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The Four Cornerstones of Nutrition

What is nutrition? We hear so many reports today on different foods containing them, but the reporters rarely provide any context in which the informaiton can be understood. To receive the benefits of good nutrition, it is important to understand how the different components fit together. Here's one way to look at nutrition as a whole. In nutrition, we have components called micronutrients. There are different ways to group them, but I like to call the following the Four Cornerstones of Nutrition.

First, the cornerstones.

  • Vitamins and Minerals
  • Antioxidants
  • Plant Sterols
  • Glyconutrients

When you eat, all of these things should be in your diet. They don't make up the bulk of your food but instead these are the "little details" that make up the smaller parts needed for cellular function.

Here's how I think of it. With a car you have steel, glass and rubber. That's like the bulk of the food you eat. It's important.

In the same car you have just one little needle to say how fast your car is going. One steering wheel. One rear view mirror. As a percentage of the parts in the car, those things seem minor, but they're extremely important, right?

In nutrition it's the same thing Vitamins and Minerals, Antioxidants, Plant Sterols, and Glyconutrients are those little parts that make such a critical component of the proper function of our cells.

In a car plant extra parts can be stored without any time limit. In the body, nutrients are not stored. If one day your body decides it didn't need all the vitamin C you got in your diet, be it from food, or from supplements, it'll be filtered by the kidneys and flushed from the body. But because you body does not store any of these nutrients, your need for them tomorrow is a whole new day.

Here's the brief summary of the types of nutrients.

Vitamins and Minerals: These are used as enzymes, and other catalysts for chemical reactions in your body. Take Vitamin A. Every day Vitamin A is used to repair gradual degeneration of the light sensitive rods in your eyes. This is why Vitamin A is called the "eye vitamin." A long-term deficiency of Vitamin A causes night blindness. Many vitamins and minerals actually do not handle exposure to heat very well which is why having raw food in our diet is important. To make up for the vitamin and mineral losses in our food, caused by processing and cooking, we should take a supplement.

Antioxidants: Some vitamins and minerals, and even glyconutrients, behave as antioxidants. These are the neutralizers of "free radicals" in the body. Free Radicals are kind of like rust on a car, or like a cinder that popped through the screen in the fireplace. Our own ability to burn calories produces naturally produces Free Radicals and then many toxins we encounter in our environment are also free radicals.

Plant Sterols: The body, no matter how old or young, is regulated by nearly 90 different hormones. Hormones are made in your body out of cholesterol, plant sterols and some other vitamins and minerals contribute to the production of hormones.

Glyconutrients: These are the newly discovered nutrients that are all the talk in the research world. Both Harpers and Lippincott's Biochemistry texts. which are used to teach med students biochemistry. include chapters on glyconutrients and their role as a necessary nutrient in normal cellular function. Most doctors in practice today learned from these textbooks before these nutrients were discovered and added to these text books, but Continuing Medical Education (CME) is available for doctors to learn about glycobiology.

Glyconutrients, are sugars, but not like the refined sugars we get far too much of. In function, they are like letters of the alphabet for the cells. By building structures from these glyconutrients, our cells talk to each other. Because cells under attack, or cells in need or repair, have more to talk about than healthy cells, some people benefit greatly by consuming large amounts of the glyconutrients. Mothers breast milk has at least 7 of the 8 known glyconutrients. It's been shown that during pregnancy, the woman's body does its best to manufacture extra glyconutrients for the fetus and later for feeding.

An important point should be made. All of these nutrients should be in the food you eat everyday. In fact, they always are. It's just that they're not in the quantities that they used to be. So when older generations say that you should be able to get all you need from diet alone, they are correct. But the food that was available in the 40s and before is not the food we have available to us today. The rules changed. We don't have as many of these nutrients in our food which is why taking supplements helps get them back into the body.

When you read a report on nutrition, look at how that report fits into the four cornerstones of nutrition. No nutrient stands alone so seek informaiton about balanced nutrient intake and take the reports about single nutrient studies with a grain of salt.

Dave Saunders is a certified nutritional educator, wellness coach, member of the American International Association of Nutritional Education (AIANE) and author. He is also the host of a weekly, nation-wide telephone lecture on health and nutrition. For additional information, please visit his site on nutrition and glyconutrients at or or email Dave at

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