Plant-Based Nutritional Deficiencies

The purpose here is to highlight the nutritional deficiencies of plant-based diets but most specifically plant-exclusive diets such as veganism (important nutrients are listed below). Not all of these deficiencies involve essential nutrients, but our knowledge is limited on what is essential. There are deficiencies that will kill you quickly, others slowly, and still others that simply will cause deteriorating health or less than optimal functioning. Also, some of these nutrients or their precursors can be found in plant foods or otherwise produced by the body, but there can be several problems. The plant-based sources may be inadequate or not in the most bioavailable form, antinutrients in the plants may block the absorption of certain nutrients (e.g., phytates block mineral absorption), gut and microbiome problems related to a plant-based diet might interfere with absorption, and most people have severely limited capacity to turn certain precursors into the needed nutrients.

So, when eating a supposedly healthy diet, many vegans and vegetarians still have major deficiencies, even with nutrients that should be in their diet according to standard food intake calculations — in those cases, the nutrients are there in theory but for some reason not being absorbed or utilized. For example, raw spinach has a lot of calcium, but it is almost entirely unavailable to the body. Adding raw spinach to your smoothie or salad might be a net loss to your health, as the antinutrients will block the nutrients in other foods as well. Another factor is that, on a plant-based diet, nutrients can get out of ratio. Nutrients work together with some acting as precursors, others as catalysts, and still others like master hormones — such as vitamin K2 determining where calcium is transported to, preferably the bones as opposed to arteries, joints and the brain; or think about how the body can produce vitamin D3 but only if there is adequate cholesterol. As such, besides deficiencies, sometimes there can too much of a nutrient which interferes with another nutrient, as seen with copper in relation to zinc.

That is the advantage to an animal-based diet, which could even include a well-balanced vegetarian diet that emphasized dairy and eggs (Vegetarianism is an Animal-Based Diet), but unfortunately many vegetarians are near-vegan in limiting even those non-meat animal foods. Here is the reason why animal foods are so important. Other animals have similar nutritional needs as humans and so, when we eat animal foods, we are getting not only the nutrients our bodies need but in the required form and ratio for our own optimal functioning. Without animal foods, one has to study nutrition to understand all of this and then try to artificially re-create it through careful calculations in balancing what one eats and supplements, an almost impossible task that requires someone to have a scientific mindset. Even then, one is likely to get it wrong. Regular testing of nutritional levels would be absolutely necessary to ensure everything is going according to plan.

As for supplements and fortification, the nutrients aren’t always in the best form and so wouldn’t be as bioavailable nor would likely have all the needed cofactors in just the right amounts. Besides, a diet dependent on supplementation and fortification is not healthy by definition, in that the food itself in natural form lacksing those nutrients. The fact that most vegans in particular and vegetarians as well have to be extremely obsessive about nutrition just to maintain a basic level of health is not high praise to the health-giving benefits of such a plant-based diet — and hence the reason even vegetarians should emphasize the allowed animal foods (there are even vegans who will make exceptions for some animal foods, such as fish). This is probably why most people quit these diets after a short period of time and why most people who quit, including those who quit after years or decades, do so for health reasons. Among those who remain on these diets, their responses on surveys show that most of them cheat on occasion and so are getting some minimal level of animal-based nutrition, and that is a good thing for their health even as it calls into question the validity of health claims about plant-based diets (Being “mostly vegan” is like being “a little pregnant.”).

There has long been a bias against meat, especially red meat. It goes back to the ancient Greek thought of Galen and how it was adapted to Medieval society in being Christianized for purposes of maintaining social hierarchy and social control. This Galenic bias was carried forward in the Christian tradition and then modernized within nutrition studies through the surprisingly powerful influence of the Seventh Day Adventists who continue to fund a lot of nutritional studies to this day. This has had practical consequences. It has long been assumed, based on a theology of a sinful world, that eating animals would make us beastly. It’s similar to the ancient idea that eating the muscles or heart of a fallen warrior would make one strong or courageous. A similar logic was applied to plants, that they have inherent qualities that we can imbibe.

