A table full of food to meet basic nutritional needs

Nutrition 101: Basic Nutritional Needs

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In order for every cell, tissue, and organ in our body to work effectively, it has basic nutritional needs, and to be fed:

  • 13 vitamins
  • 16 minerals
  • 9 amino acids

each and every day.

Sure, we can skip a day or two of meeting our nutrient requirements (I’ll bet illnesses in the past kept you from eating for a few days), but if this happens on a consistent basis, our bodily systems will start to break down.

Early on, it might not even ‘feel’ like anything. Decay is happening internally, yet you are totally unaware of the destruction that is taking place.

And, that’s the story for most Americans, especially those with chronic diseases. Breakdown is taking place LONG BEFORE any signs and symptoms show up.

How Much of the Micronutrients Do We Need?

The FDA has issued dietary guidelines known as the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA).  It’s important to understand that the RDA does not provide optimal levels or in some cases satisfy basic nutritional needs, of nutrients but the MINIMUM amount required to prevent ‘deficiency’ diseases. The RDA for Vitamin C is 65-90 mg, depending on gender. However, studies show that 200-1000 mgs daily can support optimal health. You can see that this is a huge variance, and this variance exists with nearly all of our vitamins and minerals.

Depending on the studies you look at, 90-98% of Americans do not get all of their RDA needs met on a daily basis.

Additionally, per the CDC (Centers for Disease Control):

  • 80% of all heart disease (including stroke) are caused by dietary and lifestyle choices, as well as
  • 80% of Type 2 diabetes, and
  • 40% of all cancers.

We all know that we’re supposed to ‘eat right and exercise’ yet very few people are doing just that.

The latest government report states that:

So, where’s the disconnect?

Why aren’t most people ‘eating right and exercising’?

Sometimes it can be fear of the unknown.

What is the Perfect Diet?

Nearly every week, there seems to be a new PERFECT diet that will surely guarantee perfect health and vitality. And, many times this NEW, PERFECT diet will contradict the NEW, PERFECT diet that was so popular last week.

So, which eating plan (lifelong eating program that makes sense….not diet, which conjures up visions of eating a certain way for 3-6 months and going back to same old pattern) is the best???

Is it Paleo? Primal? Ketogenic? Vegan? Vegetarian? Atkins? South Beach?

Guess what? They can all be great eating plans IF you make sure you are getting your 13 vitamins, 16 minerals and 9 essential amino acids every single day.  You’ll want to focus on fiber and essential fatty acids, too……but truth be told…..if you eat the foods rich in vitamins and minerals, you’ll likely get your fiber and fat needs met, too.

Choosing an eating plan that resonates with you should be fairly easy. There are many recipes available online from most of the popular eating programs. Check out various recipes. See which ones sound yummy to you. Additionally, make sure you’ll really be willing to prepare these meals.

That’s where another ‘disconnect’ comes in.

We all know we’re supposed to eat right….but after a long, stressful day at work, many people don’t feel like preparing a healthy, nourishing meal. It’s so much easier to grab food from a window on the way home from work. (Of course, anyone who makes this decision knows that the food choice isn’t typically healthy, but convenience usually wins out, when we’re tired and stressed.)

How can we overcome this obstacle?

It’s not ‘hard’ but it does take discipline, early on.

Do you remember when you learned to tie your shoes…..or ride a bike? It didn’t come naturally, at first. But with persistence, it became second nature.

And this strategy can become second nature, too.

Food Prep to Meet Nutritional Needs

It’s all about taking 2-3 hours on a Saturday or Sunday for food prep.

Let me see a show of hands…..how many of you have gone to the grocery store, with the greatest of intentions to eat healthier…..purchased tons of fresh veggies and fruits…..only to find them slimy and rotten at the back of the fridge 7-10 days later?

We’ve all done it….right?

This is where discipline will pay HUGE dividends.

BEFORE you go to the grocery store, plan out what you’ll want to eat for the week. Go through your cupboards and fridge, too, and see what you’ve already got on hand that you can use to create yummy and easy meals.

Make your list for Mon-Fri or Mon-Sat.

Once you know what you want to eat for the week, and it’s written down, head to the store and STICK TO THE LIST.

