While micronutrient density is the best gauge of a foods true nutritional worth, the seven components described here point to the specifics of what comprise healthy food. Five of the seven are directly related to nutrient density; the other two (whether a food is alkaline-forming or contains essential fats) are not but do contribute to what constitutes a healthy choice.
The measure of acidity or alkalinity is called pH, and maintaining a balanced pH is an important part of reaching and sustaining peak health. The body can become more acidic through diet and, to a lesser degree, through stress. Since minerals are exceptionally alkaline-forming, the pH of any food is largely dependent on mineral content. Returning to the subject of soil quality, even greenswhich are highly alkaline-forming due to their chlorophyll contentwill not be as alkaline-forming if they are grown in mineral-depleted soil.
Alkaline-forming foods help to balance the bodys pH. An acidic environment adversely affects health at the cellular level; people with low body pH are prone to fatigue and disease. And because acidity is a stressor, it raises cortisol levels, which results in impaired sleep quality.
To help your muscles recover and to lower your cortisol levels, consume highly alkalizing foods, such as those rich in chlorophyll, soon after exercise. Chlorophyll is the green pigment that gives leaves and green vegetables their color.
• All green vegetables
• Improves bone strength
• Reduces inflammation
• Improves muscle efficiency
• Reduces risk of disease
Plants are only capable of producing antioxidants if they have drawn an adequate amount of minerals from the soil. For plants to develop their full antioxidant potential, they must be grown in mineral-rich soil.
When our body'’s activity level rises, we use extra oxygen, which causes cellular oxidation. Oxidation can create free radicals, which reduce cell lifespan and cause premature cell degeneration. Damage done by free radicals has been linked to cancer and other serious diseases and to premature skin aging. Free radicals occur naturally in the body, with small amounts being produced daily, but stress can increase their presence. A reduction of stress through better nutrition combats the oxidative process and therefore free radical production. Antioxidants in foods also help to rid the body of free radicals by escorting them out of the body.
Because of the increased oxygen consumption associated with regular strenuous physical activity, it creates an abundance of free radicals. We therefore need to combat this negative side effect of exercise. Antioxidant compounds found in fruits and vegetables—vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, and the carotenoids (compounds that give vegetables their orange color)—cancel out the effects of the cell-damaging free radicals by slowing or preventing the oxidative process. I noticed a clear improvement in how fast I recovered between workouts once I regularly began eating antioxidant-rich foods.
• Organic berries
• Organic dark-colored fruit in general
• Organic colorful vegetables
• Green tea
• Protects cellular health
• Speeds physical recovery
• Reduces risk of disease
• Improves skin’s appearance and elasticity
Electrolytes are electricity-conducting salts drawn from the soil. Calcium, chloride, magnesium, potassium, and sodium are the chief electrolyte minerals. Electrolytes in body fluid and blood regulate or affect the flow of nutrients into cells and of waste products out of cells, and are essential for the regulation of muscle contractions, heartbeats, fluid levels, and general nerve function. When too few of these minerals are ingested, we may suffer muscle cramps and heart palpitations, light-headedness and trouble concentrating. In severe cases, lack of electrolytes leads to loss of equilibrium, confusion, and inability to reason.
You may have noticed salt-like crystals forming on your face when you perspire heavily. Those are electrolytes—what's left when the water component of sweat has evaporated—and they have to be replenished through food and drink. But not just any drink. When we consume too much fluid that does not contain electrolytes, it can flush out the remaining electrolytes from our body, referred to as water intoxication. While it isn't common among the general population, people who perform strenuous physical activity, especially in a warm environment, are susceptible.
• Coconut water
• Molasses and molasses sugar
• Seaweed (dulse and kelp in particular)
• Vega Sport Hydrator
• Helps maintain hydration
• Improves the fluidity of muscle contractions
• Increases the heart's efficiency, lowers heart rate, improves endurance
• Boosts mental clarity
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are an important dietary component of overall health. The word essential in the name means the body cannot produce these fatty acids—they must be ingested. There are two families of EFAs, omega-3 and omega-6.
EFAs support the function of the cardiovascular, immune, and nervous systems. Studies suggest that including omega-3, in particular, in the diet can benefit those who suffer from a wide range of ailments, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, attention deficit disorder, skin disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, colon cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer. These studies also suggest that an adequate supply of omega-3 may help reduce the risk of developing these ailments in the first place.
Responsible in part for the cells ability to receive nutrition and eliminate waste, EFAs play an integral role in the repair and regeneration of cells and therefore in keeping the body biologically young. A balance of omega-3 and omega-6 EFAs will keep skin looking and feeling supple. EFAs also help fight infection and reduce inflammation. In addition, EFAs are linked to healthy and efficient brain development in children.
