Dr. Bruce Ames triage theory hypothesises that when faced with micronutrient inadequacy, our body will always choose to distribute the micronutrients we've got to short-term survival and reproduction at the cost the immunity and long-term survival. Maybe this results in cholesterol build up in our arteries, or perhaps it's speeding up the rate at which we age. The human body is very adaptable in the short term, but the long game is often overlooked.
“If it fits your macros” is basic nutritional advice that is often handed out with a limited grasp on long-term health and performance. This popular theory is based on the concept of losing or gaining weight is dictated by the total number of calories and the type of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats) you eat, compared to the total number of calories you burn. If only it were that simple!
One of the main reasons for such widespread micronutrient inadequacies in modern society is the fact we are not eating enough micronutrient dense foods, including a wide variety of vegetables. The modern day “dietary requirements” for many micronutrients are based on the average population, but our bodies are unique, and a one size fits all approach to macros is not a good enough answer. Macronutrient calculations are based purely on age, gender, weight, height, and activity levels, and fails to consider stress, sleep, gut health, nutrition history, hormones, mental state, vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
There is no arguing that “if it fits your macros" can produce weight management results, but what are the side effects of ignoring the quality of the macronutrients and quantity of micronutrients you eat? What are the long-term impacts of neglecting food quality and only focusing on the quantity or cutting calories? Most clients’ food diaries I see are full of empty calories and lacking in nutrient-rich foods.
How often to we hear people going on a restrictive diet? Low-carb, Ketogenic, Vegitarian, Carnival diet, etc. with not regard to the long term health impacts associated to removing certain nutrients from the diet.
Following a macro plan without considering the nutritional value is like saying you can keep running your car by only filling up the petrol tank. Don’t worry about the oil change, the oil filter, the air filter, the tires, the brake pads, the brake fluid, the spark plugs, the radiator fluid, the windscreen wiper fluid, and the battery. The car may continue to run for a few months, but in the end, just placing petrol in the tank is not enough to keep the car running in the long run.
Hundreds of biochemical pathways require micronutrients, which are roughly thirty to forty essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and fatty acids that we must get from our diet. Approximately 22% of the genes that encode for enzymes (which make energy, make antioxidants, repair damage etc.) require micronutrients as cofactors, which means they need them to function correctly. Without these micronutrients, these enzymes dysfunction and can lead to acute disease as well as diseases of ageing. To prevent severe disease, daily recommended intakes (DRI) of these micronutrients have been set to ensure we get adequate amounts of them. However, most of us are not meeting the RDA.
For example, B-vitamins are essential to energy production, and many of us are deficient in B-vitamins. Diets low in animal products (vegetarian and vegan) or high in protein supplements (shakes) are lacking in B-Vitamins. Vitamin C is also a critical vitamin that is missing from many people diets (keto and carnival diets), it's unbelievable to read that scurvy is an issue in the modern era.
"I think the low hanging fruit in getting us all to live long lives is in nutrition." - Dr Bruce Ames
You might think that “If it fits my macros” is working for me. But what if your results could be better? What if you were eating your macros with the majority of your diet containing nutrient dense foods? Your results could be even better. The long-term impacts of eating low-quality foods, for instance, if you are not eating enough soluble fibres found in whole plant foods, you can increase the chances of diseases later in life like colon cancer . Our gut bacteria ferments these fibres into short-chain fatty acids like butyrate, propionate, and acetate, and higher amounts of fibre consumed will lead to greater short-chain fatty acid production . In this case, naturally occurring soluble fibres are very important for feeding the friendly bacteria that lives in our guts. A low nutrient diet is also linked to cardiovascular health. The health and longevity of your body depends on the quality of the food you are eating, not just the total calories and the macros.
In recent years Western society have been told to eat a low-carb diet. One of the risks of long-term very low-carbohydrate (VLC) diets, is the potentially harmful effect they can have on beneficial gut bacteria. VLC diets starve both bad and good gut bacteria, which means these diets can have therapeutic effects on gut infections in the short term, but may contribute to insufficent beneficial strains of gut bacteria over the longterm. Providing adequate levels of carbohydrate and soluble fiber to feed friendly bacteria is important for optimizing digestive health and maintaining the integrity of the gut lining through the production of short-chain fatty acids. The Whole Health Source has an excellent blog article on this topic: Butyric Acid: an Ancient Controller of Metabolism, Inflammation and Stress Resistance?
What are you doing about the quality of your macros? Have you been eating empty calories, processed foods, low-quality proteins, supplementing with meal replacement shakes and not getting enough therapeutic superfoods in your diet? You can maximise the quality of the calories you eat and to choose foods that contain the vitamins and minerals your bodies needs to not only survive but to thrive. Real whole nutrient dense food contains mother natures secret recipe of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, cofactors, and fibre that are missing from processed foods.
It’s no surprise that modern diseases have been on the rise since the industrial revolution and the drastic change in our diets. We are eating less and less real whole nutrient dense foods and substituting them with “foodstuff.” The quality of our meats, fish, eggs, fruits and vegetables are nowhere near as nutrient dense as the foods our grandparents ate. GMO foods and highly sprayed crops are everywhere, and studies have shown that the nutrient value of our food is on the decline. We now need to work harder to find sufficient nutrients in our food. This doesn't even take into consideration the toxic exposure we are all facing with pollution in the air, water, foods, skin care products, and cleaning products that impact our gut health and therefore absorption levels. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) post a list of “Dirty Dozen” fruits and vegetables that are exposed to toxic pesticide residues and should therefore be purchased as organic. They also publish a list of the “Clean Fifteen” fruits and vegetables that can be purchased as non-organic and are often not sprayed with toxic chemicals.
When the body is trying to process dirty food, toxins, plastics, pesticides, pollution, and chemicals in many products, it can speed up specific enzymes in the body. For example, aromatase is an enzyme that is involved in the production of estrogen and can be used to convert testosterone (an androgen) into estradiol (an estrogen) and increase fat tissue. If you're a guy, this can make you very emotional about your new set of “moobs.". Females typically end up storing more fat tissue on their hips, thighs and bingo wings. Eating a clean diet and limiting toxin exposure can lower aromatase production and decrease fat stores in these locations.
Inflammation of the digestive system, leaky gut, IBS, chronic stress, and other digestive issues also impact our ability to absorb the nutrients we eat. Again, the toxins we are exposed to can have detrimental effects on the gut microbiome. Many of our hormones are made in the gut, so if it's not functioning correctly, we can increase inflammation levels, lowers enzyme production, and impacts the entire body. If you have nutrient deficiency your bodies detoxification pathways will not be able to keep up with the process of clearing away toxins in the body. If you are eating processed foods, chances are you are adding salt to the wound by consuming more chemical compounds in the diet. It might fit your macros, but at what cost to your overall health?
Humans are creatures of habit, and many of us eat the same foods week in and week out. A seasonal diet seems to be a thing of the past, but if you are not eating a wide variety of foods, you are limiting your nutrient density and failing to fuel the body so that it can thrive. Different real whole foods contain different micronutrients and cofactors, if your diet is limited in variety then so are your bodies resources. This is also why a “food plan” or a “ macro specific plan” is not enough. People often eat the same meals from day to day and limit their variety to the micronutrients that our bodies need to thrive. Chemical and toxins are in our food, water and air and they impact the absorption of the nutrients we eat and effect out gut bacteria. The health of our digestive systems are critical to our survival and longevity, the highly processed foods and nutrient void calories are destroying the gut ecosystem and leaving use sick, fat and unhealthy.