Keto Micronutrients: Why They Are So Important When Following A Ketogenic Diet


When venturing into the world of keto dieting, you’ll hear a lot of talk about “macros.” Macros are a shorter way to say macronutrients, as in carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. When on the keto diet, the goal is to switch your body into ketosis (fat-burning) by eating primarily fat and protein with just enough carbohydrates to put your body at ease. With these broad dieting rules, it’s easy to see how a dieter can get tunnel vision. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Clean Keto’s Healthy Emphasis</p></h4> Within the keto diet, there is a division between clean keto and dirty keto. Someone trying dirty keto might feed into the idea that keto is “the cheese and bacon” diet because these foods are high in protein and fat. But these foods are not a nutritious staple for any diet. <h5>Why would someone lean on foods like these?</h5> To push their bodies further into ketosis and drop weight more drastically. The problem with this short-term solution is that due to its low nutritional value, it’s not sustainable. A body starved of nutrients will get sick. One of the criticisms of the Atkins diet in its early days was that dieters weren’t getting the full message of what foods were healthy versus unhealthy, helping them become thinner only for a short time until the diet ended, and then they gained back most of their weight, now with a higher risk for heart disease<sup>1</sup>. This is where clean keto steps in to save the day. Clean keto is about eating whole foods, free of processing and chemicals and full of fiber and micronutrients. Micronutrients are the minerals and vitamins we traditionally mention when talking about food’s nutritional value. For example, carrots contain a lot of vitamin A, and milk dominates the market as the best source of the mineral calcium. Macronutrients are what our metabolism breaks down for energy, whereas micronutrients are used for more specialized tasks like how calcium is needed for bone strength and vitamin A is necessary for good eyesight. <div class="row mb-4"> <div class="col-12 col-md-5 push-md-7 align-self-center"> <img class="img-fluid" src="https://s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/wm-wmade-static-media/media/public/Assets/images/healthy-fats-on-white-counter.jpg" alt="Healthy fats on white counter"> </div> <div class="col-12 col-md-7 pull-md-5"> A lot of keto dieters get tripped up when they aim for the fattiest diet possible. Eating more fat can raise their ketone levels, which is an indicator that they are burning more fat and utilizing ketosis more efficiently. But you see, even healthy fats like coconut oil and olive oil do not have a lot of micronutrients in them. They are wonderful sources of essential fatty acids, resources our bodies need, but when you compare those oils to foods with lower fat content, like walnuts and almonds, the nuts contain way more micronutrients. They are considered more nutrient dense. </div> </div> According to the USDA’s database on food’s nutritional value, this is how many vitamins and minerals are found in 100 grams of walnuts<sup>2</sup>. <div class="row"> <div class="col-12 col-md-6"> <li>Calcium 98 mg</li> <li>Iron 2.91 mg</li> <li>Magnesium 158 mg</li> <li>Phosphorus 346 mg</li> <li>Potassium 441 mg</li> <li>Sodium 2 mg</li> <li>Zinc 3.09 mg</li> <li>Vitamin C 1.3 mg</li> </div> <div class="col-12 col-md-6"> <li>Thiamin .341 mg</li> <li>Riboflavin .150 mg</li> <li>Niacin 1.125 mg</li> <li>Vitamin B-6 .537 mg</li> <li>Folate 98 µg</li> <li>Vitamin A 1µg</li> <li>Vitamin E .7 mg</li> <li>Vitamin K 2.7µg</li> </div> You don’t have to know how many µg are in an mg to see that walnuts contain about 16 different types of micronutrients. We say “about 16” because walnuts, like all plant produce, takes its nutrients from the soil it was raised in and not all soil quality is the same. This model is the general ideal for a healthy walnut’s nutrient content. Whereas this is what 100 grams of coconut oil<sup>3</sup> looks like. <div class="row"> <div class="col-12"> <li>Calcium 1mg</li> <li>Iron .05 mg</li> <li>Zinc .02 mg</li> <li>Vitamin E .11mg</li> <li>Vitamin K .6µg</li> </div> </div> You can clearly see that there are more nutrients in walnuts versus coconut oil, even though the same amount of coconut oil contains ninety-nine grams of fat to walnuts’ sixty-five grams. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Why does this matter?</p></h4> Well, if calcium builds strong bones and vitamin A keeps our eyesight working, going an extended period of time without such nutrients will starve our bodies of the resources they need to function. If we are eating calories without nutrients―say a tub of coconut oil for breakfast, lunch, and dinner―then our metabolisms are churning out energy as we survive off the calories alone. But all the while, our tissues are breaking down. *What does this mean for you?