Getting enough micronutrients is pretty difficult given the amount of pollution in the modern food supply. Many of the pesticides used in soil actually leach nutrients from the plants people end up consuming.
This is just one of the many reasons that people have issues with their endocrine and immune systems. In this article I am going to discuss the best way to include nutrient dense foods into your diet without overwhelming the digestive system.
This balance is key as maintaining proper endocrine function, while still getting an ample amount of pro-metabolic, pro immune micronutrients is one of the secrets to lasting health.
Big On Micronutrients
One school of nutrition that is really big on micronutrients is the nutritarian nutrition camp. This diet style was popularized by Joel Furhman in his book Eat to Live.
In this book Joel proposes a diet style that rests on the assumption that the nutrient density of food is waht makes a certain food healthy or not healthy.
In this case, Joel defines nutrient density as being the amount of nutrients present divided by the number of calories. Therefore the foods that have more vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals per calorie are the ones that are deemed to be the most nutritionally beneficial.
What is nice about this diet is that it provides readers with a clear picture of how to determine whether or not a food is beneficial or harmful. Joel gives the formula health equals nutrition over calories or H = N / C.
generally people who follow this nutritional style will be eating a large amount of things like raw greens based salads, cooked vegetables, fruits, beans, mushrooms, nuts and seeds.
While this all sounds like it could be nutritionally sound, those of you with experience with a large variety of diets can probably see the issue with this diet. This diet style could potentially be very demanding on the digestive system.
What Could Be Wrong With A Micronutrient Based Diet?
The main issue many people have noticed is that the diet style proposed by Joel Furhman leads many people to develop symptoms of a low metabolism. While this is a minor concern for many people who are morbidly obese and in need of a direct solution to their problem, it is a serious issue for people trying to attain optimal health.
The use of high water content, high fiber, nutrient dense foods, makes this diet style especially likely to aggravate or cause symptoms of a low metabolism.
While it is true that having high levels of micronutrients in the foods you consume might be beneficial, you need to weigh the costs of sacrificing foods that might have a more favorable impact on the metabolism.
For optimal long term health, it is best to blend an approach that gets as many easily digestible micronutrients as possible as part of an overall metabolically stimulating diet. Basically you want a diet that does a little bit of everything.
Before I talk about what this diet might look like, I want to get into the basis for the other side of the diet equation, the metabolically stimulating foods and dietary practices.
What Kind of Foods and Dietary Practices stimulate Metabolism?
Fortunately for anyone interested in this topic, there are a handful of people who have devoted their lives to solving this problem.
It’s interesting to note, that while the above mentioned Dr. Furhman believes his nutrient dense diet practice is the best preventative measure for disease, most people who look to food to speed up the metabolism feel the same.
Basically, the diet practitioners who believe that focusing on stimulating the metabolism to create a more ideal state of health also believe that this enhanced metabolism is the key to preventing disease.
The group of diet researchers who seem to be the most obsessed with enhancing metabolism are the who follow the work of Ray Peat PhD. Ray’s work can been seen copy pasted all over the internet. I will do my best here to copy paste only the most relevant details.
If you are new to his work I would suggest checking out The Ray Peat Forum.
As I mentioned above, the main premise behind his work is that nearly any type of disease is systematic and can be linked to a degradation in cellular respiration. According to Peat and his followers (peatarians) food should be used to keep metabolism high.
Placing a premium on maintaining a high metabolism causes many of his followers to value foods that are traditionally seen as unhealthy. Foods like sweetened milk, eggs, ice cream and soda are a few examples of foods that most people do not associate with health.
Peat followers believe foods that reduce stress and increase cellular respiration are the most health promoting. At this point, you are probably wondering what cellular respiration is.
“Cellular respiration is a set of metabolic reactions and processes that take place in the cells of organisms to convert biochemical energyfrom nutrients into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), and then release waste products. The reactions involved in respiration are catabolic reactions, which break large molecules into smaller ones, releasing energy in the process, as weak so-called “high-energy” bonds are replaced by stronger bonds in the products. Respiration is one of the key ways a cell releases chemical energy to fuel cellular activity.” – Wikipedia
Anything that can make energy turnover in the cell more efficient is seen as positive. This is one of the reasons that many foods that are thought of as negative are seen as beneficial by peat followers. Foods high in sugar and saturated fat are some of the most easily assimilated foods.
These types of easily digestible, calorie dense foods are also the ones that lead to the least breakdown or derangement in the cellular respiratory processes.
On a tactical level, some of the day to day foods that most followers of the Ray Peat inspired style of diet eat include the following:
- Orange Juice
- Tropical Fruits
- Animal Proteins
- Vegetables, cooked or separated so the micronutrient containing broth can be eaten without the large fiber load
- Assorted fruit Juice
- Coconut Oil
- Tubers (Limited)
One aspect of the above list that stands out to most people is the high amount of dietary sugar present in a Ray Peat inspired diet. One of the reasons for this is that Ray Peat along with his many followers believe sugar is the primary “anti-stress” nutrient.
They believe that adequate amounts of sugar in the diet are the best preventative measure against long term stress, premature aging and disease. They emphasize easily digesting fats (saturated) as well as easily digestible proteins (Collagen, Gelatin ect…).
One of the reasons for Rays’ insistence on saturated fat is that it is not degraded while being digested and metabolized. Luke over at Stress proof energy explains this aspect of the Ray Peat diet as follows.
“While Peat admits that vegetable and seed oils are particularly unhealthy because of their tendency to cause inflammation, he argues that PUFA are harmful regardless of source. Even more “natural” omega 3 sources like salmon, or the much loved fermented cod liver oil are problematic because oxidize, creating oxidative stress and advanced glycation. In fact it seems like spontaneous PUFA glycation is one of the single greatest sources of oxidative stress in the human body. In plain english: PUFA cause aging.”