So, it has been long believed that plant foods are somehow healthier for both body and soul, somehow more spiritual and so would bring humans closer to God or else closer to their divine natural state before the Fall of Man. That has been the moral concern of many Christians, from Medieval Catholics to modern Seventh Day Adventists. And in secularized form, it became internalized by mainstream nutrition studies and dietary guidelines. Part of the purpose of eating plants, according to Christianized Galenism, was that a strong libido was considered bad and it was understood that a plant-based diet suppressed libido, which admittedly doesn’t sound like a sign of health but their idea of ‘health’ was very different. It was also worried that, along with firing up the libido, meat would heat up the entire body and would lead to a shorter lifespan. Pseudo-scientific explanations have been used to rationalize this theological doctrine, such as concerns about mTOR and IGF-1, although this requires contorting the science and dismissing other evidence.

The problem is this simply became built into mainstream nutritional ideology, to such an extent that few questioned it until recently. This has led to most researchers, nutritionists, dieticians, and other health experts to obsess over the nutrients in plants while overlooking the nutrients in animal foods. So, you’ll hear something along the lines of, “meat is not an important source of vitamin E and with the exception of liver, is not a particularly good source of fat-soluble vitamins” (Nutrients in Meat, from the Meat We Eat). Keep in mind that assertion comes from a project of the American Meat Science Association — not likely to be biased against meat. It’s sort of true, depending on how one defines meat. From Galenic thought, the notion of meat is still associated with red meat. It is true that muscle meat, particularly lean muscle meat, from beef, pork and veal doesn’t have much vitamin E compared to plant foods (M. Leonhardt et al, Vitamin E content of different animal products: influence of animal nutrition). This is why some vegetarians and even vegans see no contradiction or conflict, much less hypocrisy, in eating fish and fowl — culturally, these have for millennia been considered a separate category from meat.

Yet adequate amounts of vitamin E are found in many animal foods, whether or not we label them as ‘meat’: chicken, goose meat, fish, seafood, crayfish, butter, and cheese; and some vitamin E is also found in liver and eggs (Atli Anarson, 20 Foods That Are High in Vitamin E). We have to be clear what we mean by ‘meat’. On a meat-based diet, even to the degree of being carnivore, there are plentiful good sources of every essential nutrient, including vitamin E, and many that aren’t essential but highly conducive to optimal health. Besides animal foods, there is no other source of such immense nutrient-density and nutrient-biavailability. Plant foods don’t come close in comparison.

Also, as vitamin E is an antioxidant, it’s important to note that animal foods contain many other antioxidants that play a similar role in maintaining health, but animal-sourced antioxidants have been mostly ignored because they don’t fit the dominant plant-based paradigm. Plant foods lack these animal-sourced antioxidants. So why do so few talk about a deficiency in them for vegans and vegetarians? And why have researchers so rarely studied in depth the wide variety of nutrients in animal foods to determine their full health benefits? This is particularly odd when considering, as I already stated, every known essential nutrient can be found in animal foods but not in plant foods. Isn’t that an important detail? Why is there a collective silence among mainstream health experts?

Think about how plant antinutrients can block the absorption of nutrients, both in plant foods and animal foods, and so require even more nutrients to counteract this effect which might simply further increase the antinutrient intake, unless one is careful in following the food selection and preparation as advised by those like Steven Gundry (The Plant Paradox). Or think about how glucose competes with the antioxidant vitamin C causing an increase of scurvy if vitamin C is not increased, and yet a low-carb diet with far lower intake of vitamin C is not linked to scurvy — maybe the reason ancient Vikings and Polynesians could remain healthy at sea for months, but once a high-carb diet was introduced modern sailors were plagued by scurvy (Sailors’ Rations, a High-Carb Diet). Similarly, a plant-based diet in general might require greater amounts of vitamin E: “Plant-based foods have higher concentrations of vitamin E. And for good reason. A plant-based diet requires additional protection from oxidation of PUFA which Vitamin E helps provide through its antioxidant properties. It’s still found in adequate supply in meat” (Kevin Stock, Vitamins and Minerals – Plants vs Animals).

