Why should I care about testing nutritional status or nutrient deficiency?
The pathology of all disease can be traced back to 2 things. Being nutrient deficient is one of them. Let that one sink in for a few seconds. I’m sure a lot of you have heard the stories of sailors back in the day crossing the Atlantic and getting scurvy until they started packing their boats out with barrels of sauerkraut. Why were they getting scurvy? They were nutrient deficient. They were deficient in vitamin C.
In part 1 of this 2 part series I’m going to bring into focus (maybe in a whole new way for you) why it’s so important to eat a nutrient dense diet. I’m going to discuss bioavailability. Basically, that’s a blanket term for your body’s ability to actually absorb and assimilate the nutrients you are taking in.
Since I don’t just want you to read this stuff, I’ve also included yet another downloadable cheat sheet so you can take action. It includes stuff like getting your nutrient status tested and a resource that lays out literally every symptom associated with every nutrient deficiency known to man. So if you don’t have the money for the actual nutrient status testing, you can just figure it out for yourself. No joke.
Everybody likes a few statistics, right?
Here’s a list of a smorgasbord of nutrients that are critical to your health. You need to be getting adequate amounts of these nutrients on a daily basis. The corresponding percentage next to each nutrient represents the population of the US currently deficient in those nutrients statistically. In other words, I’m on this list. You’re on this list. Yay!
- Potassium – 98%
- Vitamin D – 95%
- Vitamin E – 94%
- Magnesium – 64%
- Vitamin A – 51%
- Calcium – 49%
- Vitamin C – 43%
- Vitamin B12 – 40%
And what’s worse than this? This is based on the outdated RDA that’s constantly evolving. For context, the RDA is meant to capture the needs of 97.5% of healthy people. It stands for “Recommended Dietary Allowance”. No big deal that it leaves out 8 million people. Oops! Oh and the bigger oopsie is the word “healthy” thrown in as a qualifier. Last time I checked I started a blog because there’s a whole lot less healthy going on lately.
Research indicates that our not too distant ancestors ate a diet up to 4x more nutrient dense than the RDA recommendations because pregnancy and illness requires a surplus. Not the smallest amount possible to avoid nutrient deficiency related disease!
The point I’m trying to make is this: we’re not even hitting the already low bar set by the RDA! It’s no wonder there’s such an uptick in chronic disease! This stuff knocks out a lot of the above mentioned nutrients in one punch and said nutrients are all very bioavailable at that.
What’s bioavailability? Can’t I just take supplements?
I’d love to say it could be that simple but unfortunately it’s just not. At best, we have NO IDEA what’s happening when we take an isolated synthetic micronutrient. I’d wager it’s not much better with the non-synthetic ones. Without getting into too much detail because I don’t want to and because this post would be a book, I’ll cover a couple concepts real quick:
Precursor vs. Active Nutrients – Basically precursor versions of nutrients need to be converted into the active forms of them that your body actually assimilates and uses. So first of all, the body’s ability to convert a lot of these micronutrients into their active forms can be poor in healthy people, let alone those dealing with any kind of modern chronic disease (which is literally 1 in 2 people, 1 in 4 with multiple – not kidding).
One example would be plant based forms of Omega 3 PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids) – aka ALA (Alpha Linoleic Acid). They need to be converted to EPA and DHA Omega 3s which are the “active” versions. In healthy adults, the ability to convert it is roughly .05%. Half of 1 percent. You could be doing straight up intravenous flax seed and still probably won’t even hit the RDA. So unless you’re taking the active versions of the micronutrients in your supplement (which most of the time, you’re not – just look for yourself on a multivitamin at Vitamin A – guarantee you it’s beta carotine, not retinol) it’s already an uphill battle.
Cofactors for conversion.
Within whole foods, there are built in cofactors (minerals, enzymes, acids, etc.) that assist in the above mentioned conversion. When you isolate micronutrients and take them in supplement form, there are no cofactors. It’s assumed that if you take them with food it’ll all just work itself out. If this isn’t the height of ignorance I don’t know what is. There are literally no studies that can even remotely come close to saying they’ve demonstrated this.
There are a lot more “whole food” supplements out there these days which are sort of a grey area. For example, stuff like cod liver oil and concentrated fruit, veggie and greens powders, etc. On the one hand, I would highly recommend a reputable cod liver oil but on the other hand, those concentrated fruit, veggie and greens powders don’t have me so convinced. How are they retaining nutrient density through processing? Can your body handle assimilating concentrated doses of fruits, veggies and greens like that? Are the cofactors damaged or in any way compromised by the processing? These are all unanswered questions regardless of the supplement’s boisterous claims.
Bioavailability of animal based foods vs. plant based.
Even when we’re dealing with situations where you have both the active versions of the nutrient and the necessary cofactors for conversion, a lot of plant based versions fall short compared to animal based. I’m going to head into some contentious territory now but hear me out if you ascribe to a plant based, whole foods diet of some sort. I’m not picking on you but I do want to point out a couple things because statistically vegetarians and vegans are among the highest percentages of those that are nutrient deficient.
Spinach and collard greens are listed as having higher calcium than bone in salmon. Fair enough. The difference here isn’t how much of a nutrient is in a particular food. It’s how much your body can actually absorb and assimilate. For spinach, it’s around 5%. If you think I’m cherry picking an example with a low percentage because of high phytic acid, then let’s throw in cruciferous veggies as well at 50-60% absorpsion.
To get the same amount of calcium from 3 cups of grass fed and finished raw milk you’d need:
- 16 cups of spinach (good luck with that)
- 7 cups of cooked broccoli (again, good luck with that)
That’s daily. Not to mention the havoc all that phytic acid from spinach would wreak on your body. Make it easier on yourself and incorporate even small amounts of high quality animal products. That’s all you need anyway. We eat entirely too much protein than we need in this country. And yes, I’m talking to everyone – even those who think they need copious amounts to build lean mass. You don’t.
In summary and next steps if you suspect you are nutrient deficient.
Are you nutrient deficient? Hopefully now you have a better understanding of the many factors at play with our nutrition. While some whole food supplements are necessary for addressing acute nutrient deficiency temporarily to get your body back into balance, we should be aiming to nourish ourselves through food as much as possible.
Be sure to download the free cheat sheet that outlines exactly how to get started with getting your nutrient status tested if you’ve got the cash to throw at it. And since that can get expensive there’s an additional resource for doing it yourself for MUCH cheaper. But I would definitely recommend spending the money for actual testing if you can swing it. It’ll change your life, guaranteed.
It’s amazing how far just changing your diet to nutrient dense, high quality food can go with improving your health and eliminating chronic disease that you may even be currently taking medication for.
I’m not a doctor so don’t be wild and crazy and assume that cutting out your meds without consulting your doctor is a good idea. The point I’m making is that there is another way.
Stay tuned for next week when we cover part 2 in this series where I’ll cover the pathology of the only other cause of disease. Period. Bold claims here at Food Fitness Family, I know!