Let’s March Towards Good Health And Nutrition


March is National Nutrition Month. This essential educational campaign was created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to help spread the word about “the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.” This is the perfect opportunity to look at foundational core nutrition issues.

patient and practitioner looking through a diet plan

Nutrient deficiency is something a healthcare practitioner can help with so patients can get back to their lifestyle and health routines.

Beyond SAD: important facts about good nutrition

Volumes have been written about how the Standard American Diet (SAD) is actually really sad so we won’t belabor that point. The fact is, today even with a pretty healthy diet, key nutrients may be missing. There are many factors that determine the nutrient-density of the foods we eat including soil quality (or lack thereof!). There is no question that the condition of the soil where food is grown is critical.

The earth’s soil has been called a “living epidermis” that has been significantly impacted by the industrial revolution. In a 2015 paper published in the journal Science, researchers explain that soil depletion has been taking place at rates far greater than our current ability to replenish it. (1) “Ever since humans developed agriculture, we’ve been transforming the planet and throwing the soil’s nutrient cycle out of balance,” explains UC Berkeley professor Ronald Amundson, Ph.D., the paper’s lead author. “Because the changes happen slowly, often taking two to three generations to be noticed, people are not cognizant of the geological transformation taking place.” And soil depletion is a key cause of nutrient deficiency. The old adage “overfed and undernourished” is often true.

“…approximately two billion people in the world are thought to suffer from at least one of the many forms of micronutrient malnutrition,” explain the authors of a 2013 paper published in the Journal of Applied Ecology. “Whilst such deficiencies tend to impact people in developing countries…there are also important micronutrient shortages such as selenium in developed countries.” (2)

When depleted soil is combined with food processing, the result is the creation of foods that are nearly devoid of the nutrients needed to reduce the risk of illness and the ability to lead an active, healthy lifestyle. In fact, according to a 2018 large prospective study published in BMJ, people who ate a highly processed diet also had a significantly higher increased risk of illness and poor health. (3)

lime, ginger, and herbs next to supplement capsules

Supplements can help with nutrient deficiencies.

Nutrient deficiencies

The combination of depleted soil and food processing can also mean that we are not getting the complete nutrition we need for optimal mental and physical health. This can result in nutrient deficiencies. “The initial stages of marginal nutrient deficiency are often overlooked, as they may remain asymptomatic for a long time or present with generalized signs and symptoms that may not be recognized by the health care professional,” explained the authors of a 2018 paper published in the journal Nutrients. (4) These authors also warn that key nutritional deficiencies are prevalent even in high-income countries like the United States.

The researchers highlight these nutrients that are under-consumed based on the estimated average requirement:

Vitamin A

This fat-soluble vitamin provides important support for the immune system, reproduction, and vision. Vitamin A also contributes to the health of major organs such as the heart, lung, and kidneys.

Vitamin C

Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that can scavenge free radicals and support immunity. Vitamin C is also involved in collagen production, which helps wounds heal.

Vitamin D

This nutrient positively influences the health of numerous body systems. It is especially critical to bone health and enhancing immunity.

Vitamin E

In addition to supporting immunity, vitamin E keeps blood vessels from clotting. Like vitamin C, it is a powerful antioxidant that protects cells from free radical damage.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K works closely with vitamin D to protect bones. It also helps support blood clotting and other functions in the body.

Folate

This B vitamin is used to make DNA in the human body. Also referred to as folic acid, the cells use folate to divide and function properly. It is also important to pregnant women because it can help reduce the risk of genetic deformities.

Magnesium

It is estimated that this mineral is involved in more than 300 processes in the body including blood sugar and blood pressure, as well as muscle and nerve function.

Calcium

This mineral works hand-in-hand with magnesium to help bones stay strong. Calcium is also intimately involved in the release of hormones and enzymes that impact almost every function in the body.

Potassium

According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, “Your body needs potassium for almost everything it does including kidney and heart function, muscle contraction, and nerve transmission.”

Fiber

Getting enough fiber in the diet is critical because it helps support the health of the gastrointestinal tract (GI) and the immune system. Fiber can also positively impact heart health and blood sugar control.

Omega-3 fatty acids

These essential fats help support the heart, lungs, immune system, and endocrine function. Omega-3 fatty acids also have anti-inflammatory properties to help keep the body healthy.

