Micronutrients deep dive
The trouble with tracking vitamin and mineral intake
In keto conversations, the focus usually revolves around macronutrients at first - protein, fat, and carbs. While understanding and calibrating your intake of these nutrients is an excellent place to begin a health journey, there is a lot more to the picture. This week, we’re looking closely at the role of vitamins and minerals, why it’s difficult to track micronutrient intake accurately, and how to identify and address deficiencies.
Although we need them in relatively small amounts, micronutrients are vital to avoiding disease and optimizing our “healthspan.” With the exception of Vitamin D, they are not produced in the body and must come from eating a variety of whole foods. So how do you know if you’re getting enough? Unfortunately, it’s not just a matter of tracking how much you eat to hit a specific level. Here are just a few of the complicating factors:
Labels sometimes lie: The USDA permits food manufacturers a 20% margin of error for every nutrient listed on the label. And did you know, there’s no random sampling of foods to verify they contain the nutrients as claimed? Self-policing is the only method of enforcement. Reference intakes, such as the Recommended Daily Allowance, further distort the picture because they are based on a 2,000 calorie diet without consideration for age, gender, activity levels, stress, and many other factors that determine individual needs.
Declining nutrient content: Some foods contain fewer micronutrients today than when the USDA first measured them decades ago. Although it’s difficult to prove due to unreliable historical data, the nutritional content of mass-produced foods has come into question as soil depletion and chemical farming practices take their toll. While the USDA tracks nutrients available to the population across the aggregate food supply, it does not provide a year by year comparison for specific foods. Magnesium is believed to be among the minerals most affected by this trend.
Bioavailability varies: Just because a label says you’re getting so much of a vitamin, doesn’t mean your body is able to use that same amount. For one thing, plant antinutrients can interfere with uptake in some people. And groups of micronutrients have synergistic relationships with one another, so a deficiency in one can make it so that your body cannot access the other. For example:
Iron & Vitamin C
Vitamin D & K
Vitamins A, D, E, and K with saturated fats
Vitamin D & Magnesium
Stomach acid, liver function, and chronic health conditions including Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, and celiac disease all affect bioavailability and amounts the body needs on an individual basis.
Problem-solving micronutrient deficiencies
Since tracking micronutrients is unreliable, symptoms and blood panels are the most common ways to identify deficiencies. Other methods, such as a body scan or Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA), can reveal even more about nutrients and toxins that have made their way into the body. Morley Robbins has developed The Root Cause Protocol, with a particular focus on troubleshooting magnesium, copper, and iron deficiencies.
If you suspect an essential nutrient is lacking, the answer is going to more nutrient-dense foods. Before you spend money on a generic multivitamin, try eating more of these:
Beef liver for copper, biotin, B12, B6, cobalt, CoQ10, retinol, iron, folate, vitamin k2, choline, cobalt, ala, riboflavin, and vitamin C
Oysters for zinc, copper, iodine, sodium, B12, phosphorous, dhmba, magnesium, selenium, iron, manganese
Eggs for K2, zinc, calcium, iodine, folate, cholesterol, selenium, retinol, phosphorous, vitamin D, choline, Vitamin E, manganese, inositol, magnesium
As “food-as-medicine” expert Marty Kendall explains on the Optimising Nutrition website, the human body will continue to want more and more food until it gets all the nutrients it needs. So keep micronutrients top-of-mind, but don’t expect an accurate picture of your vitamin and mineral levels from any of the conventional tools. In our experience, potassium and sodium are about the only two micros that you can measure with some degree of certainty from food labels and USDA information.
Learn more about micronutrients
Why Modern Food Is Nutrient Depleted And How to Fix It: Dr. Mark Hyman interviews Dan Kittredgeabout eating for nutrient density on the Doctor’s Farmacy podcast.
Take it or leave it? The Senza coaches evaluate whether you need supplements for keto.
Vitamin A study: Bioconversion of dietary provitamin A carotenoids to vitamin A in humans