What is adequate depends on the diet. A diet low in carbs, seed oils, and other plant foods may require fewer plant-based antioxidants, especially if this is countered by an increase of animal-based antioxidants. It is reminiscent of the fiber debate. Yes, fiber adds bulk that supposedly will increase regularity, ignoring the fact that the research is divided on this topic. No doubt bulking up your poop makes you have larger poops and more often, but is that really a good thing? People on a low-residue carnivore diet more easily digest and absorb what the eat, and so they don’t have bulky poops — then again they don’t usually have constipation either, not if they’re getting enough dietary fat. The main cause of constipation is plant foods. So, why are people advised to eat more plant foods in the hope of resolving this issue caused by plant foods? It’s absurd! We keep looking at problems in isolation, as we look at nutrients in isolation (Hubris of Nutritionism). This has failed us, as demonstrated by our present public health crisis.

Let me throw in a last thought about antioxidants. It’s like the fiber issue. People on plant-based diets have contipation issues and so they eat more plant foods in the form of fiber in trying to solve the problem plant foods cause, not realizing that constipation generally resolves itself by eliminating or limiting plant foods. So, in relation to antioxidants, we have to ask ourselves what is it about our diet in the first place that is causing all the oxidative stress? Plant foods do have antioxidants, but some plant foods also cause oxidative stress (e.g., seed oils). If we eliminate these plant foods, our oxidative stress goes down and so our requirement of antioxidants to that degree also lessens. Our body already produces its own antioxidants and, combined with what comes from animal foods, we shouldn’t such excess amounts of antioxidants. Besides, it’s not clear from studies that plant antioxidants are always beneficial to health. It would be better to eliminate the need for them in the first place. Shawn Baker explained this in terms of vitamin C (interview with Shan Hussain, The Carnivore Diet with Dr. Shawn Baker MD):

“The Carnivore diet is deficient in carbohydrates and essential vitamins like Vitamin C, how do we make up for that? When I wanted to do this I was curious about this as well. You will see a number of potential deficiencies around this diet. There is no role of fibre in this diet. With Vitamin C we know there are some transporters across different cell membranes. In a higher glucose environment, Vitamin C is competitively inhibited and therefore we see less absorption of Vitamin C. We also see that interestingly human red blood cells do have the capacity to actually recycle Vitamin C which is something that not many people are aware of. One of the major function of Vitamin C is that it is an antioxidant. In low carbohydrate states our antioxidants systems particularly things like glutathione are regulated. We may obviate some of the need of antioxidants of the Vitamin C by regulating around systems in a low carb diet. Also, Vitamin C is very important in the function of carnitine which is part of the fat cycle. When we are ingesting carnitine we have actual transporters in the gut which can take up full carnosine. It is a misconception that we can only take amino acids, a number of di and tripeptide transporters that are contained within our gut. The other function of Vitamin C is when we don’t have sufficient Vitamin C relative to our needs, we start to develop symptoms of scurvy, bleeding gum problems, teeth falling out, sores and cuts won’t heal. This is all due to the collagen synthesis. If we look at Vitamin C’s role in collagen synthesis, it helps to take proline and lysine, hydroxyproline and hydroxylysine. In meat-based diet, we are getting that in ample amount. Even a steak has 3% of its content as collagen. There are all kinds of compensatory mechanisms.”

I’ll end on an amusing note. Chris Kresser wrote about the carnivore diet (Everything You Need to Know about the Carnivore Diet and How It Can Affect Your Health). Athough an advocate of low-carb diets and nutrient-dense animal foods, he is skeptical that carnivory will be healthy for most humans long-term. One worry is that there might be nutritional deficiencies, but the argument he makes is funny. He basically saying that if all one eats is muscle meat then key nutrients will get missed. Then he goes onto point out that these nutrients can be found in other animal foods, such as liver and dairy. So, his main concern about a carnivore diet is actually that people might not eat enough animal foods or rather not enough of certain animal foods. So, make sure you eat lots of a wide variety of animal foods if going full carnivore and apparently even critics like Kresser agree you’ll be fine, at least nutritionally. The problem isn’t too much animal foods but potentially too little. That made me smile.

Now to the whole point of this post. Below is a list of nutrients that are commonly deficient in those on plant-based diets, especially those on plant-exclusive diets (i.e., vegans). I won’t explain anything about these nutrients, as there is plenty of info online. But you can look to the linked articles below that cover the details.

