Ep 3 Prioritize Nutrient Density

A lot of health issues that people have that turn into symptoms that can be grouped together into a diagnosable disease starts out with nutrient deficiencies.  Simply put, whole, unprocessed foods in their natural form have more nutrients.  Processed foods may be “enriched” with supplements, but supplements should be just that… not staples.

To get started with Step 1 of my “Get Your Shit Together” system, understand these 3 things first:

  1. Understanding your unique nutrient needs
  2. Understanding which foods contain those nutrients
  3. Eating a diet of at least 80% of those foods

A word of caution here – if you need a certain nutrient and the list of foods you can get it from is full of foods you’re allergic or sensitive to, still avoid those foods.  Allergy testing can be helpful, but an elimination diet is the best way to really pin down what foods are causing an inflammatory reaction.

>>>Nutrient Deficiency Self-Assessment: ​​https://michellecaseynutrition.com/nutrient-deficiency-self-assessment/ <<<

Additional Resources:

​​Effects of a nonnutritive sweetener on body adiposity and energy metabolism in mice with diet-induced obesity: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0026049513002813?casa_token=P6GSW60SE7QAAAAA:Kag16-AZVNOtBQ1s7pAfW4UDF6chhrJ3LN_8xp9fl60HpDe3QCAOnN1dobqGiWDP7G7HCTuAFA

Non-nutritive sweeteners possess a bacteriostatic effect and alter gut microbiota in mice: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0199080

Weatherby, Dicken N.D. (2004). Signs and Symptoms Analysis From A Functional Perspective, 2nd Edition. Emperors Group LLC






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Music credit: “New Way Forward” by Young Presidents

A Podcast Launch Bestie production

Welcome to Science and Shit, the podcast where I show you how a healthy gut leads to a happier life. I’m your host, Michelle Casey. I’m a functional health coach who specializes in all things digestion, from heartburn to IBS to auto immune inflammatory bowel disease. I’ve seen it all. I’ve spent the last eight years in private practice helping people with chronic illness, reverse their symptoms and live their best lives. In this podcast, you will get empowered about what you can do to impact your health naturally. I’ll help you sort through the information overwhelm to figure out what’s relevant to you. If you want a holistic scientific approach, you’ve come to the right place! 

All right, first things first, if we’re going to talk about holistic health, we need to first acknowledge that white supremacy and colonization has wiped out much indigenous wisdom all over the world. And has led to gross disparities in equity and health care access. The ʻāina (land) on which I live and work is located in the ahupuaʻa (subdivision) of Kaloko, in the moku (district) of Kona, on the mokopuni (island) of Hawai’i, in the paeʻāina (nation) of Hawai’i. I recognize that Her Majesty Queen Liliʻuokalani yielded the Hawaiian Kingdom and these territories under duress and protest to the United States to avoid the bloodshed of her people. I also want to acknowledge that the Hawai’i that we enjoy today was very much shaped in a holistic and sustainable way by many generations of indigenous Hawaiians, Polynesian people. For these people, and for this work, I express my deep reverence and gratitude. Mahalo nui loa. 

It’s important to recognize and acknowledge the history of the land that we live on. Even though you or I may not be directly responsible for the harms done to native peoples. All of us non natives who live in the United States directly benefit from this harm. If you want to learn more about the land you’re on, you can start by entering your ZIP code at the native land website at Native-land.ca. 

Now let’s jump into today’s episode. Let’s get this party started.

