out of the equation, these numbers get even worse:
For example, the immune system not operating at full capacity can’t heal a cut, fight off an illness, or even turn itself off as best as it should.
Sarah also includes examples from the liver and brain not functioning optimally.
She also explains that our genetics play a big role in how susceptible we are to nutritional deficiencies.
And it’s not always predictable how long our bodies can go “running on fumes.”
Top 10 Nutrients We’re Deficient In
Stacy asks about which nutrients are the most common for deficiencies and where we might find a solution. (43:54)
Sarah says that an estimated 90% of Americans are deficient in at least 1 essential nutrient!
She also explains there are ten nutrients out there that over half of us are said to be deficient in.
Sarah tells the audience that roughly 56% of us are diffident in Vitamin A and recaps how Vitamin A is very often found in animal food sources.
Vitamin A is important for our bones, eyes, immune health, maintenance and normal regeneration of all our barriers (like the gut and blood-brain barriers), and more.
Sarah drops that the top food source for gaining Vitamin A is the liver and pauses for dramatic effect.
Stacy adds that organ meat is a high-optimized source for almost all of the deficiencies on this list.
But before Sarah gets too deep into that, Stacy reminds listeners not to worry- you can take a pull for that.
Stacy also wants listeners to understand that she and Sarah go so deep into where you can find all of these things in foods because taking a multivitamin isn’t always as readily absorbed or as high in quality as something you can get from a food source.
Stacy shares that she’s not actively putting organ meat on her family’s table, and so for her, the best way to get it is in supplement form.
She adds that it is not an extraction; it is a whole food that is dehydrated and powdered.
Sarah lists red meat, organ meat, pork, poultry, fish, and shellfish are all good sources of Vitamin A.
Vegetable sources must be converted into an active form, which is very inefficient (as low as 3%).
How It Effects Us
Stacy adds it takes a few years for these deficiencies to catch up with us, and we won’t notice how being deficient is affecting us right away.
She recognizes that not everyone eats meat, and that’s okay. Fish and eggs also get you very far if you’re able to prioritize them.
Stacy shares that in her youth, being a vegetarian did affect her health negatively long-term because she wasn’t eating the correct kinds of foods to supplement what she wasn’t getting from animal sources.
Sarah explains that approximately 54% of us are deficient in Vitamin B6. (51:02)
Vitamin B6 is essential for cellular energy, metabolism of amino acids and lipids, required for gluconeogenesis, synthesis of neurotransmitters, and hemoglobin, supporting the methylation cycle.
Sarah takes a minute to explain to listeners how the methylation cycle works for turning proteins on and off.
Peppers, onion family, pistachios, liver, fish, meat (poultry and red meat), sunflower seeds, garlic, and dark leafy greens are all great sources of Vitamin B6.
Stacy asks about other forms of B Vitamins and if they’re found in similar food sources.
Sarah answers that it’s a good general rule.
Sarah tells the audience that 75% of us are deficient in this B Vitamin.
She explains that it’s essential to metabolize nucleic acids and amino acids, cell division, and production of red blood cells, supporting the methylation cycle.
Food sources for B9 are organ meat, green veggies, leafy greens, legumes, beets, asparagus, avocados, papayas, strawberries, and seaweed.
75% of us are deficient in Vitamin D.
Stacy tells viewers that the best source of vitamin D is from the sun!
Sarah adds that where this vitamin comes from is due to our cholesterol’s response to that UV radiation.
Stacy and Sarah went further into detail in Episode 354!
This nutrient controls the expression of over 200 genes.
Vitamin D is critical for the function of mineral metabolism, bone mineralization and growth, biosynthesis of neurotrophic factors, hormone regulation, cell survival and division, circadian rhythms, barrier tissue health, and immune system health.
Sarah tells the audience that it’s very important to get their vitamin D levels tested. And if they’re low, look at supplementation.
The dose sufficient to bring you up to the level you need to be at varies wildly from person to person. And that is controlled by how your body regulates vitamin D and your environmental factors.
Too Much Is A Thing?
Sarah also explains that it’s very hard to get enough from food on its own if you’re already deficient.
She also adds that there’s a happy medium range and such a thing as too much Vitamin D.
She does say it’s usually cured by supplements and very hard to do with just food alone.
Top food sources include fish, grass-fed dairy, oysters, pastured eggs, grass-fed meat, pasture-raised meat, shrimp, other shellfish, mushroom (D2), and tofu (D2).
Stacy loves the idea of animals living a happy life outside in the sun and that the best animal products for our health come full circle.
Sarah says this goes as far as plants grown in depleted soil as well. So how our food is raised is very important to our health as well.
She also reminds listeners that eating snout to tail means nothing is going to waste.
