6 October 2020

Zooming In On Micros: Going beyond calories and macros


  Micronutrition is a very complex topic to discuss in any detail, so I’m going to do my very best to make this simple and informative.  Before reading this, you’d first benefit from reading my article onmacronutrients. This is the sequel and nailing macronutrients should be priority number one. Well, actually it’s calories but that’s…


Micronutrition is a very complex topic to discuss in any detail, so I’m going to do my very best to make this simple and informative. 

Before reading this, you’d first benefit from reading my article onmacronutrients. This is the sequel and nailing macronutrients should be priority number one. Well, actually it’s calories but that’s also in there.

Another article you might benefit from is this one, on my philosophy of health.These are shameless plugs — and I do mean shameless — because I see no shame in preaching the importance.

As a subject, micronutrition is rather complex and misunderstood. Because of this, I have focused on a few things that I primarily want to convey. One is the functions of the micronutrients. The other is more general nutritional factoids, which I have woven in throughout and should support your conceptual understanding, aiding in your ability to follow along when things get more technical.  

This will be a 2-part series, because as I said, it’s a complex topic. So be sure to check back in a week’s time for the next instalment!

This first part is more a beginner guides and it features the following topics:

  • Micronutrient 101– What are they? What are their basic functions?
  • Micronutrient stats– Common deficiencies and testing methods.
  • Micronutrition and physical health 

Then in part two, things really heat up and I answer the hard-hitting questions relating to the following topics:

  • Micronutrition and psychological health
  • Multivitamins/mineral supplementation– How to choose and rules for supplementation
  • Summary
  • Extras – Blood testing and drug interactions 

Micronutrient 101

A micronutrient is simply a nutrient that is essential in small (micro) amounts i.e. vitamins and minerals. When something is considered as essential then this means it is required to sustain human function and thus health. 

You’ll typically see micronutrients measured in milligrams or micrograms (which is 10 and 100 times smaller than the gram targets you’re used to seeing, respectively). Alternatively, you may see UI in cases such as vitamin D, which is based on biological activity. Only a small handful are measured in grams for daily requirements. 

These small units of measurement can lead to the misconception that these nutrients have small and insignificant effects on human physiology. This is unfortunate because it can have devastating consequences later in life.

It’s often touted that if you cover your macronutrients targets sufficiently and eat mostly wholesome foods, then, your micronutrient will take care of themselves.

I believe that, for the most part, this statement seems true. However, I’m not convinced we know enough about optimal micronutrient ranges to be super confident. (This is something I explore in greater detail in part 2). 

In fact, micronutrients are vital for macronutrient metabolism. This means that it really can depend on the wholesomeness of the foods you consume, as well as the variety of those foods, in how much just hitting your macronutrients matters. Additionally, in the age of refinement, the label “wholesome” is becoming rather cloudy. 

For example, the refinement process of wholegrain brown rice (creating white rice) means that it is stripped of its essential nutrients such as thiamin (B-1) and magnesium. However, sometimes nutrients are placed back in, but not all, and not to the original amount. (Nor do I trust companies that say they put anything back in). 

But it’s not just this that can impact the micronutrient content. There’s also soil health (although this is controversial), the cooking process (high heat destroys many micronutrients), and indirectly, the food environment, bathing us in cheap junk food options.

Why is this a problem? Does it matter given the calories and macronutrients are still the same?

Well these questions brings me to one of the main functions of micronutrients. Putting it simply, for chemical reactions in the body (your metabolism) to take place in a fast and effective manner, vitamin and minerals provide the necessary equipment. This is because these micronutrients provide the body with functional co-enzymes and co-factors for both energy production and storage and they also allow these reactions to occur under safer conditions. (Safe because energy production is a dirty business as you later find out). 

So, if you want the energy from that rice — and you do— magnesium and thiamine provide the assist. Other functions include bolstering immunity, protecting cells from damage and proving support for growth of tissues other than adipose (fat) tissue.  

There’re 30 vitamins and minerals that are essential to consume through diet and they all have unique functions within the human body that are worth noting. This next segment, involving each micronutrient may be a little dry, but it paves the way for the profound information that follows.

Water-soluble vitamins

Vitamin B and C are water soluble vitamins that freely circulate in the blood, but because they have no place to be stored, their lifespan is short. Therefore, daily consumption is essential for long term health.

