As of this writing, I’ve lost 40 pounds. Using the Cronometer app to count calories is working. The most satisfying part of my last doctor’s appointment was watching the nurse slowly nudge the weight on the scale from my weight at the previous appointment to my current weight. As well as relishing the look of shock and envy she gave me when the scale finally tipped. I was down about 25 pounds from the previous appointment.
The plan for my diet was simple. Try to eat 500 fewer calories than I burn and get over 100% of the daily allowance of all of the “micro-nutrients.”. Also known as vitamins and minerals. It worked because in order to get all of the nutrients I had to eat more vegetables and assorted “healthier” things. The kind of things that made me hate my mother when she forced me to eat them. This naturally translated into fewer calories.
After a few weeks, I became curious as to what these “micro-nutrients” were. Well, not the minerals. That’s pretty self-explanatory once you’ve had high school chemistry. But I had no idea what “vitamins” were.
It turns out, vitamins are certain types of organic compounds. They were discovered in 1912 by the Polish scientist Casamir Funk. Which is the coolest name ever. When your real name can also be your hip-hop name, your parents have blessed you. Sadly, because he lived in the early jazz age, Dr. Funk (also a great hip-hop name, which has almost certainly been taken by now), never had the opportunity to take advantage of this blessing.
But I digress. Vitamins are necessary for various metabolic needs in your body. Your body and certain microbes in your body produce some of them, but there are a few that are only available through food. Or supplements or fortified foods, but that’s always felt like cheating to me. Some are naturally a part of various plants and meats. Others are produced only by microbes living in these foods. Which is kind of gross, since that basically means that some vitamins are just bacteria poop.
Many are easy to get. Want some vitamin A? Eat a helping of carrots and you’ll get more than enough. Want B vitamins? Almost any meat will have it, especially vitamin B12, which is pretty much only in meat. Although strictly speaking this is one of the ones that bacteria poop out. So it’s not in the meat, it’s in the things living in the meat. It just so happens that those bacteria mostly only live in animals, not in plants. Although some types of seaweed have it, which is good news for the hoity-toity sushi eaters.
Moving on. Vitamin C is in almost any citrus fruit, which is good news for me since those are fairly plentiful in Florida. Want vitamin D? Spend half an hour in the sun and you’ll get plenty. Unless you live in the frigid northern wastelands above the Mason-Dixon line where the sunlight is not so intense. In that case, you might need to eat some fish to get Vitamin D.
These aren’t the only micro-nutrients that are easy to come by. Want vitamin K? Eat something leafy, like collard greens. Want calcium? Have some dairy. Want potassium? Have a banana. Of course, there are plenty of other sources for all of these things, but these are some of the good ones I’ve found.
I’ve been pretty good about getting most vitamins and minerals in my diet, now that I can track which foods have what nutrients in the Cronometer app. But sometimes I struggle to get all of them. Two that I come up short on regularly are vitamin E and magnesium. The problem is that these show up in lots of foods, but not necessarily in huge quantities. It’s hard to find just one thing that provides your recommended daily allowance for either of these. Apart from supplements or fortified foods. Which is totally cheating.
So what do these do? According to the National Institutes of Health, they do… a variety of things in the body that can only be adequately described with medical jargon that has entirely too many syllables. But here are a few things (not an all-inclusive list) that happen when you don’t get enough.
Not enough vitamin E can affect your peripheral nervous system, causing nerve and muscle damage. It can also weaken your immune system. Not enough magnesium can contribute to depression and anxiety. So, not getting enough of these can make me weaker, sicker, and crazy. Although when it comes to “crazy”, that ship may have already sailed for me. Anyway, I did some research and found a few options for obtaining both.
One decent source of vitamin E that I’ve found is avocado. One avocado will bring about 16% of the RDA. And if you slap it on some whole wheat bread, it’s even better. The whole wheat bread has a decent chunk of vitamin E, and some magnesium too. Who knew that these weirdo hipster kids were on to something with their avocado toast? Another, somewhat more mundane source, is…green stuff. Collards, spinach, broccoli, and so forth. That’s the stuff I mentioned earlier that made you hate Mom when she fed it to you.
And as for magnesium? The green stuff that engenders feelings of wrath and enmity against she who birthed you also have a fair amount. And many other things that have it are surprisingly ordinary stuff has a fair amount. One potato will get you about 10% of the RDA. A cup of brown rice will get you about 20%. White rice is only 5%, though, so maybe I’ll pass on that forever.
And if you’re into the fancy-schmancy Whole Foods food, the newfound yuppie super food known as quinoa is not bad. A cup of this will get you nearly a third of the RDA for magnesium, and a decent chunk of vitamin E, among many other things.
But these foods only get you part of the way there. And some of them have a fair number of calories. I’d have to eat six avocados to get a day’s worth of vitamin E, which is about 1200–1300 calories. And three cups of quinoa (which would nearly fulfill the magnesium RDA) would bring in about 700 calories.
I needed to find something that had these nutrients in pretty large quantities, but without so many calories. And the answer was…nuts. I avoided nuts for a long time since a can of nuts is like a bag of potato chips to me. Meaning that if there’s one nearby, I tend to start eating and not stop until it’s empty. Which is probably one of the ways I got fat in the first place. So a little discipline is required. If I limit myself to enough nuts to fill a small Dixie cup (about 28 nuts) I can get the nutrients without getting so many calories.
A Dixie cup of the most common nut, peanuts, will bring in about 10% of the magnesium and maybe 12% of the vitamin E in this quantity. So this isn’t a great option, although it does have all sorts of other benefits. And, yes, I do know that a peanut isn’t actually a nut. Tell that to the schmucks who keep putting them in the snack aisle next to all of the other nuts. There’s no need to snootily remind me that they’re actually legumes. Go back to watching The Big Bang Theory, nerds. Although I guess a guy who works as a CPA has no business calling other people nerds.
But I digress. Again. Certain actual nuts are better than peanuts. A Dixie cup of cashews will bring in about a third of the magnesium RDA, and about 250 calories. The same number of almonds will bring in half of the vitamin E RDA, at about 200 calories.
And if you can find them, there are certain types of seeds that are better, if slightly more exotic choices. A quarter cup of pumpkin seeds will bring in about 40% of the RDA for magnesium. The same amount of sunflower seeds will bring in a quarter of the day’s magnesium and two-thirds of the day’s vitamin E. Both come at the low cost of only 170 calories per quarter cup. Of course, this assumes you can actually find them. Normal grocery stores don’t have this bourgeois stuff.
One additional advantage of nuts and seeds is that they’re good at staving off those mid-afternoon hunger pangs. Or, if you’re like me, hanger pangs. I’m unusually cranky when I’m hungry, and a handful of nuts will tide me over until dinner.
So, I worked vitamin E and magnesium into my diet using all of these alternatives. Grains and greens get me part of the way there, and now I supplement my diet with certain types of nuts and seeds to put me over the goal. Now I’m getting over 100% of everything. I feel healthier than ever and the weight is still coming off. Not sure it made me less crazy, though.
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