Hello, and welcome back. In this episode, we’re going to be talking about step one in my Get Your Shit Together system, which is Prioritize Nutrient Density. There’s a lot of reasons for this, a lot of health issues that people have that turn into symptoms, that may be grouped with other symptoms eventually can turn into a diagnosable disease, a lot of those things start with nutrient deficiencies. For the most part, the food that we have available to us that tastes the best, that is shelf stable, and that is readily available is nutrient poor, right? They may have added synthetic vitamins and minerals to certain processed foods to try to get that nutrition label to look a little better. But for the most part, those foods are not going to be very health promoting for most people. I will be talking about supplements in future episodes. There’s definitely a time and a place for supplements. And you may have heard people talking about different supplements that they’re taking. Anything from vitamins to sports nutrition to adrenal support, or Chinese herbs or things like that. But all of those supplements are meant to be just that. They’re meant to be supplements. They’re meant to supplement the food that you’re eating. What we really want to have as our foundation is a real clear understanding and a real clear set of habits that are sustainable, about focusing on nutrient density. So what I mean by nutrient density, whole unprocessed foods, in their natural form are going to have more nutrients than some shelf stable processed food that you find on the shelf. Let me backup, because there are a lot of nutrients in some of those processed foods. I’m thinking about things like chips and cookies and things like that. Carbohydrates are nutrients. Sugar is a nutrient. Salt is a nutrient. Fat is a nutrient, but those foods didn’t start out that way. A lot of what has been added is more about taste and even texture, than it is about nutrition. When we start out with simple food close to the Earth, we don’t cook the hell out of it. Then we’re gonna end up with more balanced nutrition than if we’re eating a lot of packaged foods. Right now, easier said than done in a lot of places in the world. And geographically, if you live someplace where you don’t have a ton of access to fresh fruits and vegetables, do your best. This is all on a spectrum and we all have different stages of life where we can maybe afford a little more organic, or a little more fresh food. And we all have stages of life where we rely a lot more on quick and easy. This isn’t to say one is necessarily better than the other. But it’s just to get you thinking about what you’re eating, what kind of nutrients are in the food that you’re eating, or not, and what you can maybe do a couple of small changes over time, that turned into a new habit, that get you a little bit closer to your health goals.

So you will notice in the show notes for this episode, there is a link to a questionnaire. This questionnaire is a nutrient deficiency self assessment. This podcast is called Science and Shit, and I would love to say that I have references and studies to link to and peer reviewed research for all of these different signs and symptoms on this assessment. And the truth is, I don’t. So I want to be really upfront with you about that. Because I think, sometimes, people aren’t upfront about these things. And it’s just really important to understand this is anecdotal right now. It’s anecdotal based on hundreds of 1000s of health professionals, and tracking hundreds of 1000s of patients over time. Seeing what kinds of things they were dealing with. Seeing what made it better, what made it worse, correlating with blood testing. It’s not like it’s unscientific, it’s just not necessarily something I can put a bunch of PubMed links on. I want to just be really transparent about that. This assessment is meant for you to do on your own, I will be upfront with you about the fact that I am going to collect your email address because I want to track over time, what kind of trends are coming up as you all are doing this questionnaire, and make sure that I’m providing resources for you that can actually help you to meet these goals. The other thing that I want to say about this is some of the sections are longer than others, some of them are kind of short. But if you kind of estimate if you have about 80% of the signs and symptoms in one of these categories- essential fatty acids, protein, carbohydrates, those types of things that is worth looking at, that’s worth taking a closer look at. If you have one or two, and there’s 12 or 14 different signs and symptoms in that category, probably not necessarily worth your time. So I’m going to give you that context as well. The other thing to keep in mind is if you have had this symptom in the past, but it’s been more than three months, that’s not necessarily relevant. Bodies change pretty quickly. Once you have for instance, like a B12 deficiency that’s probably been going on for years. And that’s why people who are on a vegan or vegetarian or low protein diets, it takes them a very long time before they start seeing those signs and symptoms of B12 deficiency because your body can store B12 for a really long time, which is great. It’s an evolutionary advantage, right? We need to be able to do that. 

Okay, so real quick, just to run through it. Your first section is your name and email address. Then you have the essential fatty acids, which of course come from fats and oils and our diet. And you may think that you’re eating a lot of fat or oil, maybe you eat a lot of fast food or fried food or something like that. But what these deficiency symptoms are going to show is are you eating the right type of fat? Are you eating high quality fat? Are you eating fish at any time in your week? Are you taking a fish oil supplement? Those types of things. 