Sarah explains that around 60% of people are deficient in Vitamin E.
She adds that it functions as an antioxidant throughout the body, which is quite important for immune function.
It’s also very important for anti-aging of cells.
Top food sources for Vitamin E are nuts, seeds, leafy greens, avocado, olives, organ meat, shellfish, unrefined plant oil, fatty fish, and winter squash.
Sarah also explains that high-fat plant products are the best producers of this vitamin.
Approximately 65% of us are deficient in calcium.
Both calcium and magnesium are electrolytes.
Sarah explains that calcium is a large component of bones and teeth, is a cofactor for many enzymes, cell signaling (metabolism, cell division, gene expression), blood clotting, neurotransmitter release and nerve conductance, and muscle contraction.
Sarah explains what being a cofactor is and how it works.
Top food sources for calcium are grass-fed dairy, tofu, sesame seeds, chives, chia seeds, radishes, seaweed, beef, dark leafy greens, and sardines.
Stacy points out that there’s more than just dairy on the list.
Sarah agrees and points out how the body more easily absorbs the calcium in dark leafy greens than the calcium in dairy.
In fact, studies on dairy are pretty mixed in terms of osteoporosis.
Stacy adds that stress is big for depleting calcium.
Around 68% of people are magnesium deficient.
Sarah and Stacy covered magnesium in detail in Episode 409!
Sarah explains that three hundred different enzymes use magnesium. It’s also key for ATP synthesis, DNA and RNA synthesis, a constituent of bones and teeth, neuromuscular contractions, production of testosterone and progesterone, metabolism of phosphorus, calcium, potassium, sodium, B vitamins, and vitamins C and E, cofactor in methylation, and the immune system.
Top food sources for magnesium are seaweed, dark leafy greens, chives, pumpkin seeds, fish, soy, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, other nuts and seeds, and avocados.
Sarah tells listeners that the “superstar” foods for this nutrient are leafy greens.
She also explains that it’s one of the harder nutrients to get adequate amounts of from food sources alone.
Sarah explains why she loves food journals from the point of view of piecing together the puzzle of what we’re getting, what we need, and where we need to get it from.
Which is exactly the idea behind nutrivore!
Around 73% of people are zinc deficient.
Sarah tells the audience that zinc is everywhere and kind of a do-it-all nutrient.
Sarah explains the diverse functions of zinc include the activity of approximately three hundred different enzymes, DNA and RNA transcription, regulates apoptosis, absorption and activity of B vitamins, muscle contraction, connective tissue formation, insulin production, and testosterone, a component of vitamin D receptor, and immune system.
Stacy says that without looking, she can name the number one source of zinc: oysters! If they are in season and on the menu, she orders them.
Sarah claims that you will have met your zinc quota for the week if you eat oysters once a week.
Sarah adds liver, crab, wild game (red meat), loser, farmed red meat, clams, organ meat, mushrooms, and seaweed are all great food sources for zinc.
She reiterates that so many of us are deficient and so much of our body relies on zinc, that there’s never been a better reason to try organ meat and shellfish.
DHA & EPA
Around 70% of people are DHA & EPA deficient. These are also known as Omega fats.
Sarah tells listeners DHA & EPA are used by the body for anti-inflammatory, immune health, vascular health, neural/brain health, vision health, fetal development, supports healthy microbiome, and cellular health in general.
Fish, shellfish, grass-fed meat, organ meat, grass-fed dairy, and seaweed are great food sources for DHA and EPA.
Sarah adds that nuts and seeds can be very high in ALA (especially flax, chia, walnuts), which can be converted into DHA and EPA. Although this is usually inefficiently done- again 3%.
Stacy says you can never talk about fiber enough. In fact, if she’s eating carbohydrates, she wants to be eating fiber as well.
Sarah says about 90% of us are deficient in fiber!
Sarah explains we need fiber because it feeds the gut microbiome, helps eliminate toxins, helps regulate hormones, regulates gut motility, fermentation produces SCFA, and promotes better sleep.
Plus, it helps you poop!
Sarah explains what happens in our intensities if we don’t have enough fiber to bind our waste eliminated by the body.
Some stuff we want to get rid of can actually be reabsorbed into the body if we don’t have enough fiber to aid in getting rid of.
Fruits, veggies, mushrooms, and legumes are all great food sources of fiber.
Sarah also reminds listeners that we want diversity in our fibers for the sake of our gut microbiome.
Nutrivore: Frequent Flyer Nutrient-Dense Foods
Sarah and Stacy have done several different shows on the importance of vegetables and vegetable diversity for any listeners interested in checking them out. (1:19:15)
Stacy also recaps a previous show about needing 30 different types of fruits and veggies a week. And how it is not as scary as it sounds.