  • Vitamin K2 (MK-4)
  • Vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol)
  • Vitamin A (Retinol)
  • Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
  • Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
  • B3 (Niacin)
  • B2 (Riboflavin)
  • Calcium
  • Heme Iron
  • Zinc
  • Selenium
  • Iodine
  • Sulfur
  • Creatine
  • Beta-Alanine
  • Carnosine
  • Beta-Alanine (Precursor to Carnosine)
  • L-Carnitine
  • Taurine
  • Choline
  • Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
  • Phytanic Acid
  • DHA Omega-3 (Docosahexaenoic Acid)
  • EPA Omega-3 (Eicosapentaenoic Acid)
  • DPA Omega-3 (Docosapentaenoic Acid)
  • ARA Omega-6 (Arachidonic Acid)
  • CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid)
  • Phosphatidylserin
  • Cholesterol
  • Collagen
  • Complete Protein
  • Glutathione
  • Glycine
  • Essential Amino Acids (Methionine, Tryptophan, Lysine, Leucine, Cysteine, Proline, Tyrosine, Phenylalanine, Serine, Alanine, Threonine, Isoleucine and Valine)

Just for the sake of balance, I’ll also share a list of plant compounds that are problematic for many people — from Joe Cohen (20 Nutrients that Vegans & Vegetarians are Lacking):

  1. Lectins
  2. Amines
  3. Tannins
  4. Trypsin Inhibitors
  5. FODMAPS
  6. Salicylates
  7. Oxalates
  8. Sulfites, Benzoates, and MSG
  9. Non-protein amino acids
  10. Glycosides
  11. Alkaloids [includes solanine, chaconine]
  12. Triterpenes
  13. Lignins
  14. Saponins
  15. Phytic Acid [Also Called Phytate]
  16. Gluten
  17. Isoflavones

* * *

Are ‘vegetarians’ or ‘carnivores’ healthier?
Gundry’s Plant Paradox and Saladino’s Carnivory
Dr. Saladino on Plant and Animal Foods
True Vitamin A For Health And Happiness
Calcium: Nutrient Combination and Ratios
Vitamin D3 and Autophagy

The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability
by Lierre Keit

Vegan Betrayal: Love, Lies, and Hunger in a Plants-Only World
by Mara J. Kahn

The Meat Fix: How a lifetime of healthy eating nearly killed me!
by John Nicholson

The Fat of the Land/Not By Bread Alone
by Vilhjalmur Stefansson

Sacred Cow: The Case for (Better) Meat: Why Well-Raised Meat Is Good for You and Good for the Planet
by Diana Rodgers and Robb Wolf

The Carnivore Code: Unlocking the Secrets to Optimal Health by Returning to Our Ancestral Diet
by Paul Saladino

Primal Body, Primal Mind: Beyond Paleo for Total Health and a Longer Life
by Nora Gedgauda

Paleo Principles
by Sarah Ballantyn

 
The Queen of Fats: Why Omega-3s Were Removed from the Western Diet and What We Can Do to Replace Them
by Susan Allport

The Omega Principle: Seafood and the Quest for a Long Life and a Healthier Planet
by Paul Greenberg

The Omega-3 Effect: Everything You Need to Know About the Super Nutrient for Living Longer, Happier, and Healthier
by William Sears and James Sear

The Missing Wellness Factors: EPA and DHA: The Most Important Nutrients Since Vitamins?
by Jorn Dyerberg and Richard Passwater

Could It Be B12?: An Epidemic of Misdiagnoses
by Sally M. Pacholok and Jeffrey J. Stuar

What You Need to Know About Pernicious Anaemia and Vitamin B12 Deficiency
by Martyn Hooper

Living with Pernicious Anaemia and Vitamin B12 Deficiency
by Martyn Hoope

Pernicious Anaemia: The Forgotten Disease: The causes and consequences of vitamin B12 deficiency
by Martyn Hooper

Healing With Iodine: Your Missing Link To Better Health
by Mark Sircus

Iodine: Thyroid: The Hidden Chemical at the Center of Your Health and Well-being
by Jennifer Co

The Iodine Crisis: What You Don’t Know About Iodine Can Wreck Your Life
by Lynne Farrow

L-Carnitine and the Heart
by Stephen T. Sinatra and Jan Sinatra

Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health
by Marion Nestle

Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat
by Marion Nestle

Formerly Known As Food: How the Industrial Food System Is Changing Our Minds, Bodies, and Culture
by Kristin Lawless

Death by Food Pyramid: How Shoddy Science, Sketchy Politics and Shady Special Interests Have Ruined Our Health
by Denise Minge

Nutrition in Crisis: Flawed Studies, Misleading Advice, and the Real Science of Human Metabolism
by Richard David Feinman

Nutritionism: The Science and Politics of Dietary Advice
by Gyorgy Scrinis

Measured Meals: Nutrition in America
by Jessica J. Mudry

(Although more about macronutrients, also see the work of Gary Taubes and Nina Teicholz. They add useful historical context about nutrition studies, dietary advice, and public health.)

