Can You Get All Your Nutrition Only From Food?

All your life you’ve eaten a “healthy” diet. You’ve followed the USDA Food Pyramid from the beginning, and were always told supplements were unnecessary as long as you ate a balanced diet.

Maybe you’re wiser now, and are following a higher nutrient diet. Either way, one of the most repeated beliefs among health conscious people is that you can – and should – get all of your nutrients from food. With over half of the nation consuming a multivitamin, this isn’t a universal belief. However, multivitamins often make people think they can eat even worse, which isn’t exactly productive.

I have the running argument with my in-laws – They are 86 and 92 say they are perfectly healthy, and they never took supplements. Perfect health is debatable, they have the degenerative diseases which are “Normal” for their age. The real difference is that they grew up in a time when their food was grown by the local farmer and cows ate grass, pigs foraged for what they could, chickens scratched for seeds and grubs, and produce was fertilized with manure.  They walked 6 miles to school and work through the snow. They played outside.  farmers didn’t have herbicides and pesticides. They tended the crop by hand pulling weeds and removing sick plants. The nutrient content of their food then was far superior to what we buy in the local grocery store.

If you’re under 50 though, your childhood and young adult diet was far inferior to my in-laws unless you grew up on a farm or in a Greek fishing village.

10 Reasons You Must Take Supplements

1. You Eat The Standard American Diet

Grains, farm raised meats, and processed foods are not food. The purpose of consuming food is to nourish the body and mind. These foods do the opposite.
First of all, grains, legumes, and conventional dairy are nutrient deficient (or void). They contain extremely small amounts of nutrients, most of which are poorly absorbed.

Grains and legumes deplete nutrient stores and interfere with nutrient absorption. They are toxins in themselves, which increases your nutrient needs. Grains and legumes both cause intestinal damage which further decreases your ability to absorb nutrients. Even if you’ve stopped eating these foods, you may be in nutrient debt or have lingering intestinal damage which is interfering with nutrient absorption.

Due to inflammation caused by other foods toxins, farm raised protein is often inflammatory. Conventional dairy also contains mycotoxins which are extremely damaging.

2. Soil Depletion

Vitamins and MineralsImproper farming practices deplete the soil of nutrients. When plants are repeatedly grown on the same land, the soil loses nutrients faster than they can be replaced. Over time, the plants have fewer nutrients to grow. Fertilizer contains just enough nutrition for the plant to survive and grow large until harvesting, but not enough to support human health. This results in plants that have 75% fewer micronutrients. In addition, most plants are not harvested fresh. They sit on trucks, shelves, and counters for weeks before being eaten. Over time, the nutrient content of these plants decreases.

Most modern fruits and vegetables are grown to increase their sugar content and weight (water), not their nutrient value. As a result, most of the common fruits and vegetables are artificially high in fructose and sugar and lower in key nutrients.

When plants contain fewer nutrients, the animals that eat these plants are also malnourished. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Health found copper levels in the UK have dropped by 90% in dairy, 55% in meat, and 76% in vegetables. Selenium is another one. In many areas of the world the solid is totally devoid of selenium.  If the nutrient isn’t in the soul it won’t get into the plant, your not going to get it when you eat it, or an animal that ate from that depleted soil.

Fertilizer is routinely applied to crops, but most fertilizer contains only nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. These are key nutrients to plant health and growth (Nitrogen for leaves, phosphorus for strong roots, and potassium for overall cell wall strength.)  So they grow lush healthy looking produce, but aside from these three nutrients, they are seriously lacking the other 40+ vitamins and minerals we need to support our life.

3. Water Depletion

Water is also depleted of minerals due to modern production methods. There is a huge variation in the mineral content of bottled and tap water, with tap water generally having more. Water filters remove important minerals such as magnesium, which was a main source of magnesium for early humans. If you don’t use a filter and you don’t have a well, it’s likely you’re consuming dangerous amounts of fluoride and/or are deficient in magnesium. This could explain why people who drink water higher in calcium than magnesium develop more myocardial infarcts and ischemic heart disease.

4. Low Calorie Diets Are Low Nutrient Diets

I know this is a crazy idea, but starving yourself is bad. Consuming a low calorie diet means you’re consuming fewer total micronutrients. Humans are designed to consume a large amount of calories, and it doesn’t make you fat. When you eat less (as everyone says you should), it’s easy to become malnourished. When you’re consuming low quality foods, you have to eat even more to obtain the right amounts of nutrition. This is one more example of why food quality matters.

I see people go on diets and obsess over calories. They’ll eat a 100 calorie snack of rice cakes, crackers, etc. They might as well just eat 100 calories of sugar. They replace avocados, fruits, and nuts with nutrient void foods to “reduce” calories.

What do we mean by low calorie? Most diets require over 22,000 calories to supply all the essential micronutrients. If you’re eating less than that, and are following something like the USDA diet or the South Beach Diet, you’re deficient in nutrients.

Farm raised animals are fed primarily corn and soy. These are calorie rich grains which fatten up the animals quickly, but they are low in nutrients. They also cause a dangerous imbalance in the essential Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids.

Pesticide-treated vegetables are lower in phenolics than organic ones. This is because polyphenols are produced as a defense against bugs and pathogens. When there is no reason to defend themselves, the plant stops producing polyphenols.