The next section is protein. Protein is a really important nutrient for so many reasons. But sometimes we can have a protein deficiency, even if we’re eating what would seem to be an adequate amount of protein, because we’re not able to break it down and absorb it, and digest it. Sometimes some of these protein deficiency symptoms can actually kind of overlap with stomach dysfunction, because your stomach is one of the main first places where you start to break down protein in your GI tract. The other thing about protein is that if we are breaking it down and digesting and absorbing it, we’re gonna break down that protein into amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of our muscles, and many, many tissues in our body. They help with hormone production, but they also impact our mental health because we make neurotransmitters from amino acids. So for instance, glutamate is an amino acid that is actually also a neurotransmitter. Or another neurotransmitter that is made from amino acids is serotonin. And serotonin, of course, is really important for mental health, for feelings of happiness and calm, but also for sleep. Serotonin actually cascades into melatonin, which controls our sleep-wake cycle. So lots of good stuff there. 

Our next section is carbohydrates. Now there’s essential or indispensable amino acids that we can’t manufacture in our own body. There aren’t any carbohydrates like that. The body can really make glucose out of just about anything, which is great. That’s again, an evolutionary advantage for times when our hunter gatherer ancestors didn’t exactly have a baked potato waiting at home. We need that glucose, that glycogen, as our main fuel source. But it wasn’t like we necessarily had Dunkin Donuts on every corner in hunter gatherer times. So this is the section, actually, that is flipped. And these symptoms and signs in this section are related to actually having an excess of carbohydrates, specifically refined carbohydrates. This isn’t like you’re eating too much lettuce, which would be technically considered a carbohydrate. This is like sugar overload. And these are symptoms of blood sugar dysregulation, and just basically too much carbohydrate in your diet and your system. 

Okay, and then we have a little section on hydration, early and late signs of dehydration. So you might notice, if you don’t drink enough water halfway through the day, you might have some of these early signs. But if you consistently don’t drink enough water, you’re going to end up with some of these more late stage signs of dehydration. Obviously, not all of them, your mileage may vary. Fibromyalgia is listed as one of them. That is a syndrome that has a lot of other factors. So this isn’t exactly like an A equals B kind of a situation for any of these. Obviously, if you have a specific diagnosis, or if you suspect that you do, always good to check with your health care team, your medical professionals and get that handled in the appropriate way.

All right, and then we have some minerals. We have calcium, and we have magnesium, and then some kind of miscellaneous minerals in section eight here. And then I have a whole long section on B vitamins. And I said this on the questionnaire, but I do just want to reiterate that if you notice you have a lot of symptoms that are related to like B9, which is folate, I don’t necessarily recommend just going out and supplementing with one single nutrient. That is because the B vitamins can kind of throw each other off, they need to be in like a B complex or multivitamin with all of their friends together so that they can work together the way that they’re meant to. If you take one you can often end up with a deficiency in another one because of the way that they work together. Again, getting it from your food is ideal and it’s not always possible for all of us so sometimes supplements are indicated. But for now, I want you to start looking at your diet and see where you can get it from food. 

Then we move into the fat soluble vitamins which are A, D, E and K. And again, all four of these work together. It is very, very common for people to be taking one, which is usually vitamin D for a very long time. Which again can lead to deficiencies in the others as well as mineral deficiencies All of these kind of work in concert with each other. So looking at where you can get them from your diet is always the best bet. 

Next we have a section on vitamin C and I included bioflavonoids in this section as well. Because what I prefer is that people take a vitamin C supplement, if they’re going to that is derived from a whole food. So like Camu Camu or Rose Hips or something like that, Acerola Cherries. Those can work a lot better, because it’s the whole vitamin C molecule versus just the ascorbic acid. And when you have it in its whole food form, it also has all the antioxidants, the bioflavonoids, the cofactors that make the vitamin C even more effective. You don’t really don’t have to take as much that way either. Okay. 

