Macronutrients vs. Micronutrients – Put a palette of colors on the table!

Given the dauntingly vast quantity of indispensable nutrients, it is impossible, as of today, to offer an exhaustive list of recommended foods.

The body is an infinitely complex machine, the seat of countless interactions. Food operates as a whole, and when nutrients are isolated, they don’t work as well, or don’t work at all. 


At this point of nutritional knowledge (or lack thereof), our best bet is to consume the widest possible variety of foods, while following three simple guidelines:

1. Seek colored, micronutrient-rich food

With some exceptions, micronutrients are richly colored. Let that be your guide: seek deeply, intensely colored ingredients.

Grapes 1 as Smart Object-1• Look for the blue-indigo to purple-red pigments, as found in berries, eggplants, radicchio, purple cabbage, bell pepper, red onion…

Tomato• Find orange-red to yellow nutrients in carrots, tomatoes, pomegranates, berries, squashes…

• And all the shades in between! Train your artistic eye, and soon you’ll be able to distinguish subtle hue variations.Carrots-bunch

There are exceptions to the color rule. Most notable are:
• Cruciferous vegetables (such as cauliflower) are not very colorful; however, they contain an important class of micronutrients.
• The allium family (onions, shallots, garlic), which has many proven medicinal virtues, is not very colorful either.

2. Seek whole real food

This is food as produced by nature, food that is closest to:
        Pulled from the ground,
        Cut from the flesh,
        Plucked from the plant.

_DSC2365 as Smart Object-1Look for fresh ingredients that received as little processing as possible: humans coevolved with this kind of nourishment for several hundred thousand years and have genetically adapted to it. On the evolutionary scale, agriculture is a very recent development!

Industrial processing almost always lowers the nutritional value of ingredients and, willingly or not, introduces chemicals.

3. Seek healthy sources 

Consuming foods that have been grown in contaminated soil or with chemical fertilizers and pesticides will lead to elevated amounts of dangerous substances in the body.

If buying organic food exclusively is neither practical nor affordable, keep in mind that foods have different capabilities to absorb chemicals, and that ingredients with concentrated nutrition also have the potential for concentrated contaminants.

RainbowAt special risk are:

• Root vegetables (carrots, turnips, potatoes…)

• Fall berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries…)

• Eggs

• Dairy products

So, go the extra mile for these!

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A Little Bit of Everything?

Most people agree that we need to eat a balanced diet. However, the interpretations of this principle vary widely.

Popular wisdom says that we should have a balanced diet: a little bit of everything and not too much of anything. This seems to be a safe approach and we do agree with this wise principle, especially in light of our body’s complexity and the lack of a definitive scientific answer concerning the perfect diet.

But from a practical point of view, what does “a little bit of everything” mean? A little bit from each aisle of the supermarket?


If we still led the hunter-gatherers’ life, the question wouldn’t arise: we’d eat what we can find in nature, and we’d be fine. Our bodies have evolved for hundreds of thousands of years to do just that. In comparison, agriculture is a very recent development (10,000 years).

Agriculture has made available an abundance of unnatural new foods:
– Unnatural because selective breeding creates crops that evolve faster than our metabolism.
– Unnatural also in the proportions of the macronutrients offered: the advent of agriculture mostly meant “grains” and we’ve been eating an excessive proportion of our diet as cereals and starches since then. While grains made civilization possible by feeding large populations, it was also the first step in consuming food that our body isn’t built for. Maybe we’ll adapt to it in a few hundred thousand years, but, for the time being, our bodies still think we are hunter-gatherers.

fish sticksThe problem is made more acute by the food industry: understandably, companies want you to buy what’s profitable for them, not what’s good for you. Sfishhopping habits, lack of time, shear volume of the offering, constant advertising disguised as science,  all contribute to make it hard for people to distinguish real food from junk. How many kids think of “fish” (as food, not as in The Little Mermaid) as a rectangle?

♦ ♦ ♦

In the modern supermarket, without more precise guidance than “Eat a Little Bit of Everything” we are doomed.

Of course, most things found in the supermarket are man-made: apart from some rare wild-caught fish or game, and wild fruit (mostly berries), vegetal and animal products are grown or bred. The fruits available today are much bigger and sweeter than the original ones.

We don’t suggest that we go back to prehistorical lifestyles. But if we want to be healthy, it is important to look for fresh ingredients that received as little processing as possible, and try to eat food that is closest to what exists in nature, closest to:

Pulled from the ground,
Cut from the flesh,
Plucked from the plant.

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Asparagus and Leek Soup

Spring is just around the corner, well at least in California. (In Minnesota maybe less so.) In any case, get ready to enjoy fresh asparagus, one of the many gifts of the season.

This soup is an opportunity to enjoy the first of the young spring asparagus. Choose medium-sized asparagus (neither pencil sized nor too large) and look for tips that are tight and free from flowering.

Although you can serve the soup “as is,” the cream garnish brings valuable dairy fats.

Asparagus, in addition to being a good source of fiber, has one of the most complete spectrums among vegetables both for amino acids and elements. Asparagine, a fairly common amino acid with a distinctive smell, is rarely found in such abundance as in the asparagus. It is a good thing to have because it is used by our body to make a variety of other amino acids.