* It means that your goal should be to hit your macro counts while eating all of the nutrient-dense foods you can. A diverse diet with an emphasis on foods with a higher fat content can get you really far on the keto diet and help you achieve your goals. <div class="text-left my-5"> <img class="img-fluid w-md-75 image-center" src="https://s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/wm-wmade-static-media/media/public/Assets/images/array-of-superfoods-on-a-grey-counter.jpg" alt="Array of Superfoods On A Grey Counter"> </div> The most nutrient-dense foods are dark leafy greens and organ meats. Eating plants is especially important when we talk about the ones containing flavonoids as these compounds include ketones. But organ meats aren’t very popular on the American table, so no one expects you to start lapping up liver and onions right away―specifically if you’re a vegetarian or you don’t have access to grass-fed beef organs. Instead, you can focus on filling your plate with all of the organic greens you can find. If you come across pasture-raised lamb kidneys on your next grocery run, maybe you could give them a try! But only if you want to. In fact, according to nutrition expert Chris Masterjohn, PhD, the average person should only eat three to four ounces of liver a week. Any more than that and they’d be consuming too much copper<sup>4</sup>. <h5>Whoa, whoa, back up. You can eat too much of a micronutrient?</h5> Absolutely! Just like you can drink too much water or get too much sunshine (hello, sunburn!). But don’t let this stress you out, as your body knows what it needs. Do you know the stereotype *“Women love chocolate?”* <div class="row mb-4"> <div class="col-12 col-md-5 push-md-7 align-self-center"> <img class="img-fluid" src="https://s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/wm-wmade-static-media/media/public/Assets/images/woman-eating-bar-of-chocolate.jpg" alt="Woman eating bar of chocolate"> </div> <div class="col-12 col-md-7 pull-md-5"> It’s not just because it tastes good and triggers happiness receptors in the brain, but because chocolate holds a lot of iron and magnesium. You know who needs an extra boost of iron and magnesium once a month? Women!<sup>5</sup> An iron deficiency can lead to anemia, as iron is necessary for healthy red blood cells. And magnesium is needed for a variety of functions from bone health to protein synthesis, the creation of proteins<sup>6</sup>. Specifically, once a month, magnesium helps women with PMS symptoms<sup>7</sup>. Women crave it because the body knows what it needs. </div> </div> <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">What Other Micronutrients Could I Be Lacking?</p></h4> A well-maintained clean keto diet doesn’t leave you lacking in many micronutrients, but if clean eating is new to you, it’s smart to have an idea of what foods do what for your body. **Vitamin D** is an essential vitamin our cells can make from sunlight. It’s also found, already made, in eggs, liver, butter, fatty fish, milk, and some mushrooms. Vitamin D is fascinating because nearly every cell in your body has receptors for it,<sup>8</sup> meaning that every cell in your body can use vitamin D if the nutrient is around. It’s also necessary for calcium absorption, and taking vitamin D supplements has been shown to help people suffering from rickets, IBD (irritable bowel disease), and depression―seasonal depression, especially. **Vitamin E** is found in sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, avocado, and spinach―all foods you can eat your fill of on keto. It acts as an antioxidant in the body, helping tissues rebound from stressors. This also means it supports healthy aging and immunity. Vitamin E is also known to help with cardiovascular disease. **Riboflavin** is considered a B vitamin (B2 to be exact). It’s required by our metabolism, especially in a ketogenic state. A deficiency in riboflavin can affect your energy levels and your reproductive and immune systems, and can even cause photophobia, or a sensitivity to light.9 It’s found in dairy, beef, eggs, and brewer’s yeast. **Vitamin B6** is essential for metabolizing proteins, a process that cannot be overlooked on the keto diet. It does a lot to create new enzymes in the body, which are specialized proteins that do the bidding of our DNA. Vitamin B6 is found in liver, chicken, salmon, avocado, pistachios, and walnuts. **Folate** is a necessary vitamin for women trying to get pregnant as it’s vital for cell turnover. A deficiency in this vitamin can also cause immune problems and a particular form of anemia where the blood cells appear enlarged. It’s found in asparagus, edamame, spinach, okra, broccoli, lettuce, avocado, turnip