B vitamins play their greatest hand in energy production but are also vital for healthy nerve conduction and the synthesis of important neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine. The fun stuff! Vitamin C is best known as an antioxidant which protects against free radicals.

Quick factoid: Free radicals are what’s known as reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are oxygen molecules with an unpaired electron. In order to become stable, they steal electrons causing cellular injury. Some number of free radicals are a part of normal metabolic processes within the body and are easily reduced (voluntarily given an electron) and therefore stabilised by antioxidants, metal carrier proteins or scavenging enzymes. In such cases, no harm done. However, if this balance shifts, these reactive oxidation species can run amuck of your cellular process, breaking down cell membranes, modifying proteins and destroying and/or causing mutations in DNA. This can be a result of many things, including a novel pathogen, excessive inflammation, certain medications, or even too much circulating copper or iron. Polluted air from factories or even highways also carry with it damaging free radicals. Or, most relevant to this article, it can be caused by a lack of antioxidants from diet.

Now go ahead and think of any disease… yep, oxidative stress from free radicals. If left unchecked over long periods of time, free radicals can cause all kinds of harm. Cells are kind of a big deal…

Solution: Move to the country (jokes, kind of), avoid excessive use of harmful drugs or prescription medication, wash your hands, manage stress and really just eat and live like an adult concerned about one’s health.

There’re also pseudo-vitamins that can enhance health and disease resistance. They aren’t technically vitamins because they aren’t essential for life (because we can produce them ourselves), however, many of these are added to multivitamin/nutritional supplements which is why I’m going to mentions the ones that are commonly added and of importance.

They include,

  • Choline:  Improves memory and is an important component of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
  • L-Carnitine: Energy production.
  • Alpha lipoic acid: Energy production, breaking down of amino acids and it’s a potent antioxidant which helps recharge other antioxidants such a vitamin C and glutathione.
  • Coenzyme Q10: Antioxidant and energy production.
  • Inositol: cell membrane integrity.

Fat-soluble vitamins

Vitamins A, D, E and K require that you consume dietary fat and have the ability to produce enough bile to break down that fat (important for anyone without a gallbladder) in order to fully maximise absorption of these vitamins. Their second unique property is that they’re stored in the liver and fat tissue throughout the body, meaning daily consumption isn’t required, which isn’tto say that you shouldn’t aim to do just that.

Vitamins A enhances vision in low light and acts as an antioxidant. Beta-carotene is one from of vitamin A found in fruit and veg and is non-toxic. Vitamin A from supplements or animal liver can be toxic and, in this case, an upper limit is set at 10,000 UI per day.

Vitamin D helps maintain strong healthy bones and immune function. Sunlight is our best and most effective source of vitamin D, and unless you’re willing to eat sardines or mackerel, or drink your weight in milk, getting enough from food is fanciful. The Upper limit is set at 2,000 UI a day, but this is an atomic number compared to what would truly be toxic. In fact, bolus doses of up to 300,000 UI are given to elderly people to maintain vitamin D stock for the 6-8 months. There’s even a story of a father and son who accidently consumed approximately one million UI from a contaminated source and lived to tell the tale.

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant with an upper limit of 1,000 UI, anything higher are you run the risk of excessive bleeding after injury. 

Vitamin K is needed for blood coagulation (clotting) and too little of this can also lead to excessive bleeding. Physiology is crazy, right?


The Macro-minerals include calcium, phosphorus, sulfur, potassium, sodium, chloride and magnesium.

To further subdivide, potassium, sodium and chloride are electrolyte minerals, thus playing a significant role in fluid balance (and subsequently blood pressure), and also act as buffers to manage blood pH. Potassium is the most important one to single out because not only does it fulfil these roles, but it also is very important for energy production.

Calcium, phosphorus and magnesium play an essential role in bone formation. Calcium is also vital for muscle contraction whereas magnesium is important for muscle relaxation. Magnesium, as is commonly stated, is essential for over 300 metabolic reactions in cells and over 100 enzymatic reactions. A lot of these reactions are a part of the ATP (energy) pathways and well as serotonergic. Phosphorus is integral to cell membranes and energy production.