Sarah shares that certain foods, like liver and other organ meat, vegetables, and seafood, come up repeatedly as the best sources of these nutrients.
Stacy shares how mushrooms and seaweed were on several lists and found that very interesting.
Sarah explains the term “nutrient density” refers to micronutrients’ concentration (mainly vitamins and minerals) per calorie of food.
She also knows that organ meat is a “big ask” for people. There is a big market out there for encapsulating these foods, so don’t run away!
Sarah also explains that nutrient-dense foods supply a wide range of vitamins and minerals relative to the calories they contain.
Low nutrient density foods supply lots of energy without much in the way of additional nutrition.
Sarah tells listeners that a nutrivorous, or nutrient-sufficient, diet is practically achieved by consuming more nutrient-dense foods, in ratios that provide synergistic quantities of every nutrient.
A nutrient-sufficient diet must focus on the most nutrient-dense foods available:
- Offal (how to eat nose to tail EP 347)
- Seafood (fish, shellfish, sea vegetables) (seafood safety concerns EP 366)
- Vegetables (8+ servings daily!!!!)
- (most recent is 30 a week, EP 424)
- 373, 335, 304, 286, 152, plus a ton more, talk about different aspects of high veggie consumption, why, what counts, and what that looks like
- Edible fungi (EP 392, 307)
- Fruit (3-5 servings per day) (Case for more carbs, 305)
Other nutrient-dense foods:
- High-quality meat and dairy (Ep 317 Budget vs Quality)
- Healthy fats (EVOO EP 326) (Best fats for gut health EP 414)
- Nuts and seeds (EP 413)
- Herbs and spices
- Fermented foods (EP 155)
- Properly-prepared legumes
Sarah tells the audience that she recognizes that we are all human and that change is hard.
She wants to be sure to permit listeners not to have to go “all-in” immediately if that’s not the best way for you to make a long-lasting, positive change in your life.
Sarah also reminds listeners to aim for 30 different fruits and veggies a week!
Nutrivore: The Whole Diet
Stacy loves the idea of taking this all into account when looking at a nutrivore diet.
This is because the focus is on eating what we need to feel like our best selves.
A nutrivorous diet is one in which the goal is to fully meet the body’s physiologic needs for both essential and nonessential nutrients from the foods we eat.
This is also called a nutrient-sufficient diet.
Stacy tells listeners that a nutrivore diet is about the overall quality of the whole diet. And not about a list of yes-foods and no-foods.
Stacy shared that, as a person with many food intolerances, she learned the hard way that if you continue to eat a food your body is intolerant to, you’re keeping your body from absorbing more of everything else.
That means you then need to consume more of everything because your body still hasn’t absorbed everything it needs to function because something like gluten or nightshades are gumming up the works.
Be Nice To Yourself
Sarah explains that though eliminating empty calorie foods helps to achieve nutrient sufficiency, no food is strictly forbidden. There are no “yes” food and “no” foods.
You can “buy” yourself wiggle room with your favorite “junk foods” by eating more nutrient-dense superfoods.
Also, food sensitivities and other dietary priorities can be layered on top of this approach.
Sarah suggests thinking of nutrivore as a diet modifier: you can do nutrivore Mediterranean, nutrivore vegetarian, nutrivore Paleo, etc.
Don’t Be Afraid Of Going Nutrivore!
Stacy shares that her body had been able to handle more stress in life because her body is less involved with dealing with inflammatory foods. (1:37:14)
Sarah shares that this might be a great time to emphasize that it only takes a few weeks for our taste buds to adapt to big shifts in our diets.
Studies looking at taste adaptation to one of a low-sugar, low-salt, or low-fat diet have shown that participants develop a preference for the healthier foods they’ve been eating over a few weeks.
This is attributable to our taste buds becoming more sensitive.
Sarah explains that familiarity and flavor association with positive experiences is another key driver of food preference.
Studies show that with repeated exposure to foods that we innately dislike, we can lose our aversions to those foods and actually develop a preference for them.
In fact, we can learn to like new flavors after trying them as few as four or five times.
What does this mean? If you aren’t enjoying the new healthy foods you’re adding to your diet, don’t give up.
The more of these healthy foods you eat, the more you’ll enjoy them!
Final Thoughts on Nutrivore
Stacy shares that her favorite thing she used to tell her kids is your tongue sheds tastebuds like a snake sheds its skin.
And you just have to wait until the next round to see if you like whatever it is then.
Stacy also said it’s not so much as figuring out to like a certain food but finding a way to prepare.
She invites listeners to stay open-minded, ready, and willing to get there.
Thanks so much for listening!