Go ahead and do the questionnaire, kind of check it out, see where you land. Again, I will be creating some resources about this. But a really good place to start., if you show up with some pretty high numbers in some of these sections, there’s an app called Cronometer. I wish that I had something proprietary that I could tell you about that I created but why reinvent the wheel. Cronometer is an amazing app, it actually tracks not only macronutrients like fats, carbs, and protein, but micronutrients. You can set custom goals for these different nutrient levels. So that’s a really great place to start if you’re concerned about nutrient density, and are you getting enough. 

So again, this is step number one in the Get Your Shit Together system. And the three things that you want to be focusing on here are: number one, understanding your unique nutrient needs. Two, understanding which foods contain those nutrients. And number three, eating a diet of at least 80% of those foods. So understanding which nutrients you specifically need, based on your signs and symptoms is really the intention of the self assessment. So you can check that off your list. And then understanding which foods contain those nutrients. 

Science and Shit with Michelle Casey is brought to you by the Good Poopers Club. If you want to find out how you can use a research backed gut healing diet to reverse your symptoms and reset your relationship with food, head on over to goodpoopersclub.com to get the scoop.

So the thing that I want to talk about a little bit is food sensitivities or foods that might be inflammatory for you. Because you may come up with through doing this questionnaire, or maybe in your bloodwork or some other way, you may know that you have magnesium deficiency. But maybe you also have IBS, or diverticulitis, or joint pain, or something like that. Maybe some kind of inflammatory condition, where eating a lot of, for instance, nuts and seeds, which are very high in magnesium, might not be the best option for you. So figuring out how to dial that in for yourself is going to be a very important part of the process. You don’t necessarily just want to go Google what are the highest foods in selenium. And then if those foods are things that either you know, that you’re sensitive to, or you suspect you might be sensitive to, that could be an issue. You don’t want to cause more issues when you’re trying to correct an imbalance. So when I work with people who have autoimmune disease or gut issues, gut dysfunction, we really nail down which of these foods are going to be the best choices for them because we’d either do this with an elimination diet or through testing. And I’ll talk more about functional testing in a future episode. 

I want to talk a little bit about food sensitivity or food allergy testing here because it’s one of the main things when people find out that I run labs, it’s one of the main requests that I get people want to work with me. They want to run food allergy tests, because something in their diet is not agreeing with them. While we can definitely run those tests, there’s some pros and cons to the actual testing technology. I liken it to when we were all watching VHS, some of you may not remember back this far, maybe you weren’t alive. But listen to grandma, listen to Andy. 

I remember we went to Costco, my mom took us to Costco. And we were looking at DVD players and my sister and I, of course, really wanted a DVD player, because it was the cool thing. And all the cool kids have them. And they were really expensive when they first came out. And yes, they were a way better technology, but they weren’t necessarily accessible to everyone. Food allergy, food sensitivity testing is a little bit like that right now, where you can run the Eliza test, which has antibodies, and you can check for antibodies to all of these hundreds of food in your blood. But you’re gonna end up with some false negatives, just because of the limitations of that technology. And there’s ways to test for antibodies to specific peptides. For instance, for wheat specifically, and for dairy, there are really cool tests out there that you can look at each individual peptide protein. And it’s not just like, Oh, you have antibodies to milk, it’s like, oh, no, you have antibodies to this very specific lactose protein or whatever. But they’re much more expensive, like they’re the same, basically the same price as running the $300 antibody test that tests for 300 foods. So they’re not necessarily accessible to everyone, which is why I always suggest that people do an elimination diet, because the other piece of the puzzle is sometimes we have inflammatory reactions, and there aren’t antibodies to go along with that inflammation. While it’s not a true allergy, or sensitivity in that way, where we’re not having an immune response, there may still be other inflammatory markers, or inflammatory processes that are happening in our body when we eat those foods. Going by your symptoms, actually taking those foods out for 21 to 30 days and then adding them back in. Sometimes you have to take them out for much longer. I’ve definitely had that happen myself. So there’s that regarding kind of customizing and testing. 