greens, liver, and black-eyed peas. Additionally, because folate is so necessary for pregnant women, supplements are often readily available. **Calcium** is considered the “king of major minerals” as it’s the most abundant mineral in the body. It’s famous for its importance to bone health, and calcium is also necessary for proper muscle contraction and balancing pH. At some point around puberty, women’s ability to absorb calcium is significantly decreased which is why a having lack of calcium-rich foods in childhood is linked to osteoporosis later in life. Dairy products are known for their abundance in calcium, but this mineral is also stored away in leafy greens like bok choi, kale, spinach, and some seafood like sardines and clams. **Chloride** is a mineral that acts as an electrolyte along with sodium and potassium. New keto dieters can look to sources of this mineral as a way to up their electrolytes and keep the keto flu at bay. It’s found in salt, sea vegetables, and olives. We’ve already talked about **magnesium** and how it’s tied to chocolate, but magnesium is also the supplement of choice for many people suffering from constipation and muscle spasms. Along with cocoa, it can be found in spinach, peas, almonds, cashews, swiss chard, kidney beans, pumpkin seeds, and flax seeds. **Biotin** is another vitamin necessary for metabolism, but interestingly, eating too many raw eggs can block the absorption of biotin. It’s found in brewer’s yeast, legumes, egg yolks, nuts, and organ meats<sup>9</sup>. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Anti-Nutrients</p></h4> Now that we’ve explored the diverse micronutrient culture of the ketogenic diet, we should discuss anti-nutrients. These are components of food that stop the absorption of vitamins and minerals. In the example mentioned above, there are anti-nutrients in raw eggs that prevent the absorption of biotin. <div class="row mb-4"> <div class="col-12 col-md-5 push-md-7 align-self-center"> <img class="img-fluid" src="https://s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/wm-wmade-static-media/media/public/Assets/images/tuscan-kale-growing-in-a-garden.jpg" alt="Tuscan kale growing in a garden"> </div> <div class="col-12 col-md-7 pull-md-5"> But the most common anti-nutrients are found in the very popular kale and spinach. Both of these leafy greens have spearheaded plant-based eating and hearty salads across the country because they are among the top nutrient dense veggies out there, but what the fad fails to mention is that they contain anti-nutrients that can counteract all of the good they do if they are eaten in excess. </div> </div> If you find that you are lacking an essential micronutrient, you can always bridge the gap with supplements. But micronutrients don't work in such a straightforward way. Calcium, for example, is a very common supplement for women to take; calcium supplements are promised to fend off osteoporosis later in life, but calcium doesn't work alone in bone health. As we discovered earlier, calcium needs vitamin D to get absorbed, and this pair isn't the only set of micronutrients that work together. Good health calls for a diverse plate. No one vegetable or protein (i.e., bacon and cheese) will give you everything your body needs, and that’s what makes embarking on the ketogenic diet so exciting. If you’ve come from the Standard American Diet (SAD), you’ll be thrilled with all of the colors you get to fill your plate with. Clean keto is known for its massive salads and hearty dressings, so go on and fix yourself something yummy. Don’t settle for the Skittles commercial of merely tasting the rainbow. You deserve to chop, steam, bake, roast, crunch, chew, and savor the rainbow every day. <h5><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Resources</p></h5> 1. <https://books.google.com/books?id=VegUiVbruBMC&pg=PA327> 2. <https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/3690?fgcd=&manu=&lfacet=&format=&count=&max=35&offset=&sort=&qlookup=12155> 3. <https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/04047?fgcd=&manu=&format=&count=&max=25&offset=&sort=default&order=asc&qlookup=coconut+oil&ds=&qt=&qp=&qa=&qn=&q=&ing=> 4. **The Keto Answer Podcast: episode 033: Chris Masterjohn - Why micronutrients matter as much as macros on keto** 5. <https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-11717/why-women-need-to-get-enough-magnesium.html> 6. **“Vitamins and Minerals A to Z” published by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition** 7. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17177579> 8. <https://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-vitamin-d> 9. <https://www.newsmax.com/FastFeatures/vitamin-b2-deficiency-symptoms/2011/01/19/id/369594/>

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