A couple of great things will happen, that you didn’t expect….

  • First, when you already know what you want to eat for the week, and you’ve got your list, it’s like you’ve put on ‘invisible’ blinders. Your eyes won’t see the junky, impulse food, because your brain will be focused on the food that’s on the list.
  • Second, when you go with your detailed list, you’ll discover that your grocery bill will be LOWER than you expected.   (When I was in practice, I would often bring in my grocery receipts to show my patients. They couldn’t believe that I could spend $60-80 per week to feed my husband and I totally organic food. And, that includes all the fixin’s for my favorite Saturday breakfast of bacon, eggs and fried taters.)
  • Third, and the MOST IMPORTANT step, when you get home from the grocery store, you MUST prep your food at that time. All of the chopping, cutting, dicing, is only done 1 day per week.

From there, sort everything into storage containers and mark for each day of the week.

It is a great feeling, and a great sense of accomplishment, when you know that all of your meals have been prepped for the week.

And…..you save time.

And….you  save money, too!


If food prepping seems a bit overwhelming initially, there are many great resources available. You could hire a Nutrition Therapist to come to your home and walk you through all the steps. You could also find some YouTube videos to help with that. You can also hire a natural food chef (NFC) to cook for you.

Additionally, the NTI website offers many delicious and easy recipes that are done in 30 minutes, or less (5)……but I digress…..let’s get back to Nutrition #101.

If you, or a loved one, is struggling with chronic disease and/or obesity, it’s virtually certain that key nutritional needs are not being met on a daily basis.

The ‘Must Haves’

So, what are the vitamins and minerals we must eat on a consistent basis to improve our health?

The essential vitamins are:

  • Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12, C, D, E, and K2.

The essential minerals are:

  • Sodium, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Iron, Zinc, Chromium, Manganese, Selenium, Sulfur, Copper, Molybdenum, Iodine, Chlorine, Cobalt is ‘conditionally’ essential.

The essential amino acids are:

  • Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, Valine.

This nutrient list might look daunting, like you have to eat TONS OF FOOD , that’s hard to prepare, to meet your nutrition goals.  But, that’s not true. A few key foods, eaten daily, will have your needs met.

When I was in private practice, patients would often ask me if there was a ‘miracle’ food they could eat that would help improve their health, or the health of their loved ones.


There are a several foods that seem to have ‘super-powers’.

Adding these foods daily will really help your overall health status.

These foods include:

  • Green leafy veggies (kale ranks high)
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Legumes
  • Berries also add a healthy punch to your eating plan

Here’s an easy recipe to get you started…..

Superfood Salad

If you want to consume ALL of the vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids in one easy meal, make sure you eat this salad on a regular basis:

4C salad greens, including kale

2 oz cheese (gouda and mozzarella are good choices, but any organic, pastured cheese will do)

½ cucumber

½ tomato

½ red or yellow bell pepper

½ avocado

1C cooked garbanzo beans (you can substitute other legumes)

1 oz cremini mushrooms

2 tbs sunflower seeds

1 hard-boiled egg

Simple Salad Dressing adds even more nutrition to the mix:

Honey-Mustard Dressing

2 tablespoons flax oil

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon raw honey

1/2 teaspoon Himalayan Pink or Celtic salt and fresh-ground pepper

1/2 teaspoon mustard (dried, regular or Dijon)….I use nearly 1 tsp Dijon because I like the ‘bite’ it offers.

There are many great options out there, but this is a simple recipe to get started on your journey to optimal health.

Happy Ending

Isn’t it exciting and encouraging to know that making positive changes to your diet can significantly reduce or reverse your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity and other chronic diseases?

These don’t have to be debilitating diseases.

You really have the power to change your health and the health of your loved ones.

You can do it…..and we’ll be here to guide you on your journey.

Who knows…. you might get so inspired on your journey that you decide to become a Nutrition Therapist, too.

The world certainly needs more people to spread the good news about nutrition and optimal health.

Blog Contributor: Dr Rebecca Spacke, Functional Endocrinology and Lifestyle Medicine, Course Instructor NTI





Image by Henrique Félix is free for use by Unsplash

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