What’s the best way to eat? Is the optimal diet paleo? Vegan? Keto? Should I count macros? We apply a lot of labels to our eating habits, but none of those labels explain how certain foods support our health.
In these stressful times, often our healthy eating habits fall by the wayside, and we turn to the comfort food of our childhood or food that makes us feel good by triggering an emotional memory. While this may not be the time to strive for diet perfection, it is the time to take a critical look at the nutrients you need; for immune health, hormone balance, sleep and more.
There is no perfect diet for everyone, but there are several things we all have in common, and key nutrients we need to support crucial systems like hormone balance, brain development, and immune system function.
Plus, much of the nutrition advice is outdated, or doesn’t reflect our modern issues. Find out how Super Powered nutrition can help you meet your goals–and which special considerations you may need to include in your diet!
The nutrition issues of 1950 are not the same nutrition issues of today, and we have to eat like it. The average American today eats 20 pounds more wheat flour than in 1970, while simultaneously decreasing more nutrient dense foods (1). Currently, fruits and vegetable farmers receive 1% of the federal agriculture subsidies, while crops like corn, soy, and wheat receive the other 99% of those subsidies (2).
The Standard American Diet (SAD) reflects these statistics, with our highly palatable, high sugar foods contributing at least in part to increasing rates of chronic disease and a decline in personal health.
Problems with SAD
Increased consumption of processed food, and exposure to toxins in the environment harms digestive health, with leaky gut playing a role in autoimmune conditions, nutrient deficiencies, and systemic inflammation (3).
Poor digestive function and improper absorption of nutrients also deteriorates immune health in the long term. Inflammation created by leaky gut interferes with the normal immune response, and poor nutrient absorption in the gut robs immune function of necessary vitamin A, D, and zinc–which are all crucial for immune health.
A diet high in white flour and sugar can also decrease the function of immune cells, making it more difficult for the body to fight off infection (4).
Mitochondrial function also suffers as a result of things like imbalanced blood sugar and insulin dysregulation, and this places a strain on our body’s energy production capacity. Highly functioning mitochondria are crucial to make fuel for the heart, brain, and other vital organs (5). Improper nutrition worsens mitochondria function throughout the body.
Our Super Powered nutrition should fuel bodies for optimal function for digestive health, immune function, robust mitochondria–all in a way that is sustainable and appetizing.
Super powered nutrition is the best kind of nutrition, because it’s personalized and relies on listening to your body and understanding the feedback it gives you.
Eating for Your Power Type
You’ve discovered by now that the picture of your overall health is completely unique to you. Your body gives you unique feedback about foods, hormones, stress, and a myriad of other things.
But are you interpreting this feedback in a way that builds health? By knowing your Power Type, you’ll have an understanding of who you are emotionally, nutritionally, and hormonally, and be able pick up the tools you need to create health at any stage of life, and through any situation.
The 5 Power Types are designed to help you clearly connect the dots of chemistry and physical health based on the messages your body sends you. And because food is one of the biggest ways we communicate with our body, we have to know how to properly fuel for our unique needs.
Are you prone to digestive issues during stress? Have you had issues with thinning hair or skin breakouts you haven’t been able to clear? Find out how leaning into your Power Type can bring you personalized health.
Super Powered Nutrition Starts with Powered Up Plant Foods.
The one thing most scientists, doctors, and dietitians agree on is that a foundation of nutrient-dense plant foods is paramount for good health.
Some recommendations call for as much as 50 to 75 percent of your plate being deeply colored, non starchy vegetables. Think things like broccoli, spinach, peppers, or asparagus.
These nutrient-dense vegetables not only provide fiber and carbohydrates, and energy for the. but a vast array of phytonutrients like vitamin C, lutein, and things like curcumin from turmeric. Most of these you won’t find on any nutrition facts label, but they pack a big punch of antioxidants and inflammation-modulating properties.
Optimally, the majority of our carbohydrates should come from vegetables, beans, fruits, and minimally processed grains like quinoa. It often matters what kind of carbohydrates you eat, rather than how much, since carbohydrates can also come from things like bread, pasta, and cereals.
Processed carbohydrates, like bread and pasta, can still have a place in our diet, but high amounts of refined white flour can significantly negatively impact our health in terms of weight management, inflammation in the body, and things like thyroid function (6).
