To Supplement Or Not?

Some say vitamin, mineral, and electrolyte supplements are unnecessary, useless, or even harmful. I’ve been on the fence about this. Our modern diet is so deficient in nutrients. But it is argued that even in the modern world we should be able to get all the nutrients we need from nutrient-dense foods. I’m coming around to this view.

There are specific conditions where supplementation would be necessary. If you get a lot of caffeine, that will dehydrate you and throw off your electrolyte balance and so maybe supplementation could help, but even then it probably would be better to use a natural sea salt and eat seaweed or, better yet, give up caffeine. Another example is that, for those on statins, additional CoQ10 is required beyond what is likely found in the diet. But this shouldn’t apply to anyone who is healthy. There is the rub. Most Americans aren’t healthy.

I might add that nutrient deficiencies are much more common on vegan and vegetarian diets, especially the former. But that is the problem with these diets. We should be able to get all our nutrients from our diet without supplements, as most humans have done for most of evolution, something I’ve long agreed with in theory. Requiring supplements indicates a failure. If we aren’t getting enough nutrients, there is something wrong with either our diet or our food system. This is why food quality is so important. We need to be getting plenty of wild-caught and pasture-raised animal foods, especially organ meats. But how many people have access to and can afford these foods? And how many will go to the effort to procure and prepare them?

My own carnivore experiment only lasted a couple of months, but I did learn from it. I’m still mostly animal-based in my meals, with a few nutrient-dense plant foods (e.g., fermented vegetables). I’ve known about nutrient-density since the late 1990s, back when I first read Sally Fallon Morrell (just Sally Fallon at the time). I have been trying to improve my diet for many years, but not to the degree I’ve been doing over the past year.

The only issue I’ve had is that most foods today are nutritionally deficient. And so I’ve worried about not getting required nutrition without supplementation. I’ve argued in favor of supplementation in the past, for the simple reason most Americans are malnourished. Telling people to eat nutrient-dense foods is easier said than done, as such foods are less common and familiar while being more expensive. I’ve previously come across those who oppose general supplementation for all or most people. But I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Most people are dealing with major deficiencies while struggling to eat even moderately well. Our society isn’t exactly supportive of a healthy diet. Even the official food recommendations and guidelines are making people sick.

One thing that brought me to thinking about this again is a study reported on by the New York Times, Supplements and Diets for Heart Health Show Limited Proof of Benefit by Anahad O’Connor. The evidence on effectiveness is mixed. Maybe the risk to benefit ration is too high in taking an approach of the precautionary principle, considering we don’t have enough good research yet. I’m coming around to the conclusion that modern foods, as long as they are high quality, can or should be enough for optimal health — other than medically diagnosed deficiencies because of health problems.

I’ll experiment with this, maybe after I use up my present supply of multivitamins, and see if I observe any differences or rather observe a lack of a difference. I still don’t know what that will tell me, as some deficiencies like that of vitamin K2 are almost impossible to notice since the effects are mostly indirect. I guess eat the best food possible and hope for the best.

I must admit I still have some reservations. When I look at the people advocating nutrient-density alone can be adequate without supplementation, I notice that these are people putting immense time, effort, and money into their diet and health. They are going to great lengths to ensure high quality food — dairy, eggs, organ meats, brains, caviar, etc from animals that were pasture-raised, wild-caught, or hunted. This is simply not an option for most Americans, for many reasons. The reality is few Americans will be willing to do this, to dedicate their entire lives to this endeavor, even if they could afford it and had the time to do it.

So, I don’t know. But since I have the money and motivation, I’m going to try to do my best in getting as much food-sourced nutrition as possible.

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For no particular reason, I’ll share some videos only from Frank Tufano. He is one of the carnivore advocates who talks about nutrient-density.

As a side note, Tufano got into a snit because he thought that fellow carnivore Paul Saladino stole information from him and didn’t credit him as the source. What he claimed was unjustly taken had to do with nutrient-density from animal foods. He was trying to convince his viewers that he was the first carnivore advocate to ever talk about nutrient-density. That simply is not true.

J.D. Garland has been a carnivore longer than Tufano. Where Garland comes from is specifically a nutritional approach, prior to his going on a carnivore diet. He learned of this from Sally Fallon Morrell who in turn got it from Weston A. Price, the latter having researched this topic long before any of these other people were born. This comes up in an interview with Tristan Haggard. As far as that goes, Haggard has also been going on about this topic for quite a while. It’s pretty much common knowledge at this point.