And then sometimes, understanding what foods were reacting to, doesn’t necessarily get us to the root cause of why we’re reacting to them. So, for instance, I’ve had people come to me who have only maybe three or four foods that they can eat without having a major allergic reaction. Now, is it true that those people are creating antibodies and their body is creating inflammatory compounds when they eat those foods? Yes, absolutely. They’re allergic foods, they’re allergic to them. 100%. So should they avoid those foods? Sure, yes, absolutely. They should avoid foods that make them feel bad. However, the foods themselves may not be the original stressor. 

One of the theories behind food sensitivities is, this is one of the reasons why I talk so much about eating in a relaxed state, is that sometimes when we’re stressed out, our nervous system interprets the food that we’re eating as the stressor, and that can lead to an immune response. I know that I can’t eat eggs. I’ve discovered an allergy to eggs on a blood test, which was super, super helpful. And then, after trying multiple times and multiple ways to reintroduce them in the US. I have never been able to eat eggs. I could eat them in Europe, which is weird, and maybe not so weird, but I have not been able to eat them since going back. What I know is that when my ulcerative colitis came on, if you listened to the episode where I told my story, I was under an immense amount of stress. I was running three separate businesses. I was pushing myself in the gym every week. I was having arguments about finances with my fiance. I was eating a lot of eggs and I was having a lot of egg white protein in my smoothies. We had our backyard chickens and so I was eating eggs from there. And I was just in a constant state of fight or flight. So I never actually ate in a relaxed state, I was always super stressed out, and I was barely chewing my food. It’s not super surprising that a food that I was eating every day multiple times a day, I was having such a strong antibody reaction to. 

Now, we don’t know for sure if that’s the thing that triggered my ulcerative colitis. There are many things that have to be in place for an autoimmune disease to develop, but it was definitely exacerbating it. And as soon as I stopped eating eggs, my symptoms became a lot more manageable, they weren’t resolved, I still had to do a bunch more gut healing and a bunch of other, like I said, the whole elimination diet thing and the charts on the fridge. But that level of stress that I was under, and the fact that I never got my nervous system to calm down, no matter what I did. I may have been holding myself together with cortisol, we don’t really know, well, given how bad I crashed after my diagnosis, it’s possible, like almost self medicating with stress, if that makes sense. So basically, that’s one potential mechanism for food allergies or food sensitivities. We’re literally just eating this food in a stressed out state for so long that our body interprets the food as the stressor and creates antibodies to it. 

And if you have the genetic platform for autoimmune disease, that can also turn into an autoantibody situation. Due to this process called molecular mimicry, your immune system confuses the food protein with a protein in your body, your own body’s tissues, and can create antibodies to your body’s tissue. And depending on where that is in your body, if it’s your thyroid, that’s autoimmune thyroid disease, could be your ovaries, brain, whatever. For me, it was my colon. So that’s one potential reason why antibodies might be high on a test now. Does that mean, Oh, it’s just because of stress. And I could just eat eggs, if I just handled my stress, maybe for some people, right? Maybe for some people, that has not been my experience. Basically, what I believe has happened is that my immune system has sort of gotten programmed to react to eggs at this point. And while I know it wasn’t like that, I suspect it wasn’t like that anyway, whenn I was younger, now I don’t really have the options. So especially when we have multiple food sensitivities, or it seems like we’re reacting to everything, there’s just more healing and investigative work that needs to be done. Sometimes it’s a parasite, sometimes it’s some kind of autoimmune disease, could be all kinds of different things. But definitely good to as soon as you can, as soon as you have the resources to do that investigative work with a skilled practitioner, because letting it go for a long time can definitely make things worse, and some of those things can be reversed. 