Trace minerals 

Iron and zinc are the two most recognisable and important trace minerals due to propensity for deficiency. Alongside them are iodine, selenium, copper, manganese, fluoride, chromium and molybdenum. There’s also nickel, silicon, vanadium, boron, cobalt and two toxic heavy metals in mercury and lead which you want nothing to do with.

Iron, as many of you will know, is vital for oxygen transportation and energy production. Zinc is involved in around 100 enzymatic reactions, which is another way of saying it does a lot of stuff! This includes immune function, brain function, growth and development and plays a role in supporting hormones such as testosterone (so reproduction as well). Both zinc and iron have antioxidant properties. 

Iodine is extremely important for thyroid functions, which is another way of saying that it indirectly regulates metabolism. Selenium is also in the thyroid business. On top of that, selenium is a vital part of glutathione peroxidase (which is one of the scavenging enzymes that reduce reactive oxygen species).

Copper helps transport iron, acts as an antioxidant, helps produce energy, and plays a role in collagen synthesis. Manganese does something similar (broadly speaking) and fluorine strengthens tooth enamel. Chromium helps with blood sugar and molybdenum with metabolism of amino acids.

The remainder has some cool and important functions but are only worth naming when you look at the back of a supplement label and are like “what the hell in boron?”. At least then you’ll know boron an essential mineral. 

A more detailed understanding

To say that those functional lists are shortened is a massive understatement. And If you came away thinking that a single nutrient, say from a supplement, is all that’s needed to effectively fix a health-related problem, you’re sadly mistaken. Human physiology does not work in a vacuum.

To explain why this is true, there’re two terms I’ll need to get you familiar with. Synergist which means to promote or participate in the effect and antagonist which means it opposes the effect. In the case of vitamins and minerals, it helps to think of a synergist as increasing absorption or helping recycle/regenerate what’s already in your system. An agonist on the other hand, inhibits absorption or depletes current stocks. 

One common example you may have heard of is that when iron is taken alongside vitamin C, absorption rates increase. This is the classic synergistic relationship. Other examples of synergistic relationships include B-vitamins working alongside magnesium to produce energy as well as Calcium working alongside vitamin D and magnesium to help create and strengthen bone. 

Antagonistic relationships include the trichotomy between iron, zinc and copper. They all seem to get in each other’s way by fighting for transport though the intestinal lining.

The key point being, that if you want to most effectively fix a deficiency, more than one nutrient is almost always required, and if you’re going to use a supplement, you want to make sure you get it from a brand that understands these relationships. Diet, however, should be your first intervention. Making your diet as nutrient-packed as possible leaves the best chance of getting enough into your system. But, even when considering food, antagonism is still present. 

Let’s return to iron for a moment because it is one of the most notorious minerals for succumbing to anti-absorbers — and the consequences of this are high. 

For starters, there’re two types of iron found in foods with differing bioavailability (defined at greater detail in the supplements section, but for now just think of absorptive capabilities in humans). Heme Iron found in meat poultry and fish have the best absorption rates, whereas, non-heme iron found mostly in plants are less bioavailable and more susceptible to iron inhibitors (antagonists). Not only do other micronutrients such as zinc and copper act antagonistically to iron, but oxalates, polyphenols and phytates found in plants and grains work against the very non-heme located in the same source. 

For females, where iron deficiencies are common, or vegans (and especially female vegans), it’s not necessarily that iron is hard to come by, only that the highly absorbable form is, so supplementation is advised. Just make sure you buy the right one (discussed in supplement section of pt.2). 

It’s not just iron, either. Phytic acid in whole grain cereals interfere with zinc (and iron), and wheat bran with calcium. Mapping this out for your diet is just silly, it’s not a total cancellation effect, nor is it straightforward. 

The bigger issue is not exposing yourself to the nutrient in the first place. 

Micronutrient statistics

Before I get into the stats, I think it would be valuable to know how we typically measure nutrient statistics in Australia so you can understand the pitfalls of this kind of research. Firstly, we use food frequency questionnaires, surveys, or 24-48-hour food recalls to sample very large amounts of people. Then the data is collated to find out what the averageAustralian eats. Following that, researchers shop for that diet and assess its nutritional content. 