There is pesticides. This is despite sometimes being contaminated anyway. It should be mentioned that many studies show organic foods are not higher in nutrients. However, that’s going by the USDA definition of organic – not “organic” that you would find in your back yard. Fresh fruits and vegetables grown at home in well fertilized soil are going to be higher in nutrients than USDA organic versions.

GMO foods (primarily corn and soy) are resistant to glyphosate – the RoundUp herbicide. So these crops are heavily sprayed with glyphosate to kill the weeds. Glyphosate chelates minerals in crops on which it is sprayed. It remains to be seen how much of an impact this effect has, but it’s safe to avoid GMO foods for a variety of other reasons.

Unfortunately, organic is not always possible due to financial or logistical reasons. Even when you can find organic foods, they aren’t necessarily better.

5. Grain-fed Meat, Farmed Seafood, and Conventional Dairy

Salmon fillet
Wild Caught Salmon fillet

Compared to grass-fed meat, grain-fed meat is abysmally low in antioxidants, micronutrients, fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins. Grains are not a food for humans or herbivorous animals. When herbivores are fed grains, they become malnourished, just like humans. Grain-fed meat and farmed seafood can also serve as a carrier for more toxins, which increases nutrient needs. If it isn’t labeled Organic meat, then it has been fed GMO grain. But even organic meat just means the animals were fed organic corn and soy, so only slightly better than conventional.  Look for the grass fed means, range fed chickens, wild caught fish, etc.

If you eat salmon, which you should, look at the ingredients on a farmed salmon, often called Atlantic Salmon.  It will say salmon and food coloring, or food collaring added to the feed.  This is because salmon fed grains is white, not pink. So they add food coloring to the salmons feed to turn it pink. Worse yet, like land animals, farm raised salmon have very little of the protective omega 3 oils and high levels of the oxidizing omega 6.  So the benefit of salmon, the rich omega 3 oils is lacking in farm raised salmon. This applies to tilapia, shrimp, etc.

The majority of nutrients in milk are found in the fat (cream). When you remove or reduce the fat, you are removing and reducing the nutrient content. Pasteurization destroys some of the nutrients in both skim and full fat milk. Conventional dairy is also high in aflatoxin and other mycotoxins that were in the cattle’s feed.
If you eat grain-fed meat or conventional dairy – supplementation is a good idea.

6. Toxin Exposure

Your body needs nutrients to deal with toxins. When more toxins are present, you need more nutrients. If you’re living in a cave or the garden of Eden, this will be less of a concern. If you’re like the rest of us mortals – you’re exposed to a litany of toxins on a daily basis.

Here are just some of the things your body has to contend with:

  • Xenoestrogens (plastics, BPA, some molds, petroleum products).
  • Industrial solvents and cleaners
  • Unnatural lighting.
  • Food toxins
  • Stress and lack of sleep.
  • Radiation (natural radiation plus electro magnetic radiation from all of our electronic devices)

Our bodies weren’t designed to deal with these toxins using only nutrition from food.  So if you plan to get your nutrition only from food, you should plan to avoid all toxins. Good luck with that.

7. Nutrient Absorption Declines With Age

Several studies have shown kids need more nutrients to support growth, and older people need more nutrients due to malabsorption. As people age, they often begin taking medications which can interfere with nutrient absorption. This means you need to take more nutrients in the most absorbable form possible.

8. Exercise Increases Nutrient Needs

Athletes often think tons of exercise is the key to a long and healthy life. Professional athletes and their trainers are among the first to denounce supplementation as risky because of the risk of contaminated or adulterated supplements.  I don’t advocate high amounts of exercise, but this is an important point. If you’re doing enough exercise to substantially deplete energy reserves, you’re also using more nutrients for energy production and recovery. As a result, athletes are at an even higher risk of nutrient deficiencies. Since many athletes eat a low nutrient, high toxin diet – this is a serious concern.

9. Supplementation May Help You Live Longer

Aging is a natural process, but it’s not fun. If there are supplements than can delay this process, why not take them? As long as there isn’t an undue risk of harm, it’s hard to justify avoiding a substance simply because our ancestors didn’t have access to it. There is good reason to believe a higher intake of nutrients may prolong life. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors may have been malnourished at certain times which is not beneficial. If supplements can buy you a few more years of quality life, why not take them?

10. Expense & Health

Whether we like it or not, sometimes supplements are cheaper than real food. In the case of something like salmon, it may be better for you to supplement with a high quality fish or krill oil than to settle for a farmed variety. Farmed salmon is low in omega-3s and high in toxins.

Farmed salmon are higher in parasites and bacteria. In order to hide the sickly appearance of farmed salmon meat, the fish are fed a pink pigment to change their tissue color. Farmed salmon contains 16 times more PCB’s and pesticides than wild. Wild salmon is often more expensive than grass-fed beef, and presents more of a health risk than benefit. Grass-fed beef has enough omega-3’s by itself, but supplementation may be a good idea for some people (like kids).

We live in a stressful, toxic world, and it’s a normal, healthy, optimized human behavior to understand the toxins and counteract them whenever possible. Hiding your head in Paleo-sand won’t make the effects of these toxins go away. Neither will eating some vegetables.

The idea that you can get all your nutrients from food is fine in theory, but virtually impossible in practice. Soil and water depletion, food and environmental toxins, poor absorption, pesticides, exercise, and lack of calories can all cause nutrient deficiencies. There is evidence that consuming nutrients from food is more beneficial than supplements, which is why you should focus on a nutrient rich diet first. However, it’s rarely enough.

Do you think supplementation is necessary for optimal health?

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