Recently we looked at the five most common nutrients missing from our diets. We talked about why these nutrients are so critical to our health and what deficiency could mean for our health status.
We haven’t looked at why this has happened or how our food has changed so drastically that even if we did incorporate foods rich in these nutrients, we may still be deficient.
Let’s have a look at 4 ways our modern diets have changed and how these changes can lead to micronutrient problems.
1. Reliance on gluten and processed grains.
In the 60s and 70s cardiovascular disease became an issue of concern for scientists, doctors and health policy advisers. Largely driven by President Eisenhower’s 1955 heart attack, studies that were issued to find the cause of CVD; fat or sugar.
After the Ancel Keys study fat was upheld as the dietary villain. This led to the development of the current food pyramid in 1977 - or a similar version thereof - using grains, bread, wheat and cereals as the base of our diet. What people may not know is that the US version of this food pyramid - advising 7-11 serves of grains per day - was sponsored by the US department of agriculture, with heavy federal subsidies to produce this grain.
This means in the last 40 years we’ve gone from 2-4 serves of grains per day - usually whole grains - to 2 or 3 times this amount. 40 years in our evolutionary history is merely a blink of time and our bodies simply haven’t adapted.
So what is the problem with this reliance on wheat and gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, and is what gives bread its stretch. Many nutritionists now believe many people - not just those with gluten intolerance or Celiac Disease - should avoid gluten as it is a known contributor to leaky gut.
Reliance on wheat and grains affects our micronutrient absorption drastically. This is because gluten and unsoaked grains contain anti-nutrients that block positively charged ions from important nutrients such as zinc, magnesium and iron.
Eating all these grains and wheat-containing products also push other foods off our plates. We have been told that red meat causes cancer - despite the meat tested being heavily processed red meats such as luncheon sausage - and so we opt for heart-healthy grains over grass fed meat. This shift has reduced our intake of B Vitamins found in meat, iron and animal fats that help us absorb fat soluble vitamins such as A, K and D.
To add to the problem, many products have added gluten to boost the protein content of the food. This means it’s not even naturally occurring gluten that may include some form of nutrients for the FEW people who can tolerate it. These products contain a lab-produced, highly modified form of gluten used to ‘fortify’ our foods.
2. We no longer eat all parts of the animal.
This is both a result of changes to healthy policy and socio-economic norms. When the low-fat guidelines came out, the culprit leading to cardiovascular disease was thought to be cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fat carried in the bloodstream and can lay deposits on our arteries. Cholesterol is a naturally occurring substance in animal products such as liver, egg yolks, animal meats and bone marrow.
We were told to avoid cholesterol at all cost. What we now know is that dietary cholesterol acts differently in our bodies. In the same way fat doesn’t make us fat - depending on the type - it is the interaction of different foods with our liver, blood and triglycerides - that determines the type of cholesterol produced in our body. We are not saying you shouldn’t be concerned with your cholesterol levels, rather that you need to take into consideration your ratio of good to bad cholesterol, your overall diet, blood pressure, liver function and triglyceride count.
What this has meant is we no longer eat organ meat, animal fats such as lard, tallow or dripping and for a while many of us avoided eggs. These foods are among the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. 50 grams of liver will give you 50% of ALL of your micronutrient requirements for the day. The vitamins found in the egg yolk are required to help you break down the proteins and enzymes in the egg white. Eating them in isolation can be problematic for inflammation and those with autoimmune conditions.
These foods are also rich in choline. Choline is a water soluble nutrient usually grouped in with the B Vitamins. Hence it is abundant in animal foods. Choline is vital for fertility, vitamin D absorption, mood, healthy neuron function and muscle control.
Chris Masterjohn a health expert with a PhD in Nutritional Science argues that the modern spike in obesity is directly related to our sudden decline in choline consumption.
When we made saturated fats the dietary villain we needed to produce oils to fill this hole in our diets. Our intake of industrially processed seed oils - such as canola, grapeseed, soya bean, and rice bran oil - skyrocketed. These oils are high in omega-6 fats - omega-6 and omega-3 fats are both examples of polyunsaturated fats. You may hear the word 'omega' and assume it's healthy, and indeed the human body does need a small amount of omega-6 - but in the case of seed oils, this isn't the case.
Omega fats are also called 'essential fatty acids' because they must be obtained through the diet. Despite being labelled 'essential,' too much of a good thing can turn into a very, very bad thing.
Historically, it is estimated that we consumed omega-6 and omega-3 fats in close to a 1:1 ratio, with the upper limit likely being around 3:1. Estimates place that ratio at closer to 16:1 today as seed and vegetable oils have become so ubiquitous in our food supply.
They're used in everything from deep fried foods - chips, donuts - to mayonnaise, margarines, tuna, roasted nuts and seeds, baked goods such as biscuits, and even bread. Couple this with the fact that omega-3 is found in so few foods, mostly fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel. It's easy to see how this ratio got so out of hand.
Omega-6 fats are pro-inflammatory, while omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory. In a ratio of 1:1, the pro-inflammatory action of omega-6 fats wouldn't be a problem. In a ratio of 16:1 as in the modern food supply, it's a different story.
Consumption of these fats in the absence of sufficient omega-3s creates a situation of systemic inflammation - the perfect storm for disease. This is why BePure THREE (our high strength fish oil) is part of our Everyday Health Pack, to counter the barrage of omega-6 oils, improve your ratio and reduce inflammation.
4. Freshness of our food sources.
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 (Bs 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.
Obviously underpinning your habits with energy-giving foods, daily gentle movement and adequate sleep are vital factors in health. We can take steps to increase the nutrition we get through our food by changing our spending habits - focussing on spray free organic produce, growing our own vegetables and reducing our exposure to toxins. All of these factors combined with quality nutritional support on a daily basis will help us reach our optimal nutritional requirements.