I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this in the last year. At first I used to grin and nod and leave it at that. I had once thought that I was healthy and I thought feeling lethargic in the afternoon was normal, carrying extra kilos was normal after 40 and sleeping poorly was typical of a Mother. I changed my diet dramatically and felt SO MUCH BETTER, BUT I wasn’t going to argue with people that thought they would get over these problems by eating normal supermarket produce.
Now – I feel so much better equipped to show people with this belief that they are simply WRONG – quite WRONG. Even among health conscious people it is nearly impossible to get all of your nutrients from food. And most people are MILES off being as health conscious as they need to be to be even 50% of the way there.
Many people are shamed into avoiding supplements with statements like “So you’re too lazy to eat real food? You think you can fix everything with a pill?” We all have those health conscious friends who decry supplementation as dogma. They are confusing drugs like statins with nutrients. They are not the same.
Improper 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 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, 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.
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.
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.
Raw, unpasteurized, unprocessed, full-fat dairy can be good for you, but the kind most people buy at the grocery store is not healthy. 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.
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:
There are hundreds of other sources of unnatural stress that increase the body’s need for proper nutrition. Even if you’re doing everything right in terms of diet – it’s almost impossible to get all of your nutrients from food.
Our bodies weren’t designed to deal with these toxins using only nutrition from food. They just weren’t. So if you plan to get your nutrition only from food, you should plan to get your toxins only from the Garden of Eden. Good luck with that.
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.
Athletes often think tons of exercise is the key to a long and healthy life. They are among the first to denounce supplementation as unnecessary, often with the idea that exercise is the best medicine. 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.
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?
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 but also 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.
If you want to be bulletproof, supplementation is a great start. Handicapping yourself by “only getting nutrients from food” is not a good idea.
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