Information on all of these nutrients and more are available for consumers and healthcare professionals online through the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. (5)

Mastering health and nutrition means proactively preventing nutrient deficiencies. Deficiencies in one or more of the previously mentioned nutrients can cause a variety of problems. For example, folate deficiency can lead to fatigue, weakness, and neurological issues, and low levels of vitamin D can negatively impact bones and immunity. (6) Understanding and acknowledging the critical connection between health and nutrition is a great first step towards reducing the risk of nutrient deficiencies.

Complete nutrition

The importance of good nutrition cannot be overemphasized. The science of nutrition directs us to begin with a health-promoting diet and then fill in nutritional gaps with dietary supplements. The healthiest diet that is the closest thing to complete nutrition should feature whole, unprocessed colorful foods that contain important antioxidants, flavonoids, fiber, healthy fats, and micronutrients. This type of diet is best described as a Mediterranean diet, which is perhaps the most widely studied health-promoting diet in the world. (7) One of the best aspects of the Mediterranean diet is that it is flexible and fairly easy to follow.

It’s also important to find practical, sustainable ways to improve the nutrient-density of the diet. For example, did you know that avocado nutrition is a big deal right now? It’s true, the mighty avocado is trending on all forms of social media. The reason is simple: avocados are packed with powerful vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. They are also naturally free of sodium, sugar, and cholesterol. Avocados are perhaps the closest thing to complete nutrition that we can find.

person scooping an avocado and making avocado toast

Avocado toast is a great example of including healthy fats in your diet.

The authors of a 2013 paper published in Nutrition Journal make this bold statement about avocados: “Avocado consumption is associated with improved overall diet quality, nutrient intake, and reduced risk of metabolic syndrome. Dietitians should be aware of the beneficial associations between avocado intake, diet, and health when making dietary recommendations.” (8) That’s right, eating avocados is associated with an overall better quality diet and higher nutrient intake. A 2016 randomized, controlled trial published in the journal Nutrients even found that eating avocados enhanced working memory in older adults. (9) It’s no wonder avocado nutrition is a big deal.

In addition to providing practical tips on how to eat a healthy diet, healthcare practitioners may consider recommending the following foundational dietary supplements:

  • Multivitamin (10): This combination of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients can help fill nutrient gaps in the diet.
  • Probiotics: These good bacteria have been shown to positively influence the health of the GI tract, immune system, inflammatory response, and the brain.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: See above.

Some patients may also need extra vitamin D, B vitamins or other nutrients that can be lacking in the diet. (11)

While March happens to be National Nutrition Month, every month is a great time to look at ways to create a nutrient-dense diet. If you are a practitioner, consider signing up to Fullscript. If you are a patient, talk to your healthcare practitioner about Fullscript.

  1. Amundson R, Berhe AA, Hopmans JW, et al. Soil and human security in the 21st century. Science. 2015;348(6235).
  2. Jones DL, Cross P, Withers P, et al. Nutrient stripping: the global disparity between food security and soil nutrient stocks. Journal of Applied Ecology. 2013;50(4):851-862.
  3. Fiolet T, et al. Consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: results from the NutriNet-Sante prospective cohort. BMJ. 2018;360.
  4. Bruins MJ, Bird JK, Aebischer CP, Eggersdorf M. Considerations for secondary prevention of nutritional deficiencies in high-risk groups in high-income countries. Nutrients. 2018;10(1):47.
  5. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Accessed March 2019.
  6. Bruins MJ, Bird JK, Aebischer CP, Eggersdorfer M. Considerations for secondary prevention of nutritional deficiencies in high-risk groups in high-income countries. Nutrients. 2018;10(1):47.
  7. Romagnolo D, Selmin OI. Mediterranean diet and prevention of chronic diseases. Nutrition Today. 2017;52(5):208-222.
  8. Fulgoni VL, Dreher M, Davenport AJ. Avocado consumption is associated with better diet quality and nutrient intake, and lower metabolic syndrome risk in US adults: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001-2008. Nutrition Journal. 2013;12:1.
  9. Scott TM, Rasmussen HM, Chen O, Johnson EJ. Avocado consumption increases macular pigment density in older adults: a randomized, controlled trial. Nutrients. 2016;9(9):919.
  10. Blumberg JB, Cena H, Barr SI, et al. The use of multivitamin/mineral supplements: a modified Delphi consensus panel report. Clinical Therapeutics. 2018;40(4):640-657.
  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC’s Second Nutrition Report: A comprehensive biochemical assessment of the nutrition status of the US population. 2013.