When our plate is mostly vegetables, we have plenty of space to add colorful, seasonal fruits, and any optional additional carbohydrates (like beans or quinoa) without relying on more processed foods.
Our carbohydrates should provide us a healthy serving of fiber, a steady source of energy for the body, and not spike blood sugar too sharply. Plus, nature’s bonus for eating nutrient-dense plants is a hefty dose of phytonutrients that support cellular health, immune function, and so much more.
A simple, and easy-to-remember guideline for most people is to aim to eat enough protein to fit approximately in the palm of your hand. This means that protein requirements change as we age, but can also fluctuate based on things like fitness goals or weight loss.
There is still some debate in the nutrition community about the optimal protein consumption, but for the average healthy person, you can aim for about 1.0 to 1.5 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight (7). Because protein is such a crucial component of our diet, the brain actually has mechanisms that regulate our desire for it–increasing when we need more, and decreasing when we get enough or too much (8). These mechanisms are incredibly difficult to override using willpower, so this is one of many aspects of diet where listening to your body (within reason) is very beneficial.
This means that a child, a bodybuilder, and a 40-year-old woman will all have very different protein needs. Protein helps to maintain muscle mass, build neurotransmitters and is the building blocks for enzymes and immune cells.
As with carbohydrates, quality over quantity is very important when choosing our protein sources as well. Assuming you’re not vegan or vegetarian, naturally-raised, or grass-fed is a must when choosing protein from an animal source. Naturally-raised animal products have different nutrient profiles than conventional–with more Omega-3, zinc, and vitamin A, to name a few.
Animal proteins are also what we call “complete” proteins, meaning they have the full profile of amino acids in the ratio our body requires. This goes for non-meat animal sources of protein as well–milk, cheese, yogurt, and eggs (7).
If you choose to get your protein from plant sources, being aware of some simple guidelines will ensure you obtain the protein for your needs.
Proteins from plant sources (except for soy and quinoa) are “incomplete” sources of protein. This means to obtain the full profile of amino acids, we need to combine one or more plant foods to meet this requirement. A good example is beans and rice, or a spinach salad with sunflower seeds (7).
The Right Fats for A Super Powered Brain & Body
Far from being vilified like was the case in decades prior, we now know that fats are absolutely essential to our health, and the right kind can even benefit metabolism, hormones, and inflammation within the body.
Fats can come from plant sources like avocado, coconut, and olive oil, or from animal sources like dairy, meat, or eggs.
All fat sources have a ratio of saturated and poly- and mono-unsaturated fats. Studies suggest getting anywhere from 20-35% of your daily calories from fat, and it’s important to note that some nutrition research fails to show less prevalence of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease with diets less than 30% fat (9).
Saturated fats are actually the preferred source of fuel for the heart, and 60% of the brain is made up of fat (9). Cholesterol serves as a precursor for hormone production, and gives shape to the membranes of our cells. Every fat has a job, and much of our vital organ functions rely very heavily on fat.
The type of fat you choose will have a significant impact on it’s function in the body. Industrialized seed oils like canola, vegetable, and soybean oil are prone to oxidation and contribute to oxidative stress in the body. They’re also heavily used in many processed foods.
Fats, such as olive, avocado, and coconut oil, come from foods that are naturally quite fatty, so less processing is required to isolate the fat from the plant. These are higher quality fats that support the cellular structure of cells more efficiently. Fats from naturally-raised animals are a more health supportive option as well, with a better ratio of omega-3 to omega-6.
EPA and DHA
Today, much of the conversation around fats centers upon omega-3 versus omega-6. Is one bad, and the other good? Do we need both? Let’s break down what makes up our fat.
Our diets tend to be higher in omega-6 fats, as they’re present in many of our plant foods, both processed and not. Seeds, wheat, nuts, soy, and any plant oil are going to contain a much higher ratio of omega-6 fats.
Omega-3 fats, like DHA and EPA come from fatty fish, like oysters, salmon, sardines, and mackerel. We can also get another form of omega-3, ALA, from chia seeds, hemp, and some algae. Our body can convert some ALA to EPA and then to DHA, but not in high amounts.
So what do those fats do in our body?
The optimal ratio for omega-6 to omega-3 fats is about 4:1, but most diets are made up of a ratio closer to 23:1 in favor of omega-6. Omega-3 fats help to resolve the inflammation in the body as part of a normal inflammatory response (10).