This poses a few issues to the accuracy of the results. One thing that hopefully won’t shock you is that human memory is terrible and subject to what’s known as recall bias. Overtime, your memory gets distorted to fit a version of yourself you want, rather than what actually occurs. Secondly, “Everybody lies” to steal a famous quote from House MD, and the lies are on top on the reconfigured biased memories (that you don’t recognise to be biased). Lies will be minimised because most assessment aren’t face to face, but people still love to kid themselves. Also, depending on the sample, the group of subjects may not accurately depict the real average diet of the country. Not all micronutrients are always assessed, either. 

That’s large cohort research covered. As for smaller sample sizes, there are many other ways. Serum concentrations are sometimes taken; however, they are not as accurate as one might think. Homeostatic forces will dampen absorptive rises based on current nutrient stocks. They’re also expensive to run and without constant testing, they can only supply a snapshot in time. Urine testing is not very precise because it is subject to renal clearance which is once again selective based on needs. 

Consumption also doesn’t necessarily equal absorption (which is discussed in pt.2).

To get a more comprehensive understanding of common deficiencies, I’ve also had a look at Americas and UK statistics because their diet somewhat resembles ours and their data is more complete. Australia has a poor and lazy track record for gathering nutrition data and the best data we have (from what I could find) is from one surveyed study of 900 participants in Western Australia. 

In any case, here are the numbers…

In the US 90% of Adolescent females had deficiencies in calcium, magnesium, potassium, Vitamin D, E & A, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin B-6 &12 and vitamin C (4).

Across the Australian and UK data, 24% of the participants used some kind of multivitamin to some effect, but not all deficiencies were taken care of. 

I think to get the best picture of deficiencies in Australia, assessing the food choices from the national health survey 2017-2018 which had a significantly larger sample size, would paint a better picture. Based on the survey, 50% of Australian adults met the requirements for fruit and 7% met vegetable requirements (5). Whilst it doesn’t evaluate micronutrients, I think we can make a small assumption that our deficiency list in incomplete. Not that fruit & veg are the only carriers of vitamins and minerals, but it is suggestive of poor overall eating habits. 

One thing I want to also add is that because these are averages, they don’t quite take into consideration special populations. For example, if someone doesn’t eat meat and/or seafood, without supplementation, they’re likely to be deficient in vitamin B-12, vitamin A, iron and zinc. If you’re a full-on vegan, especially a “bad vegan” who doesn’t eat enough fruit, veg and wholegrains, you’re asking for trouble. Then there’s the elderly who may not be able to stomach some foods as well or feel the need to eat as much as they need to, or they may have age-related malabsorption. 

Even the lists that we do have are very concerning, because the absence of just one micronutrient downregulates the functions of many others. Each nutrient plays an integral role, a link of sorts, in the pursuit of physical and mental health. What is “enough” for health optimisation is also an important question at hand, and if the RDI’s are deemed too low, how many more would be on that list?

But, before I move on, I feel like this is as good a place as any to clarify a potential misconception regarding salt (sodium), given it’s labelled an “excess” nutrient. 

First things first, sodium is an essential mineral that is neededto regulate fluid balance, more specifically extracellular fluid. (There’re other roles but for our purposes, let’s leave that aside). Therefore, because water is attracted to sodium, if there is too much sodium in the extracellular space, blood volume will rise bringing blood pressure up with it. However, these effects are actually very minimal (6)because the body is excellent at filtering out unnecessary sodium. 

So, when a meta-analysis goes to show that a high sodium intakes are associated with increased mortality (7), you have to consider the food choicesas a whole, not just the sodium. Think about it: What usually comes hand in hand with a salty meal? And even more indirectly, is someone who eats salty and calorie dense (answer given away) meals more likely to be a health seeking individual? Then, you have to recognise that sodium has a partner in crime when it comes to fluid balance, potassium. 

When sodium goes up potassium goes down and vice versa (antagonists). And if you look at the lists above, potassium is also mainstay. One way to increase potassium is to stop buying table salt and instead use potassium salt (potassium chloride, and yes, it’s a thing). Second to that, look up foods that are high in potassium. There are heaps!

What I’m trying to say is that we have as much of a potassium problem as we do sodium. 

Now onto more pressing matters…

Micronutrients role in physical and psychological health

I’ve chosen these two facets of health to focus on because I believe they are the cornerstones of our overall health. They ensure that social, cognitive and financial health is obtainable. 

