When it comes to nutrition, too much enjoyment often means sugary and fatty food with little nutritional value. So you vow to eat healthy, but often “eating healthy” is very vague and subjective. However, one way to measure the “healthiness” of your diet is by examining its vitamin and mineral content. Nutrition expert Dr. John Berardi is here to help us determine the amount of essential vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy diet.
The US government has figured out the rock-bottom amount of essential vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) needed for a healthy diet. They used to use recommended daily allowances (RDA); now they’ve moved to a new term: reference daily intake (RDI). RDI isn’t optimal; it’s just the baseline that you need in order to prevent malnutrition. That’s important to remember!
A few years back John wrote about a study that analyzed 70 people’s diets, and there wasn’t a single person meeting all their nutritional requirements. Wow!
Obesity and Nutrient Deficiency
Since most obese people eat more food than lean people, you’d think that this extra food would give them more nutrients. Therefore, obese people would have much fewer nutritional deficiencies but that’s not so. Overweight and obese people are over 80% more likely to have micronutrient deficiencies compared to lean people.
In a recent study titled "The Prevalence of Micronutrient Deficiency in Popular Diet Plans," the researcher looked at suggested diet plans from four well-known diets: the South Beach diet, the Atkins for Life diet, the Diet Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) and the Best Life Diet.
He asked, "If you followed a given diet perfectly, what percentage of the RDI of 27 essential micronutrients would you get? Would you get all the vitamins and minerals you need?"
For those unfamiliar with these diets, here's the low-down: The South Beach Diet replaces “bad” fats and carbs (like trans fat and white bread) with “good” fats and carbs (like olive oil and whole grains). You could liken it to the Mediterranean diet. The Atkins for Life diet is a low-carbohydrate plan with a maximum of 20 grams of carbohydrates a day. DASH is a diet developed at the Mayo Clinic to reduce high blood pressure and limits sodium to about 3000 mg a day. The Best Life Diet comes from Oprah’s trainer Bob Greene – it’s a low-fat diet plan.
The researcher analyzed 15 meals from each diet to see how many essential micronutrients the plan contained, then calculated each diet plan’s content of these micronutrients using the US Department of Agriculture Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.
Let’s pretend that you haven’t read the title of the research article. None of the four diets provided the RDI for all 27 micro-nutrients. Actually they barely meet the requirements for half the micro-nutrients. The Best Life Diet has the most sufficient levels of micronutrient requirements. If you followed the Best Life diet perfectly, out of 27 micronutrients, you’d get 100% of 15 micronutrients. But you’d lack 12 micro-nutrients. Yup, this was the best diet of the four as far as getting your nutrients.
Second was the DASH diet, which provided sufficient levels for 14 of the 27 micronutrients. Atkins offered 12 of the 27. The South Beach Diet was way behind. It provided sufficient amounts of only six micronutrients. Six! If you include micronutrients that were over 90% RDI, then you can get to nine micronutrients.
Popular diet plans, including medically reviewed (DASH), have some major micronutrient deficiencies with the biggest deficiencies happening in chromium, Vitamin B7, Vitamin E, Vitamin B5, iodine and Vitamin D. Though the researcher recommends a multivitamin, you should take his advice with a grain of salt since he is the CEO of a company developing a multivitamin. (Although, don’t throw out the advice completely. A multi-vitamin is a good backup plan in certain situations).
My advice is either track your micronutrients with a nutritional program or consult with a professional to review your intake. By doing so, you’ll be able to focus on getting your micronutrients from whole food instead of a multivitamin, since there are many chemical compounds covered by one vitamin name and since your body is better at absorbing nutrients from whole food.
The bottom line is, whether you’re eating to maintain or to lose weight, make sure you’re getting the micronutrients you need from whole food. Eating more brightly colored fruits and vegetables will help you get the nutrients you need without many more calories.
Dr. John Berardi is recognized as one of the top exercise nutrition experts in the world. His work has been published in numerous textbooks, peer-reviewed journals and in countless popular exercise and nutrition books and magazines. Through his company Precision Nutrition, Dr. Berardi has worked with over 50,000 clients in over 100 countries. He now has free fat loss courses for men and women, a free nutrition course for athletes and a free course for fitness pros on his website.