Which is the most important nutrient?

At the start of each semester, I pose the question: which is the most important nutrient?

I was asked a version of that question last week: what nutrients does the brain need?

Before reading further, pause a minute. How would you answer both questions?

In class, guys typically say protein is most important. Others mention water as its lack will cause death sooner than the other nutrients.

In the case of the brain question, the two nutrients trying to be solicited was water (or fluid) and omega-3 fatty acids.

I couldn’t get drawn into that. The brain, like all the organs in our body need ALL the nutrients.

Looking at specific nutrients and their effects in the body yields exciting headlines, but doesn’t typically give us super health. The picture is further muddied if we talk about nutrients in pill form!! In nutrition, we need to look at the whole picture. Translated: whole foods. 

There are most likely thousands of yet undiscovered compounds in whole foods that help the body work in an optimal way. If we focus on a single vitamin or mineral perhaps we’re missing a vital co-factor or precursor.

In this country, our obsessive attention to “small” details, or a single nutrient, misses the big picture.

The most important nutrient is all of them. Without a single nutrient you will die; an excess of a single nutrient will also cause death.

Best for the brain? You guessed it, all of the nutrients are key. Whatever diet is necessary for good circulation will be good for the brain. Let’s see that would be whole grains, vegetables, fruits, low fat dairy and lean protein sources. Avoiding added sugars is advised.

Your brain is not an organ in isolation. Eat well so your whole body, including your brain, can be well,


PS Yes, I noticed the croissant in the picture, but it was too cute (and delicious) not to use the photo!!

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