20 Nutrients that Vegans & Vegetarians are Lacking
by Joe Cohen

8 Nutrients You May Be Missing If You’re Vegetarian or Vegan
by Tina Donvito

7 Nutrients That You Can’t Get from Plants
by Atli Anarson

7 Supplements You Need on a Vegan Diet
by Alina Petre

The Top 5 Nutrient Deficiencies on a Plant Based Diet
by Kate Barrington

5 Brain Nutrients That You Can’t Get From Plants
by Kris Gunnars

Vitamin Supplements for Vegetarians
by Jeff Takacs

Health effects of vegan diets
by Winston J Craig

Nutritional Deficiencies and Essential Considerations for Every Vegan (An Evidence-Based Nutritional Perspective)
from Dai Manuel

Why You Should Think Twice About Vegetarian and Vegan Diets
by Chris Kresser

Three Big Reasons Why You Don’t Want to be a Vegetarian
by Alan Sears

How to Avoid Common Nutrient Deficiencies if You’re a Vegan
by Joseph Mercola

What is Glutathione and How Do I Get More of It?
by Mark Hyman

Could THIS Be the Hidden Factor Behind Obesity, Heart Disease, and Chronic Fatigue?
by Joseph Mercola

Vegetarianism produces subclinical malnutrition, hyperhomocysteinemia and atherogenesis
by Y. Ingenbleek Y and K. S. McCully

Vegan Diet is Sulfur Deficient and Heart Unhealthy
by Larry H. Bern

Heart of the Matter : Sulfur Deficits in Plant-Based Diets
by Kaayla Daniel

Copper-Zinc Imbalance: Unrecognized Consequence of Plant-Based Diets and a Contributor to Chronic Fatigue
by Laurie Warner

Vegan diets ‘risk lowering intake of nutrient critical for unborn babies’ brains’
by Richard Hartley-Parkinson

The Effects of a Mother’s Vegan Diet on Fetal Development
by Marc Choi

Vegan–vegetarian diets in pregnancy: danger orpanacea? A systematic narrative review
by G. B. Piccoli

Is vegetarianism healthy for children?
by Nathan Cofnas

Clinical practice: vegetarian infant and child nutrition
by M. Van Winckel, S. Vande Velde, R. De Bruyne, and S. Van Biervliet

Dietary intake and nutritional status of vegetarian and omnivorous preschool children and their parents in Taiwan
C. E. Yen, C. H. Yen, M. C. Huang, C. H. Cheng, and Y. C. Huang

Persistence of neurological damage induced by dietary vitamin B-12 deficiency in infancy
by Ursula von Schenck, Christine Bender-Götze, and Berthold Koletzko

Severe vitamin B12 deficiency in an exclusively breastfed 5-month-old Italian infant born to a mother receiving multivitamin supplementation during pregnancy
by S. Guez et al

Long-chain n-3 PUFA in vegetarian women: a metabolic perspective
by G. C. Burdge, S. Y. Tan, and C. J. Henry

Signs of impaired cognitive function in adolescents with marginal cobalamin status
by M. W. Louwman et al

Transient neonatal hypothyroidism due to a maternal vegan diet
by M. G. Shaikh, J. M. Anderson, S. K. Hall, M. A. Jackson

Veganism as a cause of iodine deficient hypothyroidism
by O. Yeliosof and L. A. Silverman

Do plant based diets deprive the brain of an essential nutrient?
by Ana Sandoiu

Suggested move to plant-based diets risks worsening brain health nutrient deficiency
from BMJ

Could we be overlooking a potential choline crisis in the United Kingdom?
by Emma Derbyshire