This is why you will see followers of ray peat eating ralatively large amounts of eggs, cream, coconut oil, butter, milk, cottage cheese, cheese, and animal fat and eating a relatively small amount of nuts, seeds and vegetable oils. For most of the world this would be unhealthy. For Peat followers it is the only way to restore metabolic health.
Similarly strange practices are used for Peat Followers looking to add protein to their diet. The most common recommendation is to add Gelatin.
The reasoning behind this is that the modern american diet is relatively unbalanced in terms of the amino acids people eat. This has to do with the fact that people no longer eat all the different parts of animals, bones, teeth, connective tissue ect…. Instead we focus exclusively on the skin and muscle meats.
The problem with this is that the relatively unbalanced amino acid profile in a muscle meat heavy diet causes an inflammatory response in the body. The body perceives this as a stress, further exacerbating the chronic stress most people already suffer from.
A painless way to reduce the potential stress response from theses foods is to add in some gelatin when cooking meats or sauces that will be eaten with meats. Gelatin can also be used as an excellent thickener for nearly any types of sauce used with vegetables or starches as well.
Anyway, the common theme among the carbohydrates, fats and proteins used for the Peat style of dieting is that their chief aim is to increase metabolism and reduce stress.
Why Increase Metabolism, Won’t That Increase Free Radical Damage?
One of the main ideological issues that needs to be addressed when discussing “increased metabolism” is free radical damage. One of the byproducts of any type of cellular metabolism is free radicals. These “highly reactive” molecules can easily casue damage.
When one of these free radicals, atoms or molecules containing unpaired electrons, comes into contact with another atom or molecule it has the opportunity to pull one of the electrons from this atom or molecules outer shell. Under certain circumstances the atom or molecule that just had its electron stolen can then steel an electron from another atom.
This process can create a chain of events that ends in many atoms or molecules with unpaired electrons. Ultimately this can lead to the degradation of many of the bodies cells.
The traditional view of cellular metabolism would lead us to believe that this process will increase according to the overall energy turnover of the metabolism. Meaning that increased cellular energy turnover will lead to an increased production of free radicals which will increase the damage done to the bodies cells. This process if thought to ultimately lead to increased cellular aging.
One of the main points of Ray Peat’s work is that this model of cellular aging is flawed. He believes a more accurate mental model of cellular degradation and repair is to think of the efficiency of the flow of energy as more important then the energy flow in absolute terms.
In Ray Peat’s model of energy flow the efficiency with which energy is flowing through the cells is just as important as how much energy ultimately flows through the cells. This is because Ray believes that the same energy flow that causes free radical formation also drives cellular maintenance and repair.
If the metabolism is highly functioning, cellular maintenance and repair will far outstrip free radical formation and cellular degradation. Ray believes that the best way to tip the balance of degradation vs. repair in your favor is to have a high energy output high efficiency metabolism. In ray’s view of energy metabolism this will cause the maximum amount of repair and maintenance processes to take place with the minimum amount of dangerous metabolic byproducts produced.
Without understanding this crucial aspect of Ray Peat’s views of cellular energy metabolism it is hard to understand why he recommends the types of foods many of his followers eat.
Reconciling High Metabolism and High Nutrient Density Foods
Alright, no that I have discussed a little bot of the theoretical aspects behind these to diet camps, i want to talk about the most practical way to get the benefits of both.
Keep in mind, the main thing we are trying to avoid is getting ample amounts of micro-nutrients without experiencing the many metabolism slowing effects of the most common nutrient dense foods. To recap, some common foods that have nutrients that have the potential to negatively impact metabolism are:
- Beans, nuts and seeds
- Uncooked greens like Kale and spinach
- High fiber grains such a rice and whole wheat pasta
- Refined grains such as bread and cereal grains
- High Poly-Unsatrated fat foods (PUFA)
As you can see the above list includes many of the foods that are traditionally thought of as health promoting. This is the reason that a section on remedying this issue is needed in the first place.
One of the easiest ways to combat the issues some of these high nutrient foods present is by altering their structure through cooking. The easiest step would be to cook any vegetables you are going to eat. this allows them to be assimilated much easier.
You can take this a step further and either juice the greens or make a broth. If you are going to make a broth you simply need 1-2 lbs of greens in a saucepan or pot. Simply boil the water the greens are in and allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes. strain the water and separate it from the leaves.
You can drink this in small amounts refrigerating the rest for use at a later time. If you are going to juice I would recommend looking over on of these fantastic tutorials for juicing greens.
Juicing is appealing because it is one aspect of both of the diet styles mentioned above that overlaps. It seems to be the one thing that both authors agree on with no compromise. Juice is a great way to get a large amount of easily digestible micronutrients and macronutrients.
Juice also allows you to easily moderate the macro and micronutrient density of what you are consuming by mixing different fruits and vegetables.
On top of the fruit and vegetable juice you are consuming, you can fill in the rest of your daily calories from an assortment of easily digestible fat, carbohydrate and protein containing foods.
I would try to get most of those foods from saturated fat, gelatin, egg, shellfish or milk protein and some type of simple sugar. The easiest way to do this would be to rotate eggs, milk and shellfish for your proteins. Rotate ripe tropical fruits and fruit or vegetable juice for your carbohydrates.
For your fats, focus on coconut oil, cheese and some fat from dairy products such as cream. If you are unable to get organic dairy products it is best to focus on getting your fat from coconut oil and eating the lower fat variants of dairy products such as milk and cottage cheese.
This diet ensures that the body is supplied with plenty of metabolically stimulating easily digestible calories as well as ample amounts of the many important plant derived phytochemicals.