Dr. Jodi Nishida
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
We’ve all heard the following sayings: Eating five to six small meals throughout the day is good for your metabolism. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. The only way to lose weight is to focus on calories in versus calories out. Fruits and vegetables are the highest sources of vitamins and minerals.
Do you know that none of these are true? Sadly, we live in a world of misinformation, too much information and dietary guidelines influenced by capitalism and politics. Add the vegan way, the vegetarian way, plant-based, paleo, keto, carnivore, and the Standard American Diet to the mix and you end up with total confusion.
March is National Nutrition Month so it’s a great time to get down to basics and write about the facts. Always remember that the goal of eating is to provide the body with what it needs to function properly.
The human body is a complex network of cells, proteins, enzymes, tissues, hormones, fluids, bones and much more. Each of these components require basic building blocks just like how a car needs gas, oil, tires, nuts and bolts to run. The more nutritionally complete your food, the better your health will be.
I’m starting with protein for a reason — Protein, made up of amino acids, is a critical component of every cell in the human body. You need protein to repair cells, to make new cells, to make muscle tissue, hormones, enzymes, antibodies, bone, cartilage, skin, hair and nails. Protein is a critical part of the processes that fuel the body and that carry oxygen throughout the bloodstream.
Getting adequate protein intake is an essential part of growth during your childhood years, strength and movement throughout adulthood, and maintaining muscle mass to prevent life-threatening injuries during the golden years. Current dietary guidelines recommend a mere 46-56 grams of protein/day for adult males and females. However, data is emerging that these guidelines may put you in a state of “protein deficiency” and that 1.2-1.6 grams of protein/kg of weight is essential. This means that a 150-pound person needs to eat 82-109 grams of protein per day to give the body what it needs to function properly.
Which proteins are best? Let’s start by listing common sources of protein: beef, chicken, pork, fish, seafood, eggs, dairy, nuts, tofu and beans. Animal proteins and tofu contain all nine essential amino acids while plant proteins are typically lacking in one or more. When a protein is lacking in one or more essential amino acids, you need to eat more of it to meet your protein goal. Lentils are a good example of this. Lentils do not have the same digestibility or bioavailability of protein as say eggs or red meat (the protein digestibility corrected amino acid score). If your protein goal was 85 grams per day, you would need to eat 5 cups of lentils to meet this compared to 2 cups of lean red meat or 2 2/3 cups of ahi tuna. (Side note: 5 cups of lentils turn into the equivalent of 48 packets of sugar in the body.)
In addition to digestibility and bioavailability, let’s look at vitamin and mineral contents:
- Four ounces of lentils contains 12 grams of protein, 12 milligrams of calcium, 3 milligrams of iron, 273 milligrams of potassium, and 55 micrograms of folate.
- Four ounces of tofu contains 16 grams of protein, 186 milligrams of calcium, 2.3 milligrams of iron, and 120 milligrams of potassium.
- Four ounces of wild-caught salmon contains 29 grams of protein, 9 milligrams of calcium, 27 milligrams of magnesium, 240 milligrams of phosphorous, 363 milligrams of potassium, 0.3 milligrams of iron, 0.4 milligrams of zinc, 24 micrograms of selenium, 50 IU of Vitamin A, 0.6 milligrams of Vitamin B6, 3.2 milligrams of Vitamin B12, 3.9 milligrams of Vitamin C, 526 IU of Vitamin D, 3.6 milligrams of Vitamin E, 8.7 milligrams of niacin, and 26 micrograms of folate.
- Four ounces of lean red meat contains 34 grams of protein, 11 milligrams of calcium, 19 milligrams of magnesium, 175 milligrams of phosphorous, 370 milligrams of potassium, 3.3 milligrams of iron, 4.5 milligrams of zinc, 14.2 micrograms of selenium, 40 IU of Vitamin A, 0.4 milligrams of Vitamin B6, 2 milligrams of Vitamin B12, 2 milligrams of Vitamin C, 7 IU of Vitamin D, 1.7 milligrams of Vitamin E, 4.8 milligrams of niacin and 6 micrograms of folate.
When listed out like this, you start to see that animal proteins are much more nutrient-dense and nutrient-diverse than plant proteins.
Before you start worrying about this category, read on. Yes, fats are essential for bodily functions. I’m not talking about the one-inch-thick ribbon of fat on prime rib. I’m referring to unsaturated fats and healthy omega-3. Healthy fats provide energy, allow for the absorption of Vitamins A, D, E and K and improve cardiovascular health by lowering bad cholesterol and triglycerides. Healthy fats are the unsaturated type known as monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Some examples of these are extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, avocados, macadamia nuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, sardines, salmon, mackerel, herring and tuna. Consuming two to three small servings of healthy fats per day is very important for health and nutrition.
Vitamins and Minerals
In addition to water, vitamins and minerals are the last category of essential nutrients. They help to form bone and cell walls, they help to make energy, help with immunity, wound healing, blood clotting and so much more. Interestingly, the National Institute of Health states that half of American adults take vitamin and mineral supplements in the form of over-the-counter pills. They go on to state that “supplements cannot take the place of eating a variety of foods that are important to a healthy diet.” I couldn’t agree with this more.
Try to get your nutrition from real, whole foods, not pills. When looking at the nutrition content of food, look for the following: vitamins A, C, D, E, K, thiamine B1, riboflavin B2, niacin B3, pantothenic acid B5, pyridoxal B6, cobalamin B12), biotin, folate/folic acid and the minerals calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chloride, magnesium, iron, zinc, iodine, sulfur, cobalt, copper, fluoride, manganese and selenium.
Many of us think of fruits when we think of vitamins. Interestingly, green leafy vegetables like kale, bok choy and watercress and animal proteins contain the most vitamins and minerals.
In today’s world of convenient, processed, packaged food, we’ve gotten alarmingly far away from giving our body what it needs. To try to fix our bad diets, many of us rely heavily on supplements. There is no substitute for real food and now you know what to look for in terms of nutrients. The key to health is to 1) reduce toxins in all its forms and 2) meet your body’s nutritional needs. By keeping it simple and getting back to basics, you will thrive.
Dr. Jodi is a Doctor of Pharmacy and accredited Metabolic Healthcare Practitioner who’s been in healthcare for over 25 years. After experiencing the ketogenic lifestyle’s effect on her own autoimmune condition, she decided to build a keto-based medical practice so others could benefit from it too. Over the last few years, she’s helped almost 1000 patients realize the benefits of clean, medically-guided keto.
With certifications in ketogenic nutrition, cardiovascular disease management, pharmacogenomics, and medication management, she works closely with each and every patient to tailor keto to their medications, medical conditions, lifestyle and socioeconomic situation. Dr. Nishida is also in training for processed food addiction recovery. To learn more, or to contact Dr. Nishida, visit her website at theketoprescription.com.
The content of this column is not meant to be medical advice. Please consult your doctor before starting any diet or lifestyle change and understand that there is no blanket approach to keto. Keto should be tailored to each individual through the guidance of a trained professional.