Food should be our primary source of essential vitamins and minerals. But can we obtain all the nutrients we need for optimal health from food alone? Our ancestors didn’t need nutritional support—so might we?
In short, our answer is no—we can’t obtain everything we need from our diet alone.
Here’s the long answer:
While doing his Masters in Nutrition, Ben delved into the nutritional content of his health, wholefoods to find that he was only meeting 40-60% of his recommended daily intake (RDI) of most essential nutrients. Not the results he was expecting! More concerning for him was that RDI are the minimum amount of a certain nutrient required to prevent disease and illness.
Health is a spectrum. Ben’s personal choice isn’t just to attain ‘illness avoidance’ but has his sights set further down the continuum, actively pursing ‘optimal wellness’. This brings with it, increased nutritional requirements—’suggested optimal nutritional allowance (SONA), target is set for promoting optimal health and vitality.
Despite eating incredibly well, and still not even hitting the minimum baseline nutrition requirements, let alone the amounts I needed to thrive. It wasn’t the amounts and types of food I was eating. It had to be about quality.
2 years researching New Zealand soils revealed that they’re lacking in selenium, zinc and iodine. And if the nutrients aren’t in the soil, they can’t possibly be in our food.
Another nutrient we are commonly lacking in is Vitamin D. It’s a common factor in modern lifestyles and diet cannot address Vitamin D deficiency—the sun is by our best source of vitamin D, however either we don’t spend enough time outside, or we get sunburnt before meeting our daily requirement.
In a nutshell
As well as the lack of nutrients in our food, our modern-day lifestyles are busy and demanding—we have higher nutrient requirements to function with ease.
1. Modern-day lifestyles increase nutrient requirements
The harder you push your body, the more stress you are under, the more vitamins and minerals your body uses. In times of stress your body uses more B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc just to name a few.
Most of us in the Western world are living beyond our nutritional limits. Stimulant use like caffeine and refined carbohydrates are good examples of the crutches people are using to deal with the day to day load of stressors.
2. Modern farming increases our need for minerals
It is well established that modern agriculture is stripping the topsoil of essential trace minerals, and nobody is paying the farmers enough to remineralise the soils. Hence, the foods we are eating are becoming more and more deficient in minerals. Minerals are key enzyme cofactors, I see mineral deficiencies as a common factor in many people’s health complaints, from fatigue to depression and sleep issues.
3. Modern food convenience means we get less nutrients
Traditional diets were based on eating fresh or fermented fruits and vegetables—since no refrigeration was available to them. Fresh and fermented foods retain the highest amount of water soluble vitamins. Water soluble vitamins in fruit and vegetables are very unstable. In fact, as soon as you’ve picked them or unplugged them from the ground they start deteriorating. To the extent that after 4 days after being harvested up to 80% of the water soluble vitamins—B’s and C are lost.
In modern supermarkets produce can be for sale up to 2 weeks after harvest. Sometimes more. It’s easy to see why people feel better when they take a B vitamin supplement—seeing that they are most likely deficient even when eating lots of fruit and vegetables.
4. Modern eating eliminates the most nutrient dense foods
Traditional cultures went out of their way to get nutrient dense foods. Eating organs, glands and special parts of animals, such as the eyes, to maximise nutritional intake.
Organs, particularly the liver, is one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet, unfortunately many people today don’t eat such foods and are therefore missing out on the incredible nutritional benefits from doing so. These nutrients need to come from somewhere else.
5. Environmental toxins increase need for micronutrients
Traditional peoples lived in a relatively pristine environment. Let’s face it—the concept of organic food didn’t exist, because that’s all there was!
We know that environmental toxins block enzyme function and increase the need for antioxidants, minerals and vitamins needed by the liver for detoxification of these toxins. The modern world is full of environmental toxin exposure—from PCBs and Dioxins from plastics to heavy metals mobilised in the soil by acidic fertilisers—they are simply everywhere, and a lot of them cannot be escaped.
What we can do is support our body’s systems for dealing with them, which means more minerals, vitamins and antioxidants.
Obviously underpinning your habits with energy-giving foods, daily gentle movement and adequate sleep are vital factors in health. All of these factors combined with quality nutritional support will help support the wellbeing of our whole being.