Certain signaling hormones in the body can be made from either omega-3 fatty acids, or omega-6 fatty acids, and that affects how much inflammation they produce in the process of doing their job (10).
The takeaway: prioritize getting a variety of fat, with a healthy portion from omega-3, and from natural sources.
Everyone has their own unique health considerations, preferences, and focus, but there are several key systems we need to support with diet that can cause significant upheaval if out of balance.
Whether you’re working on staying fit, managing a chronic illness, or improving your nutrition, supporting your immune system is at the heart of almost any health goal. With immune health brough to the forefront of everyone’s mind during this time, it’s important we address the nutrients needed for robust immune function, and why proper habits and digestion are so crucial for that system.
Enemies of immune function are poor digestion, lack of quality sleep, and chronic stress.
Poor digestion can have several, interwoven causes–stress, unknown food sensitivities, allergies, or gut dysbiosis–but where there is poor digestion, immune chaos is sure to follow.
In tandem with improving diet, sleep and stress management play a vital role in gut function and therefore immune response. Our modern lifestyles are not conducive to this with busy schedules and sleep often becoming deprioritized to late nights or bouts of insomnia. Developing a sound nighttime routine by turning off devices before bedtime, and eating a protein-containing snack before bed can help produce the hormones needed for a restful nights’ sleep.
If falling or staying asleep is something you struggle with, Sleep Savior is here to help, with a blend of relaxing magnesium, magnolia bark, and melatonin.
Immune function is heavily dependent on a properly functioning gut. We say ‘you are what you eat’, but we’re actually what we can digest and absorb.
Inflammation in the gut, caused by one of the previously mentioned sources creates larger than normal gaps between intestinal cells. These junctions are meant to allow water and nutrients to pass through, but begin to become more permeable over time when inflamed, allowing undigested proteins, bacteria, and other unwanted substances to pass through into the body (11).
The immune system sees these as intruders, and mounts the appropriate response–recruiting inflammatory signals and other immune cells to absorb the attacker.
Over time, our increasingly permeable gut lining interferes with a normal immune response, creating a dysregulation in inflammatory signals, and immune function in general (12).
Truly, the first step in overall health and immune function, must begin in the gut. For more holistic immune health with an East meets West approach, check out this article.
Nutrients absorbed in the gut essential for immune function are vitamins A, C, D, and zinc. Poor digestion equals low absorption of these crucial nutrients.
With an estimated 75% of women struggling with hormone balance at some point in their lives, and one in four men over 30 years old potentially having low testosterone, working toward healthy hormone balance is a necessity to make sure you maintain vitality at each stage of life (13). To learn the 5 vital signs essential for balanced hormones, keep this guide on hand when having your hormone levels tested.
Hormones are constantly sending signals in our body, but can be disrupted for a variety of reasons. Environmental toxins in our food, water, and communities act as endocrine disruptors–which is a way of saying certain compounds interfere with the message that hormones are designed to send. A poor diet can lead to blood sugar imbalances which exacerbates estrogen dominance in both men and women.
Undiagnosed gluten intolerance can interfere with the thyroid, which is considered the master gland of endocrine function.
There isn’t one culprit of hormone imbalance, but many that we can work to control. We can reduce our toxin exposure by doing things like choosing organic produce, and supporting detox pathways in the body.
We can balance blood sugar by prioritizing healthy proteins, fats, and low-starch, higher carbohydrates, and we can promote proper estrogen metabolism by supporting liver health, and using supplements like DIM or chasteberry.
Power Kids: Healthy Growth and Development
Children struggle with getting adequate nutrition as much as adults do, if not more, given their bodies are growing and changing rapidly.
Kids have rapidly developing brains, and growing muscles and bones. Their little bodies are very susceptible to things like stress, toxins, and nutrient deficiencies.
In fact, we often neglect the correlation between nutrient deficiencies and performance in school, or behavior problems. The fact of the matter is, supporting a child’s brain chemistry through proper nutrition has a direct correlation to mood health, behavior, and how they’ll perform in school.
For kids, providing adequate protein, Omega-3 (DHA & EPA), and avoiding high sugar foods creates the basic foundation upon which they can thrive. Adding plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables, focusing on healthy fats and proteins, is the best way to support your child’s growth and development–both physically and mentally.
- Hyman, Mark. Food Fix. Little Brown, 2020.