Physical health

Leaving aside the more obvious outcomes of micronutrient deficiency — that being diseases such as scurvy from an inadequate intake of vitamin C or anaemia from low iron, both of which aren’t necessarily hard to spot for a professional — I want to talk more about the slow burning, quietly manifesting consequences of chronic malnutrition. Something we tend to neglect, but at great cost. 

Here’s a quote from Dr Bruce Ames, a biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley 

“when micronutrient intakes are lower than the recommended levels, short term requirements for micronutrients take precedence over long term needs.

This results in long term cumulative oxidative damage to macromolecules (DNA, RNA, proteins), declines in mitochondrial function, and accelerated cellular aging, hence increasing the risk of age-related diseases.

In contrast, micronutrient intakes at the RDA or higher may be needed for optimum health promotion and chronic disease prevention”

Dr Bruce Ames calls this the “triage system” which deals with micronutrient shortages from an evolutionary perspective. The body is threatened by low vitamin and mineral status; therefore, energy production becomes priority number one and longer-term health (DNA protection and antioxidant defence) gets put to one side. Spend significant time in this position and you open yourself up to all sort of disease, such as cancer. He is also one of the many leaders in the field to stipulate that the current RDI’s may not be enough to maximise longevity (8). 

To deconstruct this statement further, so that it can be fully understood and appreciated, we need to reflect back on micronutrients 101 as well as some physiology and even a little common sense. 

Oxidative damage, just to remind you, is caused by runaway reactive oxygen species (free radicals). Barring special circumstances, this comes from inadequate intakes of exogenous (external; from the diet) antioxidants. You do have an endogenous (built-in) antioxidant system, but it can’t do all the work, some help must come from diet. 

Remember, it not just vitamins C and E that provide antioxidant support, but also minerals, pseudo-vitamins and phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are found in plants and aren’t technically a nutrient, which is why I’ve forgone mentioning them thus far, but the 4000 currently identified species combined do play a major role in reducing oxidative stress. 

It’s this stress, in excess and/or overtime, that will lead to declines in mitochondrial function and enhanced cellular aging. 

Mitochondria are the cell organelles that produces the energy needed to sustain life. Dietary fat, carbohydrates and sometimes protein get broken down through a series of enzymatic reactions into Acetyl Coa. Acetyl Coa is the substrate than can pass from the extracellular space, into the mitochondrial matrix (the intracellular space) which hosts the infamous Krebs Cycle. 

Once again, through further enzymatic reactions, the Krebs cycle churns out a different product, this time, it’s electron rich co-enzymes NADH and FADH2. Lastly, these electron rich co-enzymes feed into the electron transport chain (located in the inner membrane of the mitochondria) and end up creating 90% of the energy we use. 

As previously stated, the electron transport chain is what produces the majority of free radicals as a by-product of producing energy. I’ve brought this process up for a number of reasons, mostly importantly, because these enzymatic reactions require a co-enzymes or cofactors from a vitamin or mineral.

This is a representation of nutrients (n) entering the call and being converted into acetyl coa (CoA) in the extracellular space of the mitochondria. Acetyl Coa is transport into the mitochondrial matrix (MM), and initiates the Krebs cycle (K) producing electrons (e). The electron transport chain (ETC) receives these electrons and produces ATP (energy) and reactive oxidative species (ROS).

If you’ve never studies bioenergetics, that’s ok! Just recognise that nothing in the body gets done for free and that energy production is a dirty business, leaving behind a trail of mess that needs to be cleaned up by antioxidants.

Mitochondrial DNA (mDNA) is particularly susceptible to free radicals because of its close proximity to where these free radicals are being created in excess and because, compared to nDNA (nuclear DNA), it has inefficient repair mechanisms. Additionally, mutations in mDNA will affect enzyme production needed for energy production, and subsequently cause mitochondrial dysfunction. 

A lack of antioxidants is not the only cause of such problems, without the co-enzymes and cofactors for energy production, say for example NAD from vitamin B3, the mitochondria have to work harder to produce energy, causing abacklogof greater stress. The unfortunate fact is that deficiencies in antioxidants and co-enzymes for energy production are usually paired, which enhances the negative impact of both.

Before I go any further, I will summarise the role of enzymes to build on your current physiological and biochemical knowledge.