For these reasons, asparagus should be a staple in our diet, not an exotic food.

Leeks, being sulphur donors, like all the members of the allium family, are good for the immune system, joints and cartilage. They have a very broad spectrum of essential amino acids (which is rare for vegetables), extremely low glycemic load and glycemic index, and some anti-inflammatory properties.

Efficiency, Completeness, Spectrum, Quality: all these words refer to the same notion: how many key nutrients are present in a given food? 

Protein – A “complete” or “efficient” protein source contains all 9 essential amino acids, in proportions suitable for our body: excess in any particular amino acid results in imbalance. Although our body can adjust within a certain range, it cannot deal with overwhelming imbalance. By eating a variety of proteins, we avoid stressing our body’s regulation capability. 

 Over-emphasizing “completeness” may lead to problems, though. Restricting your choice of proteins to the “efficient” ones narrows your options and impoverishes your diet.

Eating a large variety of proteins is a better way to take care of efficiency!

Fat – Fat quality is determined by the quality of its source: fat is not an isolated molecule, it comes within a whole matrix of other ingredients, and those must be healthy too. Healthy fats start with healthy animals and healthy plants.

Micronutrients and elements that have a physiological function in our body are too many to count. If you eat a restricted diet, you will forgo many healthy nutrients.

Serves 6

  • 2 medium leeks (white to light-green part only)
  • 2 lb medium-sized asparagus
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 cups chicken stock

For the citrus cream (optional):

  • 1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley
  • ½ cup crème fraîche
  • Zest and juice of one lemon

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Macronutrients vs. Micronutrients

We are used to think of our food in terms of its macronutrient composition: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Nowadays, it would make a lot more sense to think in terms of micronutrients, including, but not limited to, vitamins, minerals, electrolytes.

There are many ways to classify food. The good old macronutrient approach is primarily linked with energy production: just anybody will tell you that you need to eat carbs to have energy (never mind that it conflicts with the widespread knowledge that fat is very calorie-dense, with almost twice the calories of protein or carbs for the same weight).

This energy-oriented approach makes sense if you consider that for a long time the main concern of humankind was survival and getting enough calories was a matter or life and death.

_DSC0927 corrThe micronutrient approach started with the discovery of vitamins. While this scientific breakthrough opened new horizons in nutrition, it also created the enduring myth that sugar equals vitamins, because fruits were the first foods to be associated with vitamins.

Since then we have discovered that, in fact, many vegetables are richer in vitamins than fruit.

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“CAULI-FLOUR” – Trader Joe’s stole my idea (and I’m not even angry).

Grated cauliflower is now available in several stores. This is great news overall, with some reservations.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reports on the price hike and possible shortage of cauliflower due to the crucifer’s increased popularity. Not a good thing in the immediate future, but an encouraging trend health wise: its new-found popularity can only help cauliflower become more readily available and affordable in the future.

♦ ♦ ♦

And the future is already here!

Cauliflower crust aficionados will be happy to learn that they can buy ready-grated cauliflower at Trader Joe’s: at first it lived in the frozen section, but now “riced” cauliflower is also available in the fresh produce aisle. Green Giant is selling its own version too, and by the time this post is published, I am confident that there will be more offerings.

Cauliflower - white
Good old cauliflower – at Safeway about $4 / lb

Green Giant Cauliflower Crumbles - $3.49 / 16 oz
Green Giant Cauliflower Crumbles – $3.49 / 16 oz

Organic Trader Joe's riced cauliflower - $1.99 / 12 oz
Organic Trader Joe’s riced cauliflower – $1.99 / 12 oz

So how does packaged cauliflower compare to the real thing? Let’s take a look, taking into account:

1 – Practicality – YES, YES, YES!
Even though it’s not difficult to shred cauliflower, the operation can be messy or painful (have you ever grated your knuckles?). Grating adds one step to a process that is already a little complicated. So if you don’t have infinite amounts of time, riced cauliflower is definitely worth it.

2 – Nutritional value – looks OK, but read the fine print.

Stems vs. florets
Don’t discard the stems: they possess as much nutritional value as the florets. The stems contain more chloroplasts and the associated chlorophyll and carotenoids, they also have more fiber. The maturation of nutrients in the stem and in the floret are different and complement each other.

It doesn’t look like much nutrition can be lost in the process of grating. In fact, one advantage is that the stems are probably blended together with the florets, which has more nutritional value than eating the florets alone.

However, Green Giant proudly boasts that its product “can be steamed in its pack” (always scary) and uses a “patent pending process to extend shelf life” (I don’t know about you, but this makes my hair stand on end): Additives are a problem in all packaged foods; under certain conditions, they don’t have to be listed with the ingredients. My daughter is not allergic to fresh carrots, yet she has had serious allergic reactions to packaged carrots, although the only ingredient listed was “carrots.”

We need to know a little more about the industrial processes involved in bringing the product to market. Real food with the least possible processing is always preferable; packaged cauliflower may be an acceptable alternative, if produced in a reasonable manner.

3 – Price
A quick survey doesn’t reveals huge price differences. But note that the price of fresh cauliflower fluctuates a lot these days.

In any case, compared with a box of cereals (roughly $4/lb), cauliflower is well worth it, no matter under what form you buy it.

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