The good news: if you eat a varied plant-based diet, you don’t have to worry about individual nutrients. In fact, there is no definite way to determine how many individual nutrients we actually get from food. Let’s look at the reasons why this is so.
- The wisdom of the body Are you sitting? You will learn something that almost no one admits about diet: there is almost no direct link between the amount of nutrients you eat and the amount of nutrients that actually reach key sites in the body – what we call bioavailability. For example, if we take 100 mg of vitamin C in one meal and 500 mg in another, it does not mean that we will get five times more vitamin C from the second meal into the tissues that need it.
- Food diversity The nutritional value of foods varies much more than we think. For example, the content of beta-carotene in different samples of the same food varies 3 to 19 times, in some cases up to 40 times and even more – as found in peaches. So – if you have a peach in each hand, the one in the right hand can contain 40 times more beta-carotene than the one in the left – depending on factors such as season, soil in which the tree grew, method of storage, method of cultivation and even the position of the fruit on the tree. Beta-carotene is far from the only such case. The content of “relatively stable” calcium in four types of cooked beans (black, kidney, navy, pinto) varies up to 2.7 times: from 46 mg to 126 mg per scoop.
- Interactions between nutrients There are even more uncertainties! You may be surprised to learn that the three previously mentioned nutrients can change each other’s performance. Calcium reduces the bioavailability of iron by up to 400%, while carotenoids (such as beta-carotene) increase iron absorption by up to 300%. Theoretically, comparing two diets, one high in calcium and low in carotenoids and the other low in calcium and high in carotenoids, would reveal an 800 to 1200% difference in iron absorption. Even if the theoretical difference were only 100-200%, this is still a lot, as a 10-20% deviation in the concentrations of certain nutrients in the tissues already indicates the possibility of severe problems. Which brings us back to the wisdom of the body. Our body has evolved to be able to eat whole foods, and the body is only concerned with the combinations and interactions of nutrients we obtain from these foods. If we draw the line – eat a lot of plant-based diets, don’t bother with numbers and let your body do its thing and pull what it needs from food.