Enzymes are tiny proteins that speed upthe rate of chemical reactions in one of two ways. Firstly, there are catabolic enzymatic reactions which break bigger molecules into smaller molecules. Secondly, there are anabolic reactions which use smaller molecules, and build them up for storage. The creation of energy from food is a catabolic reaction and the gaining of fat tissue is an anabolic process. These protein workers have specific shape so that they can complete specific jobs. Apart of the enzyme structure is known as the active site which is the area of the protein that does all the work. Co-enzymes and cofactors (such as metal ions from minerals) bind to that active site and act as catalysts, telling that enzymes to get on with the job.

Now let’s transfer what we now know to the common goal of wanting to lose fat. In doing so, you’d want to be able to create ATP efficiently from the energy stored in fat tissue. To do this, you need to have the requisite nutrients present for each step along the way. Lipolysis to Beta oxidation, Acetyl Coa through to the Krebs Cycle, and NADH and FADH2 to the electron transport chain toward the creation of ATP, all require a list of micronutrients to function effectively. Some lists are small, and others are extensive. 

The Krebs cycle is the most important pathway because it is the common metabolic pathway. This means that lipids, carbohydrates and proteins take this route to form ATP. What’s highlighted in red are the nutrients required.

You’ll notice straight away the B-vitamins (and wannabe B-vitamins, lipoic acid and CoQ10) are heavily present — which after reading micronutrients 101 and learning of their importance in energy production, shouldn’t come as a surprise. Iron (Fe) is also involved in the early staged. It’s also very hard for researcher to distinguish between nutrients directly working throughout the Krebs cycle and others that have a more indirect impact, so, this list may be longer.

That’s a long list and the Krebs cycle is just one stagein fat loss process. Just to even prepare fat stores for lipid metabolism (lipolysis), you need B3, B4, biotin and B12. Then, B5 is need for the formation of Acetyl Coa, but just to convert B5 into its active co-enzyme so that it can do anything, you need magnesium.

You can, however, still produce energy without these co-enzymes and co-factors, but this will occur at slower rate (as well as inducing more stress) to produce energy. This is one way of saying that the body’s ability to burn fat (or carbs, or protein) may be limited by nutrient availability.

Imagine a bunch of potential energy trying to feed its way into the Krebs cycles, but due to low micronutrient status, it isn’t working as effectively. Instead, it diverts the potential energy elsewhere. In fact, you don’t have to imagine this at all. Consider the times when you’ve felt a build-up of lactic acid (one aspect of fatigue) whilst being active. This it due to the diversion of potential energy to the less effective Cori cycle, most often because of lack of oxygen, but sometimes, more subtlety, due to a lack of co-enzymes. You can actually measure mitochondrial dysfunction by measuring the build-up of lactic acid to see if they are chronically elevated. (The devices aren’t cheap but for coaches, it’s likely worth it)

I think matching the physiology with felt experience is a good way of thinking about is this. 

Think of the difference a lack of nutrients will have on things like NEAT (Non-exercise activity thermogenesis) which is your “voluntary” physical activity on a day to day basis. When eating a subpar Western diet, over time, you’ll encounter more cell damage, genetic mutations or even cell death because the mitochondria are being more often overwhelmed by free radicals. As a consequence, you’ll be unable to produce as much energy, leading to feelings of constant fatigue. There are, of course, many reasons why you’ll feel de-motivated to stay physically active when consuming a poor diet, which I’ll touch on in the psychological health section. 

In such cases, you’re essentially lowering your metabolism, and since your Basal metabolic rate (BMR) can’t drop (significantly) your NEAT, both conscious, such as walking and gardening, and subconscious, such as fidgeting will end up taking the hit. And to keep your BMR ticking along (which is the energy required for vital functions), the mitochondria not only have to work harder, but there’s less of a clean-up crew (antioxidants) and over time, this develops into a destructive positive feedback loop.

NEAT is less voluntary than you think. Nutrients “program” your mood and energy levels so that you “want” to get off the couch. The example above is a clear case of metabolic adaptations to diet that when matched for calories, really broaden the definition of the term (as well as energy deficiency). 