That was a bit of meaningless drama. But I wanted to set the record straight. Many people have picked up on the knowledge of traditional foods from Price. And it was Morrell who specifically did the most in popularizing his work. Still, Tufano is worth listening to, if not as original as he’d like to believe. Listen to his informative videos and ignore the rest.

A Century of Dietary and Nutritional Trends

At Optimizing Nutrition, there is a freaking long post with a ton of info: Do we need meat from animals? Let me share some of charts showing changes over the past century. As calories have increased, the nutrient content of food has been declining. Also, with vegetable oils and margarine shooting up, animal fat and dietary cholesterol intake has dropped.

Carbs are a bit different. They had increased some in the early 20th century. That was in response to meat consumption having declined in response to Upton Sinclair’s muckraking of the meat industry with his book The Jungle. That was precisely at the time when industrialization had made starchy carbs and added sugar more common. For perspective, read Nina Teicholz account of the massive consumption of animal foods, including nutrient-dense animal fat and organ meats, among Americans in the prior centuries:

“About 175 pounds of meat per person per year! Compare that to the roughly 100 pounds of meat per year that an average adult American eats today. And of that 100 pounds of meat, more than half is poultry—chicken and turkey—whereas until the mid-twentieth century, chicken was considered a luxury meat, on the menu only for special occasions (chickens were valued mainly for their eggs). Subtracting out the poultry factor, we are left with the conclusion that per capita consumption of red meat today is about 40 to 70 pounds per person, according to different sources of government data—in any case far less than what it was a couple of centuries ago.” (The Big Fat Surprise, passage quoted in Malnourished Americans).

What we forget, though, is that low-carb became popular for a number of decades. In the world war era, there was a lot of research on the ketogenic diet. Then around the mid-century, low-carb diets became common and carb intake fell. Atkins didn’t invent the low-carb diet. Science conferences on diet and nutrition, into the 1970s, regularly had speakers on low-carb diets (either Gary Taubes or Nina Teicholz mentions this). It wasn’t until 1980 that the government began seriously promoting the high-carb diet that has afflicted us ever since. Carb intake peaked out around 2000 and dropped a bit after that, but has remained relatively high.

The inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids combined with all the carbs has caused obesity, as part of metabolic syndrome. That goes along with the lack of nutrition that has caused endless hunger as Americans have been eating empty calories. The more crap you eat, the more your body hungers for nutrition. And all that crap is designed to be highly addictive. So, Americans eat and eat, the body hungering for nutrition and not getting it. Under natural conditions, hunger is a beneficial signal to seek out what the body needs. But such things as sugar have become unlinked from nutrient-density.

Unsurprisingly, Americans have been getting sicker and sicker, decade after decade. But on a positive note, recently there is a slight drop in how many carbs Americans are eating. This is particularly seen with added sugar. And it does seem to be making a difference. There is evidence that the diabetes epidemic might finally be reversing. Low-carb diets are becoming popular again, after almost a half century of public amnesia. That is good. Still, the food most American have access to remains low quality and lacking in nutrition.












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A Food Revolution Worthy of the Name!

“Our success with carbohydrates, however, has had a serious downside: a worldwide plague of obesity, diabetes and other diet-related diseases.”
~Gerald C. Nelson

The conventional view on diet promoted by establishment figures and institutions is based on the idea that all calories are equal. In dieting and fat loss, this has meant promoting a philosophy of calorie-in/calorie-out which translates as calorie counting and calorie restriction. Recent research has brought serious doubt to this largely untested hypothesis that has for so long guided public health recommendations.

There is also a larger background to this issue. The government has spent immense money promoting and subsidizing the high-carb diet. For example, they’ve put decades of funding into research for growing higher yield staples of wheat, corn, and rice. But they have never done anything comparable for healthy foods that are nutrient-dense and low-carb. This promotion of high yield crops with industrialized farming has denatured the soil and the food grown on it. This is problematic since these high-carb staples are low in nutrient-density even when grown on healthy soil.

