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Why Getting Your Nutrition Only from Food is A Bad Idea

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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 (whatever that means).

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 fifty percent 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 (more on those later).

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.

In any case, you’re not dead yet, so you must be getting the right nutrients.  Supplements are unnecessary… right?

 10 Reasons You Should Take Supplements

1. You Eat Crap a Standard American Diet

Grains, legumes, and most forms of modern dairy 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 malabsorbed.  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, dairy protein is often inflammatory.  Conventional dairy also contains mycotoxins which are extremely damaging.

2. Soil Depletion

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. (“Not On The Label“, p213.) 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.  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.

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.

What do we mean by low calorie?  According to this study (conducted by our friend and podcast guest Dr. Jason Calton), most diets require 27,575 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.

Animal foods are generally higher in calories and nutrients, so it’s no surprise that’s where the majority of calories came from in early human development.  Since the modern trend is to reduce the consumption of animal foods, people are consuming fewer nutrients.

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.

Plants treated with pesticides are also 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 also evidence that glyphosate – RoundUp herbicide – 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.

6. Grain-fed Meat & Cooked/Conventional Dairy

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.

7. 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:

    1. Xenoestrogens (plastics, BPA, some molds, petroleum products).
    2. Industrial solvents and cleaners.

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.

  • Unnatural lighting.
  • Food toxins (not a problem if you’re eating Bulletproof).
  • Stress and lack of sleep.

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.

8. 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.

9. Exercise Increases Nutrient Needs

Athletes often think tons of exercise is the key to a long and healthy life (it’s not).  They are among the first to denounce supplementation as unnecessary, often with the idea that exercise is the best medicine.  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.

10. 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?

11. 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.

If you want to be Bulletproof, supplementation is a great start. Handicapping yourself by “only getting nutrients from food” is not a good idea, even on the Bulletproof Diet.

Do you think supplementation is necessary for optimal health?

Some background research for this post may have been conducted by Bulletproof staff researchers.

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