Why Getting Your Nutrition Only from Food is A Bad Idea
By: Dave Asprey
July 8, 2012
You’ve likely heard conflicting information about nutrient supplementation. With thousands of multivitamins, minerals, and other unpronounceable supplements lining health food store shelves, it’s no wonder people are confused.
Which of these pills and potions are legit, if any? Are the people that buy these just investing in really expensive pee? Even worse, can supplements damage your body?
As the Standard American Diet (SAD) shifts further and further away from nutrient-dense foods like high-quality animal protein and vegetables, nutrient deficiency is becoming a widespread epidemic.
But even if you’re following a more nutrient-dense diet full of quality protein and fats, you can no longer rely on getting all of your nutrients from food.
Nutrient deficiencies hurt your performance, causing DNA damage, making you age faster, and contributing to chronic disease. If that’s not convincing enough, here are 10 more reasons you should consider nutrient supplementation.
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 low in nutrients and difficult for a lot of people to digest. Grains and legumes contain phytic acid and other compounds that can interfere with nutrient absorption and can cause intestinal damage, which makes it even harder for your body to absorb nutrients [1,2,3,4,5]. 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. Dairy, especially conventional dairy, is inflammatory and difficult to digest for many people. It also contains mycotoxins which are extremely inflammatory .
2. Soil Depletion
Improper farming practices deplete the soil of essential nutrients. When plants are repeatedly grown on the same land, the soil loses vitamins, minerals, and microbes 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. 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, the most common fruits and vegetables are artificially high in fructose 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 90% in dairy, 55% in meat, and 76% in vegetables . Copper is an essential nutrient that helps to regulate several pathways in the body, including energy production and brain function .
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 . Most water filters remove important minerals such as magnesium, which is essential for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. Up until recently, clean, unfiltered fresh water was the main source of magnesium for humans. Not anymore. Our water is filtered of essential minerals like magnesium, contaminated with chlorine, and fortified with potentially harmful chemicals like fluoride.
The filtration of precious minerals from water could explain why people who drink water higher in calcium than magnesium develop more myocardial infarcts and ischemic heart disease [12,13].
4. Low-Calorie Diets Are Low Nutrient Diets
I know this is a crazy idea, but starving yourself of key nutrients is bad. Consuming a low-calorie diet means you’re consuming fewer total micronutrients. As humans, we’re designed to consume large amounts of nutrient-dense calories to meet our body’s needs . When you’re constantly restricting your caloric intake, it’s easy to become malnourished. When you’re consuming low-quality foods, like pasteurized non-fat milk and other frankenfoods, you have to eat even more to obtain the right amounts of nutrition. That’s how you get fat. And just one more example of why food quality matters.
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 per unit of food .
5. Non-organic foods contain fewer nutrients
Non-organic, pesticide-treated vegetables are lower in cancer-fighting polyphenols than organic ones. This is because the plant produces polyphenols as a defense against bugs and pathogens. When there is no reason to defend themselves, the plant stops producing polyphenols and your body and brain suffer the consequences .
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 grazing 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 ok . 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 .
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:
- Xenoestrogens (plastics, BPA, some molds, petroleum products).
- Industrial solvents and cleaners.
- 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. Instead, it’s good to support detox and methylation pathways with supplements.
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 you age, hydrochloric acid and digestive enzyme production naturally declines, making it difficult for you to break down and absorb nutrients from your foods. As you age, you also 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 that 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).
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 anymore.
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.
For your next step in Bulletproof supplementation, check out this article on the key nutrients almost everyone can benefit from.