This mentality of obsessing over food as calories is severely dysfunctional. It ignores the human reality of how our bodies function. And it ignores widespread human experience. Calorie-restricted diets are well known to have one of the lowest rates of compliance and success. It doesn’t matter how many or how few calories one tries to eat, as long as the food one is eating is of such low quality. Your hunger and cravings will drive you in your body’s seeking nutrition.

As I’ve eaten more nutrient-dense foods as part of a diet that is ketogenic and paleo, my hunger decreased and my cravings disappeared. I certainly don’t consume more calories than before and possibly far less, not that I’m counting. I no longer overeat and I find fasting easy. Maybe too many people eat so much making them fat because the food system produces mostly empty calories and processed carbs. It’s what’s available and cheapest, and the food industry is brilliant in making their products as addictive as possible. The average person in our society is endlessly hungry while their body is not getting what it needs. It’s a vicious cycle of decline.

I remember how I was for most of my life until quite recently, with decades as a sugar addict and a junk food junky. I was always hungry and always snacking. Carbs and sugar would keep my blood sugar and serotonin levels on a constant roller coaster ride of highs and lows, and it wrecked my physical and mental health in the process. It wasn’t a happy state. And anyone having told me in my deepest and darkest depressive funk that I should count and restrict my calories would not have been helpful. What I needed was more of the right kinds of calories, those filled with healthy fats and fat-soluble vitamins along with so much else. My body was starving from malnourishment even when I was overeating and, despite regular exercise, eventually gaining weight.

We don’t need to grow more food to feed the world but to grow better food to nourish everyone at least to a basic level, considering how many diseases even in rich countries are caused by nutrient deficiencies (e.g., Dr. Terry Wahls reversed multiple sclerosis symptoms in her self, in patients, and in clinical subjects through increasing nutrient-density). The same amount of food produced, if nutrient-dense, could feed many more people. We already have enough food and will continue to have enough food for the foreseeable future. That of equal and fair distribution of food is a separate issue. The problem isn’t producing a greater quantity for what we desperately need is greater quality. But that is difficult because our industrial farming has harmed the health of the soil and denatured our food supply.

The U.S. gov pays some farmers to not grow anything because the market is flooded with too much food. At the same time, U.S. gov pays other farmers to grow more crops like corn, something I know from living in Iowa, the corn capital of the world. Subsidizing the production of processed carbs and high fructose syrup is sickening and killing us, ignoring the problems with ethanol. Just as important, it also wastes limited resources that could be used in better ways.

We have become disconnected in so many ways. Scientific research and government policies disconnected from human health. An entire civilization disconnected from the earth we depend upon. And the modern mind disconnected from our own bodies, to the point of being alienated from what should be the most natural thing in the world, that of eating. When we are driven by cravings, our bodies are seeking something essential and needed. There is a good reason we’re attracted to things that taste sweet, salty, and fatty/oily. In natural whole foods, these flavors indicate something is nutrient-dense. But we fool the body by eating nutrient-deficient processed foods grown on poor soil. And then we create dietary ideologies that tell us this is normal.

What if we could feed more people with less land? And what if we could do so in a way that brought optimal and sustainable health to individuals, society, and the earth? Now that would be a food revolution worthy of the name!

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The global food problem isn’t what you think
by Gerald C. Nelson 

Here’s what we found:

Under even the worst conditions, there will be enough food, if we define “enough” as meaning sufficient calories, on average, for everyone — with 2,000 calories per day as the standard requirement. . . [T]he post-World War II Green Revolution efforts to boost the productivity of staples such as wheat and rice have been so successful that we are now awash in carbohydrates. And because so much has already been invested in improving the productivity of these crops, solid yield gains will likely continue for the next few decades. The productivity enhancements have also made them more affordable relative to other foods that provide more of the other needed nutrients.

Our success with carbohydrates, however, has had a serious downside: a worldwide plague of obesity, diabetes and other diet-related diseases. The World Health Organization reports that in 2014, there were 462 million underweight adults worldwide but more than 600 million who were obese — nearly two-thirds of them in developing countries. And childhood obesity is rising much faster in poorer countries than in richer ones.

Meanwhile, micronutrient shortages such as Vitamin A deficiency are already causing blindness in somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000 children a year and killing half of them within 12 months of them losing their sight. Dietary shortages of iron, zinc, iodine and folate all have devastating health effects.

These statistics point to the need for more emphasis on nutrients other than carbohydrates in our diets. And in this area, our findings are not reassuring.