How a vegan diet could affect your intelligence
by Zaria Gorvett

Vitamins and Minerals – Plants vs Animals
by Kevin Stock

Health effects of vegan diets
by Winston J Craig

Comparing Glutathione in the Plasma of Vegetarian and Omnivore Populations
by Rachel Christine Manley

Vegan diets are adding to malnutrition in wealthy countries
by Chris Elliott, Chen Situ, and Claire McEvoy

What beneficial compounds are primarily found in animal products?
by Kamal Patel

The Brain Needs Animal Fat
by Georgia Ede

The Vegan Brain
by Georgia Ede

Meat, Organs, Bones and Skin
by Christopher Masterjohn

Vegetarianism and Nutrient Deficiencies
by Christopher Masterjohn

Adding milk, meat to diet dramatically improves nutrition for poor in Zambia
from Science Daily

Red meat plays vital role in diets, claims expert in fightback against veganism
by James Tapper

Nutritional Composition of Meat
by Rabia Shabir Ahmad, Ali Imran and Muhammad Bilal Hussain

Meat and meat products as functional food
by Maciej Ostaszewski

Meat: It’s More than Protein
from Paleo Leap

Conjugated Linoleic Acid: the Weight Loss Fat?
from Paleo Leap

Nutritional composition of red meat
by P. G. Williams

How Red Meat Can ‘Beef Up’ Your Nutrition
by David Hu

Endogenous antioxidants in fish
by Margrét Bragadóttir

Astaxanthin Benefits Better than Vitamin C?
by Rachael Link

Astaxanthin: The Most Powerful Antioxidant You’ve Never Heard Of
from XWERKS

Antioxidants Are Bullshit for the Same Reason Eggs Are Healthy
by Sam Westreich

We absolutely need fruits and vegetables to obtain optimal antioxidant status, right?
by Paul Saladino

Hen Egg as an Antioxidant Food Commodity: A Review
Chamila Nimalaratne and Jianping Wu

Eggs’ antioxidant properties may help prevent heart disease and cancer, study suggests
from Science Daily

The Ultimate Superfood? Milk Offers Up a Glass Full of Antioxidants
by Lauren Milligan Newmark

Antioxidant properties of Milk and dairy products: a comprehensive review of the current knowledge
by Imran Taj Khan et al

Antioxidants in cheese may offset blood vessel damage
from Farm and Dairy

Identification of New Peptides from Fermented Milk Showing Antioxidant Properties: Mechanism of Action
by Federica Tonolo

Bioavailability of iron, zinc, and other trace minerals from vegetarian diets
by Janet R Hunt

Dietary iron intake and iron status of German female vegans: results of the German vegan study.
by A. Waldmann, J. W. Koschizke, C. Leitzmann, and A. Hahn

Mechanisms of heme iron absorption: Current questions and controversies
by Adrian R. West and Phillip S. Oates

Association between Haem and Non-Haem Iron Intake and Serum Ferritin in Healthy Young Women
by Isabel Young et al

Pork meat increases iron absorption from a 5-day fully controlled diet when compared to a vegetarian diet with similar vitamin C and phytic acid content.
by M. Bach Kristensen, O. Hels, C. Morberg, J. Marving, S. Bügel, and I. Tetens

Do you need fiber?
by Kevin Stock

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.

* * *

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.

Calcium: Nutrient Combination and Ratios

Calcium is centrally important, as most people already know. Not only is it necessary for the health of bones but also for the health of the heart, nerve cells, gut microbiome, hormonal system, skin, etc and will affect such things as grip strength and fatigue. As usual, there is a lot of misinformation out there and newer information that has changed our understanding. Let me clear up the issue to the degree I can. The following represents my present understanding, based on the sources I could find.

We can store calcium when we are younger, but lose this ability as we age. On the other hand, it turns out we don’t need as much calcium as previously assumed. And too much calcium can be harmful, even deadly as can happen with hardening of arteries. In fact, the healthiest societies have lower levels of calcium. It’s not so much about the calcium itself for, as always, context matters. Calcium deficiencies typically are caused by a health condition (kidney condition, alcohol abuse, etc), rather than lack of calcium in the diet. Importantly, other nutrients determine how the body absorbs, processes, utilizes, and deposits calcium. Furthermore, nutritional imbalances involving deficiencies and excesses create a cascade of health problems.

