How To Get All Your Nutrition From Food

Micronutrient Needs

In our quest to meet all of our body's nutritional needs alone, thus eliminating the need to take a multivitamin, we began with two basic steps.

First, we had to figure out how many calories to eat in a day. Following that, we calculated acceptable macronutrient ratios. As a reminder, macronutrients are carbs, fats, and proteins. Also remember that these numbers are using myself as an example. In order to figure out your own needs, you will need to make adjustments as described in these articles.

So let's review what we have come up with so far:

Total Daily Caloric Needs: 2100 - 2500 calories
Protein: 100 - 125 grams
Carbs: 275 - 350 grams
Fat: 60 - 70 grams

Depending on who is counting, there are about 20 to 30 different micronutrients that are required for the body to function, according to known science. These micronutrients also fall into three general categories: macrominerals, microminerals, and vitamins.

Macrominerals are minerals that the body requires in relatively large amounts. These include- sodium and potassium, which often work as a pair, and calcium and magnesium, which also often work as a pair. These are also often referred to as electrolytes. Phosphorus and chloride- and even fluoride- are other macrominerals which are also necessary, but because are almost invariably found along with one of the other four macrominerals, dietary insufficiencies are extremely uncommon. So we will leave these out of the tracking.

Micronutrients are minerals that are required in relatively smaller amounts. Then there are the vitamins, each assigned a letter and sometimes a number. These are sub-divided into two categories: fat-soluble and water-soluble.

The fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) pose more of a toxicity risk in consumption of excessive amounts taken as dietary supplements, although it is not clear if there are any real risks of toxicity when consumed from foods. Each of these fat-soluble vitamins has multiple forms with varying properties that are beyond the scope of this discussion.

The water-soluble vitamins generally pose much less of a risk if consumed in excess. These are the B vitamins (numbered 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 12) (don't ask me what happened to the missing numbers) and vitamin C. For some unknown reason, the nutrition tracking software I chose does not have an option to track vitamin B-7, which is also known as biotin. We will have to deal with this later.

For the reference ranges of my micronutrients, I am going to use the set of guidelines known as Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) which are nutrient reference values developed by the Institute of Medicine of The National Academies. Generally, I trust what these guys and gals have to say on the matter. However, I do acknowledge that there are special circumstances- including malabsorption and certain genetic factors- which may dramatically increase a particular micronutrient need in a given individual.

Also- each DRI is accurate for 97 – 98% of the general population. That leaves 2 or 3 out of a hundred (somewhere between 400,000 and 6 million Americans) for which a given DRI is not accurate. Then considering how many different DRIs (approximately 22) that are in play, and it will become evidently clear that the set of DRIs- taken as a whole- is most likely wrong for every individual, on at least one of the 20 to 30 items.

But we will use them anyway.

Now here is another fun point. There are actually multiple reference ranges included in the DRIs. Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is the one we are going to use for the lower end of our tracking range. This is often expressed on food labels as Percent Daily Value or DV%. There is also the Adequate Intake (AI), which is often the same as the RDA, and the Upper Tolerable Limit (UL) which generally represents the maximum total intake from food, water, and supplements, which presents no known health risk. We will use the UI as the upper range for our tracking. Also, keep in mind that reference ranges for women and children are different than those for adult men. You will have to look those up on your own, or get some professional help.

Remember, we are going to leave phosphorus, fluoride, and chloride out of the tracking since we can safely assume pretty much everybody gets enough of those. There is one more related element- namely iodine- that we cannot be so sure of, and for which we will have to account for later since the tracking software I selected does not have data for iodine. The relevant DRI for iodine is: 150 - 1100μg.

At this point, I can also see that my tracking software does not account for chromium or molybdenum, so we will add those to the growing list of things to account for later.

Sadly, my tracking software does not account for vitamin K. Yet another thing to come back to later.

Since my tracking software, for some unknown reason, does not account for biotin or choline, we will have to come back to those later as well.

There are a few other things I would like to point out here. Firstly, the fine print at the bottom of the IOM Report notifies me that the vitamin D range is for people who receive the minimum amount of natural sunlight. Which means, as a Michigander, I do not meet those requirements for much of the year. I also notice that they recommend that all women of childbearing age acquire an additional 400 μg of folate from dietary supplements or fortified foods. I also see that, due to age-related absorption problems, the IOM recommends that all people older than 50 years of age acquire an additional B12 from fortified foods or supplements.

A quick check with the United States 2010 Census Statistics yield that the total number of women of childbearing age and adults over 50 years of age comes to approximately 200 million people. In other words, according to the Institute of Medicine, approximately 2/3 of all Americans should be taking some form of dietary supplement. Crazy, I know.

Alright, well it looks like we FINALLY have all of our guidelines in place. Are you still with me? Now it's time to begin constructing an actual meal plan!