Is the food we eat today, nutrient depleted?
Should we take vitamin and mineral supplements?
I was asked the other day, if we are eating fruits and vegetables from depleted soil, and therefore they do not contain enough vitamins and minerals, and therefore should we all be taking a daily multi-vitamin/mineral complex as a supplement?
If you read my blogs on this site on a regular basis, then you will know that I am broadly against taking dietary supplements, I just think that the majority of people, the majority of the time, don’t need them.
To be clear, there are times when supplements play an important role, particular when someone is deficient or ill, then supplements can be used to restore good health. Often supplements are a “useful tool” in repairing a damaged body. If there is a problem, supplements can help enable or support one function or process, in order to support growth or repair in another function, process or system.
So supplements have a place and many nutritional therapists and other practitioners correctly use supplements to fix deficiencies and restore normal function.
However, the rest of the time, in my opinion, supplements are mostly just ‘expensive urine’. This point is discussed in this post: How does juicing fit into a paleo diet and lifestyle? I suggest that if you are worried that you are not getting enough nutrients in your diet, then add a daily juice. I think a big glass full of fresh green juice is the BEST and ONLY ‘supplement’ most people need to aid a well rounded whole foods, natural diet.
But I firmly believe that the best diet is one high in vegetables, and some fruit, as discussed here: 7-a-day offers health benefits and protection from cancer. Eat the MND way and get 17-a-day
Many vital nutrients can only be supplied by fatty meats, organ meats and oily fish, and hence my broad MND advice to get half your calories from meat and fish, and half from vegetables and fruit. I suggest you eat a variety of meat and fish and eggs, not just lean chicken breast! Read this post to learn more: Eating the most nutritious meat…but on the smallest budget
In the supermarket - lots of calories, but not much variety
But there are also some enormously complex questions around our ‘range of foods’ that we eat today. We all know that ‘modern Western man’ has a vast AMOUNT of food readily available, we can wander into a supermarket almost any time of day or night and access thousands of foods and millions of calories for virtually no effort whatsoever.
Yes, in any one given day or few days, in our modern world, we have this staggering range of FOODS available (the average supermarket in this country stocks 40,000 items). However, we are actually exposed to very FEW biological varieties of base food. That is to say, that of those 40,000 items, the overwhelming majority are nutritional rubbish, made from processed wheat, corn, soy, maize, refined sugar and a handful of other staple ingredients. When we analyse our diet over any typical MONTH, compared to that of a traditional tribe of hunter gatherers still living by a traditional diet, our Western diet looks incredibly nutrient poor. In our modern Western diet, a high percentage of our total calories come from half a dozen staple plant sources such as corn, wheat, soy, etc.
You see, this is the modern day paradox - we are over fed, but under nourished.
We eat more calories than ever, but fewer nutrients. Not because our topsoil is depleted (though in truth it is not as good as it once was, in many places) but because we eat so few different foods. Whether it is sugar-coasted breakfast cereal in a box, sliced bread in a bag or a bowl full of pasta with a stir-in sauce, the actually products that form the bulk of that so-called food, are the same basic wheat and sugar and chemical emulsifiers, it just tastes different because the manufacturers add minute amounts of strong artificial chemical flavourings to the bland, heavily processed ‘plain white food’.
Traditional cultures eat much more organ meat, but in our obsessive ‘low fat’ culture, we opt for less nutritionally dense muscle meat. Until recent times (the last 200 years), insects were a rich source of nutrients, but now very few humans still eat insects. And before mono-crop agriculture (where endless thousands of acres are planted with the same seed) then all plant varieties were much more variable - see this picture here, we had many more varieties of each type of crop.
Imagine the OPPOSITE of what humans have done. Since we invented cars and planes, we have travelled all over the world and interbred - so now we are infinite blacks and whites and shades of brown and yellow, he have Latin Americans mated with Russians, Indians with Norwegians, we are all mixes and colours and shapes and sizes. Now, exactly the OPPOSITE has happened to the plant world. Where bees, aphids, winds and other forces used to encourage all plants to interbreed and cross-cultivate, now we have planted our lands with vast swathes of mono-culture crops, all genetically brow-beaten (selective breeding and endless use of pesticides, not even mentioning GMOs) to conform to an identical uniform standard. Chemicals keep the insects away, so cross cultivation does not interfere with industrialized production. We have done it to wheat, corn, soy…bananas, tomatoes, broccoli and a thousand other plants.
Heirloom varieties are now a rarity, a speciality. Ranges of vegetables have diminished from hundreds to dozens, and big food companies, especially supermarket buyers, and fast food companies, encourage these trends, insisting on uniform produce, predictable shapes and sizes, non-variety of colour and flavour, and so on.
So if there is a lack of nutrient density in our diet, let’s not ‘blame poor topsoil’. The places where topsoil has taken the worst battering, is in the fields where the vast mono-crops of wheat, corn, maize (industrial corn) and soy are grown. The reasons a diet is nutrient poor these days, comes down to eating processed foods, eating grains, eating refined sugar (which robs the body of nutrients) and avoiding a rich variety of animal, fish and plant foods.
So just eat the MND way!
If we eat the MND way - half our calories from pasture reared meat, open ocean fish and free range eggs, and half our calories from vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds - then we avoid all these potential pitfalls. Better still, if we buy organic, support local small scale farmers and even grow some of our own produce, then we are truly ensuring the best nutrient dense diet we can get.
So, in my opinion, supplements are not the answer for those seeking a healthy, balanced, nutrient-rich diet. I also think there are a lot of problems with supplements. These links below lead to you further reading about the potential problems with supplements.
Bio-availability of the compounds is usually poor - read about that in the first half of this post
Few supplements actually really work: Do supplements work?
Many are insanely priced - green powders at £138 pounds per kilo!!
Or worse - diet supplements at £420 pounds per kilo!!
In summary: If someone has a specific health condition, and a nutritional deficiency can be identified as a root problem, and where real food is not providing enough of the missing nutrient, then supplements can help. But for most people, the answer is to just eat real, whole, COMPLETE, natural food.
Save your grocery budget for pastured meat and organic vegetables. MotherNaturesDiet is all you need.