Many of us (too many) are clueless about what we should eat in order to not only stay healthy, but also to achieve optimal health. Most don’t even know what nutrients really are. For that matter, many of us don’t even know what we are. I am talking about basic composition; the molecules we are made up of and how they play off each other. So let’s start there, with some basic understandings. We will leave the spiritual realm out of this discussion, and focus on the physical parts of being human.
The human body is a collection of subatomic particles, atoms, and the molecules they form. These basic players participate in a chemical dance to form themselves up into tissues and the structure of the human body. Their interactions generate energy, create a unique and fluctuating electrical field for each individual, and allow our hearts to pump blood and our brains to think. Even much of our human character is dictated by chemistry, or to express it more correctly, by biochemistry – the chemistry that takes place within biological systems.
The human body is a collection of coordinated biological systems functioning together to create life, consciousness, and health, the latter being the topic of this book. Nutrients are the chemical substances that fuel biochemistry. They can be single atomic elements or hugely complex molecular substances and everything in between. For humans, nutrients are found in foods, much to the chagrin of those few people who claim to be “breatharians.”
In ancient Greece, long before the chemical nature of food was understood, food was believed to be made up of nutriment, medicines and poisons. Differences in the physical properties of foods related to their content of medicinal and toxic substances were comprehended as evidenced by the use of liver to treat night blindness. And yet physicians of that ancient age lacked a complete understanding of the chemical nature of foods. Indeed, even today’s modern research has not revealed all the components of food that contribute to health and well being.
Current orthodoxy proclaims these nutrients as essential for human health:
Known Essential Nutrients
Energy sources (Macro nutrients):
Fat, Pyridoxine (B6)
Protein Folate (B9)
Histidine Fatty acids:
Isoleucine α-Linoleic acid (ω-3)
Leucine Linoleic acid (ω-6)
Vitamin C (H2O soluble) Iron
Vitamin A (fat soluble) Magnesium
Vitamin D (fat soluble) Manganese
Vitamin E (fat soluble) Molybdenum
Vitamin K (fat soluble) Phosphorus
Thiamin (B1) Potassium
Riboflavin (B2) Selenium
Niacin (B3) Sodium
Pantothenic acid (B5) Zinc
But the above are not all the nutrients we need if recent history is an indicator. Zinc’s essentiality was not recognized outside of the research community until the 1970s. Selenium had been considered a toxic carcinogen until its critical role in three cellular antioxidant enzymes was elucidated. In the 1970s and 1980s omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA primarily) crept out of epidemiological studies to set fire to intense research that continues up to today. Not everyone yet agrees that they are essential to human health …although they are…and so you do not see those lipids in the list above. Other trace nutrients threaten to rise beyond the glass ceiling of essentiality – Coenzyme Q10, for instance – and it may soon be followed by others.
Nutritional science has much work still to do. As we discover more, there is more to see. We are unrolling a great ball of yarn that first started to compile itself over 250 million years ago. I am eager to see what other nutritional cofactors spill out of that ball as we knit together the broad blanket of human biochemistry.
©Mark Timon, 2014