Let me explain the interrelationship of micronutrients. There is a whole series of relationships involved in calcium processing. Vitamin B6 is necessary for absorption of magnesium; and magnesium is necessary for absorption of vitamin D3 — zinc, boron, vitamin A, bile salts, and a healthy guy microbiome are all important as well. Of course, cholesterol and sunlight are needed for the body to produce it’s own vitamin D3, which is why deficiencies in these are also problematic. Statins block cholesterol and sunscreen blocks sun; while stress will block vitamin D3 itself whereas exercise will do the opposite. Then vitamin D3 is necessary for absorption of calcium. But it doesn’t end there. Most important of all, vitamin K2 is necessary for regulating where calcium is deposited in the body, ensuring it ends up in bones and teeth rather than in joints, arteries, brain, kidneys, etc.

About on specific issue, the often cited 2-to-1 ratio of calcium and magnesium is actually on the high end indicating the maximum calcium levels you don’t want to exceed as part of your total calcium intake from both diet and supplementation. So, if you’re getting a 2-to-1 ratio in your supplements combined with high levels of calcium from food, such as a diet with plenty of dairy and/or greens, your calcium levels could be causing you harm. Speaking of magnesium deficiency is a relative assessment, as it depends on calcium levels. The body is rarely depleted of magnesium and so, on a superficial level, your body is never deficient in an absolute sense. Yet the higher your calcium levels go the greater your need of magnesium. Nutrients never act alone, such as how vitamin C requirements increase on a high-carb diet.

Here is another example of nutrient interaction. With more salt in your diet, you’ll need more potassium and magnesium to compensate. And potassium deficiency is associated with magnesium deficiency. But that isn’t to say you want to decrease sodium to increase these others, as research indicates higher salt intake is associated with greater health (Dr. James DiNicolantonio, The Salt Fix) — and I’d recommend getting a good source of salt such as Real Salt (although natural forms of salt lack iodine and so make sure to increase iodine-rich foods like seaweed, that being a good option since seaweed is extremely nutrient-dense). As an interesting side note, calcium helps your muscles contract and magnesium helps your muscles relax, which is why muscle cramps (also spasms, twitches, and restlessness) can be a sign of magnesium deficiency. Plus, excess calcium and insufficient magnesium will increase cortisol, the stress hormone, and so can interfere with sleep. There is yet another dual relationship between these two in the clotting and thinning of blood.

Macronutrients play a role as well. Higher protein ensures optimal levels of magnesium and is strongly linked to increased bone mass and density. Fat intake may also play a role with these minerals, but I couldn’t find much discussion about this. Certainly, fat is necessary for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. If you’re eating pastured (or grass-fed-and-finished) fatty animal foods, you’ll be getting both the protein and the fat-soluble vitamins (A as beta-carotene, D3, E complex, & K2). Even greater, with cultured, fermented and aged foods (whether from animals or plants), you’ll get higher levels of the much needed vitamin K2. Assuming you can stand the taste and texture of it, fermented soy in the form of natto is the highest known source of K2 as the subtype MK7 which remains in the body longer than other subtypes. By the way, some multiple vitamins contain MK7 (e.g., Garden of Life). Vitamin K2 is massively important. Weston A. Price called it Activator X because it controls so much of what the body does, specifically in relationship to other nutrients, including other fat-soluble vitamins. And all of the fat-soluble vitamins are central in relationship to mineral levels.

Another factor to consider is when nutrients are taken and in combination with what. Some minerals will compete with each other for absorption, but this probably is not an issue if you are getting small amounts throughout the day, such as adding a balanced electrolyte mix (with potassium, magnesium, etc) to your water or other drinks. Calcium and magnesium are two that compete and many advise they should be taken separately, but if you take them in smaller amounts competition is not an issue. Some research indicates calcium has a higher absorption rate in the evening, but magnesium can make you sleepy and so might also be taken in the evening — if taking a supplement, maybe take the former with dinner and the latter before bed or you could take the magnesium in the morning and see how it makes you feel. By the way, too much coffee (6 cups or more a day) will cause the body to excrete calcium and salt, and yet coffee is also a good source of potassium and magnesium. Coffee, as with tea, in moderate amounts is good for your health.