From an active person's perspective, when combined with proper endurance training, a diet with an adequate supply of EFAs can help improve endurance. Our bodies can store only a small amount of muscle carbohydrate. Once the body has burned all of its carbohydrate stores, it has to be refueled—as often as every 30 minutes during a long race or workout. However, once the body has adapted to a period of long, slow training (as I describe in my book Thrive Fitness), it becomes more efficient at burning body fat as fuel and thus is able to preserve its carbohydrate stores. This shift in metabolism is simply a trait of improved fitness, which therefore enables the body to burn less fuel to travel the same distance. This fuel shift means that refueling doesnt have to take place as often and endurance will be significantly improved. The fuel shift is facilitated by dietary EFAs, which need to be properly balanced between omega-6 and omega-3 to be effective. The ideal ratio is said to be 4:1. For every four parts omega-6 thats in your diet, you'll want to have one part omega-3. Fortunately, a plant-based whole food diet naturally provides that ratio.
These all contain a balance of omega-3 and omega-6.
• Sacha inchi
•Increases the body's ability to burn body fat as fuel
•Improves the ability to stay well hydrated
•Improves joint function
essential fatty acids
Since phytonutrients are a specific form of antioxidants, they, along with other antioxidants, can only be produced if their host plant is grown in mineral-rich soil.
Phytonutrients are plant compounds that offer health benefits independent of their nutritional value. They are not essential for life, but they can help improve vitality and quality of life.
For example, a phytonutrient found in tomatoes improves blood vessel elasticity and thereby enhances blood flow through the heart. Tomatoes can thus lower the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and enhance athletic performance. The heavy processing of fruit and vegetables reduces the amount and effectiveness of phytonutrients, so these foods are best eaten raw. Every type of fruit and vegetable has at least a few phytonutrients, so simply eating many servings on a daily basis will boost health and performance.
•Colorful and green vegetables
• Improves heart health
• Reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease
• Improves bloodvessel elasticity, thereby improving circulation
Since calcium is a mineral, the amount present in food has been declining over the years. Again, food quality is dependent on soil quality.
For most people, building, strengthening, and repairing bone is calcium’'s major role. Active people, however, have another important job for the mineral: muscle contraction and rhythmic heartbeat coordination. About 95 percent of the body'’s calcium is stored in the skeleton, but it’'s the remaining share that is the first to decline. Calcium in the bloodstream is lost in sweat and muscle contractions, so active people need more dietary calcium. Another micronutrient, vitamin D, maximizes calcium absorption. Vitamin D comes from the sun, so regular exposure to daylight will help your body absorb calcium and therefore help with bone maintenance.
Over the course of about the last 15 years, North Americans have been losing bone density and developing osteoporosis at a younger age than ever before in history. Initially, this loss was thought to be due to inadequate dietary calcium. Advertisements in magazines and on TV tried to convince people over the age of 40 to take calcium supplements. Unfortunately, the body doesn’'t properly absorb the inorganic forms of calcium found in supplements, so we’d need to consume a very large amount for supplementary calcium to have even a small impact on bone health. The net-gain principle suggests that the consumption of inorganic calcium is a poor use of energy. In fact, it’s not uncommon for people who take calcium supplements to notice an energy dip within an hour or so after taking them.
Plants take inorganic calcium from the soil and convert it into an organic form of calcium that the human body can efficiently and completely make use of. Consuming an adequate supply of organic calcium from such sources as leafy green vegetables ensures that our bones stay strong and that muscle contractions remain smooth and efficient.
We must also make sure we don’'t remove the calcium that already exists in our bodies, so it’s important to avoid acid-forming foods, which deplete our stores of calcium and so weaken the bones.
BEST USABLE PLANT SOURCES
•Dark leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, collard greens
•Unhulled sesame seeds
•Vega Complete Whole Foods Health Optamizer (100% calcium RDI)
• Improves muscle function and efficiency
• Increases bone strength
• Reduces the risk of osteoporosis
Drawn into plant plasma from the soil, iron helps maintain blood cell health so that the heart can deliver oxygen-rich blood to the hardworking extremities—maximizing efficacy and therefore athletic performance. Iron also builds blood proteins essential for food digestion, metabolism, and circulation.
Iron is lost in sweat and is consumed during muscle contraction. The pounding impact of our feet on the ground during running can cause red blood cells to break down and thus lower their iron levels. People with low iron are at risk for anemia. Dietary iron helps counteract these problems.
About eight years ago, I went through a stage of reduced energy and poorer performance. I had a blood test to find out what was wrong. It showed that my iron level was low—not so low that I couldnt train at all, but certainly low enough to hinder my progress. I had borderline anemia. Because my active lifestyle consumed a lot of iron and because I did not eat animal products, which are higher in iron than plant-based foods, my doctor suggested I begin taking iron in tablet form. I knew a few people who had experienced stomach problems and even constipation when they began their iron supplementation program, so I wanted to see whether I could get all the iron I needed just from food. I found there are many good plant-based sources of iron. For me, a combination of about 1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds and a green salad daily did the trick. Within a few months my iron levels were back to optimal and have remained there ever since.
BEST PLANT-BASED SOURCES
• Leafy greens (especially kale)
• Vega One (contains 50 % of the recommended daily intake)