I’ve had a lot to say about energy production and how a lack of micronutrients can be a limiting factor, but storage is just as important. Many of the same energy producing nutrients are also involved in storing away lipids and glucose. If you can’t store these nutrients effectively, they linger in your bloodstream. Not a safe space for them.

Think about adding a stressor on top of everything that’s been spoken about. The sympathetic nervous system flares up, adrenaline, noradrenaline and glucocorticoids all get pumped into the bloodstream which switches off insulin and turns glucagon on, therefore, dumping glucose and lipids to your legs and arms to complement the fight or flight response. Energy is constructed in a hurry, forget about the clean-up crew, it’s time to run or fight whatever has you startled! 

Oh, wait you’re only stuck in traffic… 

Time to reactivate the parasympathetic system (if you can), switch insulin back on and start putting this energy back into storage, gee what a mess I’ve left behind! And jeez, I’m not in the best shape to store it away either. As you’re eating your breaky-burger, in a hurry, on the way to work. 

Then, just to add in one last part that I’m sure you’re all concerned about, that being exercise performance and recovery. You really think that building muscle JUST requires protein and energy? Think again. The anabolic process of adding new muscle tissue is a micronutrient expensive process, one nutrient that is vital is magnesium which is one of the known common deficiencies in Australia and around the world.

Extra titbit: Amongst leading researchers in this field, there’s a hypothesis (I dare say theory) that greater nutrient density equals greater satiety and not just because of the food volume, fibre and protein content of nutrient dense foods. When your body is thirsty for water, homeostatic mechanism are employed to create a sense of thirst to resolves the issue. Just like this example, it’s thought that when essential nutrients are scarce, the body creates hunger and because most people have poor eating habits due to a poor eating environment, they eat chocolate. The body subsequently says “nope, that’s not what we needed, try again”. Near impossible to prove but worth noting!

Remember these are the subtleties of undernutrition. 

Factor back in the greater possible of sickness from a weakened immune system or constant more (noticeable) lethargy from a lack of energy related micronutrient or oxygen deficiencies from low iron that you mistake for poor sleep or chronic work stress (which all can co-exist). These low-profile deficiencies, however, can produce very real and tangible health disasters such as a stroke in the long run, that cause of which is hard to pinpoint in retrospect. To quote Talia al ghul (from the dark knight rises) …

 “it’s the slow knife, the knife that takes its time, the knife that waits years without forgetting, then slips quietly between the bones, that’s the knife that cuts the deepest”

Pretty stark hey, but If I can make my point with a batman quote, I’ll take that option every time.

That’s it for this one. Make sure you tune in for the next one because that’s where it really heats up! 


1.         Gallagher CM, Black LJ, Oddy WH. Micronutrient intakes from food and supplements in Australian adolescents. Nutrients. 2014;6(1):342-54.

2.         [Available from: https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/micronutrient-inadequacies/overview#:~:text=Prevalence%20(%25)%20of%20Deficiency%23&text=An%20analysis%20of%20NHANES%202003,the%20NAM%20cutoffs%20(55).

3.         Whitton C, Nicholson SK, Roberts C, Prynne CJ, Pot GK, Olson A, et al. National Diet and Nutrition Survey: UK food consumption and nutrient intakes from the first year of the rolling programme and comparisons with previous surveys. Br J Nutr. 2011;106(12):1899-914.

4.         Moore LL, Singer MR, Qureshi MM, Bradlee ML, Daniels SR. Food group intake and micronutrient adequacy in adolescent girls. Nutrients. 2012;4(11):1692-708.

5.         National Health Survey: first results, Australia 2017-18. [Canberra, A.C.T.]: Australian Bureau of Statistics; 2018.

6.         Mascioli S, Grimm R, Jr., Launer C, Svendsen K, Flack J, Gonzalez N, et al. Sodium chloride raises blood pressure in normotensive subjects. The study of sodium and blood pressure. Hypertension. 1991;17(1 Suppl):I21-6.

7.         Graudal N, Jürgens G, Baslund B, Alderman MH. Compared With Usual Sodium Intake, Low- and Excessive-Sodium Diets Are Associated With Increased Mortality: A Meta-Analysis. American Journal of Hypertension. 2014;27(9):1129-37.

8.         Ames BN. Increasing longevity by tuning up metabolism. EMBO reports. 2005;6(S1):S20-S4.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send this to a friend