As a last thought, here is what you want to avoid for healthy calcium levels: taken with iron supplements, high levels of insoluble fiber, antacids, excessive caffeine. Also, calcium can alter the effects of medications and, in some cases, should be taken two hours apart. Keep in mind that many plant foods can be problematic because of anti-nutrients that bind minerals or interfere with absorption. This is why traditional people spent so much time preparing plant foods (soaking, sprouting, cooking, fermenting, etc) in order to eliminate these anti-nutrients and hence increase nutrient absorption. It is irrelevant the amount of nutrients in a food if you’re body can’t use them. For example, one of the highest concentrations of calcium is found in spinach, but the bioavailability is extremely low. Other foods, including other leafy greens, are a much better source and with any leafy greens always cook them.

This problem is magnified by the decreased nutrient content of most plant foods these days, as the soil itself has become depleted. Supplementation of many micronutrients is maybe necessary for almost everyone at this point, although great caution should be taken with supplementing calcium.

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Sometimes I write posts about diet and health after doing research for my own purposes or simply for the sake of curiosity about a topic. But in many cases, I have family members in mind, as my own health improvements have gone hand in hand with dietary changes my parents also have made, and my brothers are health-conscious as well although with a vegetarian diet quite different than my own. This particular post was written for my mother.

Just the other day she was diagnosed with osteoporosis. She had osteopenia for decades. Now looking back, she realizes that her bone loss began when she started taking fiber and antacids, both of which block calcium. And all the years of calcium supplementation were probably doing her no good because, even to the degree she was absorbing any of the calcium, it wasn’t balanced with other needed nutrients. I gathered this information in order to help her to figure out how to improve her bone health, as her doctor was only moderately informed and her recent appointment was rushed.

This was researched and written on Mother’s Day. I guess it was my gift to my mother. But I hope it is of value to others as well.

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Without Magnesium, Vitamin D Supplementation May Backfire
by Joseph Mercola

Calcium with Magnesium: Do You Need the Calcium?
from Easy Immune System Health

Expert cites risk of calcium—magnesium imbalance
from Nutritional Magnesium Association

Optimum Calcium Magnesium Ratio: The 2-to-1 Calcium-to-Magnesium Ratio
by A. Rosanoff

Nutritional strategies for skeletal and cardiovascular health: hard bones, softarteries, rather than vice versa
by James H O’Keefe, Nathaniel Bergman, Pedro Carrera-Bastos, Maélan Fontes-Villalba, James J DiNicolantonio, Loren Cordain

Why You Need To Take Vitamin K With Calcium Supplements
by Stacy Facko

For Bone Health, Think Magnesium
from Harvest Market Natural Foods

Calcium Deficiency: Are Supplements the Answer?
by Jillian Levy

Calcium to Magnesium: How the Ratio Affects Your Health
from Juvenon Health Journal

How to Correct Your Calcium-to-Magnesium Ratio
by Sandra Ketcham

Calcium & Magnesium: Finding the Right Ratio for Optimal Health
by Dr. Edward Group

Magnesium, NOT Calcium, Is The Key To Healthy Bones
by Jackie Ritz

Calcium Supplements: Things to Consider before Taking One
by Chris Kresser

How to Get Enough Calcium Without Dairy
by Katie Wells

Is The Paleo Diet Deficient In Calcium?
by Michael Ofer

Paleo & Calcium | Friendly Calcium Rich Foods
by Irena Macri

Mineral Primer – The Weston A. Price Foundation
by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig

The science of salt and electrolytes (are we consuming enough?)
by Will Little

13 Signs Of Magnesium Deficiency + How To Finally Get Enough
by Dr. Will Cole

Top 10 Magnesium-Rich Foods
by Rachael Link

Vitamin K2, Vitamin D, and Calcium: A Winning Combo
by Joseph Mercola

Vitamin K2: Everything You Need to Know
by Joe Leech

The Ultimate Vitamin K2 Resource
by Chris Masterjohn

Vitamin K2: Are You Consuming Enough?
by Chris Kresser

Promoting Calcium Balance Health On A Paleo Diet (Easier Than You Think)
by Loren Cordain

Calcium: A Team Sports View of Nutrition
by Loren Cordain

How To Keep Your Bones Healthy On A Paleo Diet
by Chris Kresser

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.