There would be no other way to start off my new series on the six foundations than to start with the most important foundation: a nutrient dense diet.
I've talked a ton about nutrition on the blog previously, especially when I've laid out my framework for building a real food plate (read more on PFC Balanced Eating here). But today, I want to discuss a few other important points when it comes to building a nutrient dense diet.
First up, a nutrient dense diet obviously contains nutrients, but what exactly are nutrients?
Nutrients are chemical substances that are found in foods that help sustain our lives. They provide energy in the form of calories, help build bodily structures, and regulate and assist in bodily functions via enzymes and hormones.
In addition, there are six classes of nutrients that are considered essential and must be supplied by the diet (our bodies can't make them on their own): These six classes of nutrients include water, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Let's briefly discuss the roles of each:
1. Roles of Water
Water is the most abundant nutrient in the body (over 60%), and is critical in helping facilitate cell communication, transporting nutrients, cushioning bones and joints, flushing toxins, removing waste, and so much more!
2. Roles of Proteins
Proteins are built from amino acids and have four main functions. First, proteins act as enzymes to aid in biochemical processes. Second, proteins aid in the development of our immune system to ward off foreign invaders by acting as antibodies. Third, red blood cells are a specialized type of protein that act as hemoglobin to transfer oxygen throughout the body. Lastly, as hormones, proteins regulate almost every aspect of our metabolism and other key functions in the body.
3. Roles of Fats
Healthy fats are critical in facilitating our body's natural healing process through prostaglandin formation, providing the ideal source of energy for the body, acting as building blocks for cell membranes, cushioning bones and joints, aiding in the absorption of fat soluble vitamins, and simply making food taste good!
4. Roles of Carbohydrates
Often demonized, carbs do play key roles in our bodies including providing quick energy for the brain, adding fiber to our diets, regulating protein and fat metabolism, and helping promote the growth of new tissue.
5. Roles of Vitamins
Vitamins act as coenzymes in metabolic processes, support tissue growth, aid in digestion and elimination, and prevent deficiency related disorders.
6. Roles of Minerals
Minerals aid in regulating serum pH levels, maintain proper nerve conduction, regulate tissue growth, and aid in bone structure and growth as well.
While it is important that a nutrient dense diet contains all of the classes of nutrients, it is also critical that it receives these nutrients from real, whole foods that are also properly prepared and in the right proportions for your bioindividual body.
Real Whole Foods
Real, whole foods are the basis of any nutrient dense diet. Choosing foods that are as close to their natural state as possible and don't require labels is the way to go! Meat, eggs, seafood, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats (coconut, avocado, olives, butter, etc). These food provide vitamins and minerals in their most absorbent forms as well!
Preparing foods properly helps make them more readily available for our bodies to digest and absorb the adjacent nutrients as well. Properly preparing foods usually means soaking, fermenting, or sprouting foods such as grains, nuts, and seeds. Most of you know that I'm not a huge fan of grains, but if you do choose to eat gluten-free grains, properly preparing them by soaking and/or sprouting them before cooking and eating them allows the natural protective mechanisms found in grains (lectins, phytic acid, etc) to be removed. This makes these foods much easier to digest and less damaging to our digestive tract. This same principle can be applied to raw nuts and seeds as well! This also means that including some portion of fermented foods in your diet is extremely important as well. Examples include raw, fermented sauerkraut or kombucha (fermented tea).
The amounts of food that every individual person will thrive on will vary extremely. It takes experimentation, as well as an objective look at your activity levels, stress, age, and sleep. Plus, this balance of proportions will NOT always remain the same. It can vary week to week, even day to day! The Nutritional Therapy Association recommends approximately 30% protein, 30% fat, and 40% carbohydrates as a starting point. Personally, I prefer to push my clients towards a bit more healthy fat than carbohydrates, but again, it is always bioindividual based on the person and takes some experimenting to strike the perfect balance.
No health goals can ever be achieved without the base of a nutrient dense diet. All of the other foundations simply build upon this base. As we go through the remaining five foundations, I'll always refer you back to this critical base to get you started!