When we’re thinking about choosing foods that contain neutral nutrients that we know that we need, we also want to think about choosing foods that aren’t going to be inflammatory. And so that’s kind of where this 80/20 rule comes into play. Now, if you have an autoimmune disease, or chronic illness, or gut dysfunction, you may not be able to do the 80/20 thing. Or if you’re just an all or nothing kind of personality, it may be too hard for you to try to moderate some of these more processed foods. But for some people, you may have heard this kind of 80/20 rule in different conversations. It may be fine to eat nutrient dense anti inflammatory for 80% of your meals, and then the other 20% you may be able to still reach your goals or have the kind of health that you want if you’re eating whatever. I’m thinking about specifically people who avoid gluten some of the time. For some people just eating less gluten is really helpful. For some of us it really does have to be all or nothing or we don’t see any actual results. I don’t know, we all know people that can eat an entire pizza and not gain weight or not get bloated or anything like that. They just have a different metabolic relationship with food where they don’t necessarily need to be as vigilant. But for those of us that do have chronic illness, or if we’re trying to keep an autoimmune disease in remission with nutrition, which is possible, we may need to be a little more strict. We may need to be a little more intentional about having more than 80%, maybe even up to 100% of our diet be nutrient dense and anti inflammatory. If we’re talking about a therapeutic diet or an elimination diet. 

So for me, personally, I’m always gluten free. I’m always egg free. I would say I’m 80 to 90% of the time, I’m also grain free, dairy free, and nut free, and nightshade free, actually. And then occasionally I will have gluten free baked goods or gluten free pizza, if it’s not made in a super cross contaminated facility. I will say that white rice is one of those foods that is for most people very not reactive, like it’s very rare to be allergic to it, and it’s just starch. I would say I’m grain free, except for white rice, for the most part. If I am dealing with more stress in my life, if I’m having a particularly stressful time, or if I feel like my gut is off in some way, I’ll go right back to 100%. Because the worst thing that I can do when I’m experiencing life stress, is to also add internal stressors to the mix. Because then my nervous system, my immune system, just gets super ramped up. You kind of have to decide based on where you are in your healing journey, and any underlying conditions that you might have if 80% is good enough for you. Or if you need to be higher than that. And no one else can really make that decision for you. I mean, people can give you advice, but ultimately, you’re the one that has to live in your body. And you’re the one that has to live with the consequences of whatever you choose. Whether those are happy, fun consequences, or painful consequences. The thing that hurts my heart, and the thing that I hate seeing, and it’s so normalized, is when people know they have a food sensitivity, and they eat something and say something like, I’m gonna pay for this tomorrow. I’m gonna hurt later.

I’m all for powerfully choosing your path and like owning that shit, but if you know that it’s going to hurt you. You either feel like you can’t stop yourself, because your cravings are kind of in control of you, or you feel like you need to please other people or not rock the boat, or be that person at a restaurant or a party that has special requests, or asking what all the ingredients are. They just kind of go, Well, I’m gonna pay for this tomorrow. I don’t know that that’s always choosing powerfully that it feels like throwing yourself under the bus when I see that. Because then you’re suffering. So it just hurts my heart. I just feel like I want people to know that they have a choice. And that it really is fine to have things that you need regarding your diet, and you’ll be okay. Even if it feels a little awkward or it feels a little embarrassing, you’ll be okay. If you just get through it and make those requests for yourself. 

For your homework- if you were someone who scored low on this particular step, again, it’s Prioritize Nutrient Density. So we’re looking at one, understanding your unique nutrient needs. Two, understanding which foods contain those nutrients. And three, having at least 80% of your diet, be nutrient dense, customizing the anti inflammatory. If you’re someone who scored low on this, definitely go through the workbook and take the questionnaires, highlight, take notes, add things to your shopping list. Let us know on social media, if there’s any aha moments that you have. I’m super excited to hear from you about that. And also, just let us know if there’s anything that came up out of this episode that you’d like for me to talk about more. Like I said, I will be talking about mindful eating in the next one, and then we’ll be talking a lot about functional testing as we go through. All right. Other than that, I hope this was super valuable for you and I’ll talk to you in the next episode. That’s it for today. 

Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Science and Shit with Michelle Casey. If you want to stay in touch head on over to michellecaseynutrition.com/podcast to get in on all goodness. I know you have a lot of things you could be doing with your time and I really appreciate you choosing to spend it with me. If this episode was valuable for you. Please subscribe, follow, and share it with your friends and family and or leave a review as an offering to the algorithm gods. Until next time, be excellent to each other