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Supplement Proponents’ Claims
By Gary F. Zeolla
This four-part article is continued from Supplement Proponents’ Claims: Part Two.
Grain-fed Meat and Dairy
The preceding discussion on organic foods leads to the next claim of supplement proponents, only now it is in regard to animal foods rather than plant foods. The claim is that conventional meats and dairy, with the cows being fed grains, are not as nutritious as meats and dairy attained from cows raised the old-fashioned way, by letting them graze on grasses in the field. It is said that to make up for this difference, one has to take supplements.
But once again, this is a half-truth. There is evidence that grass fed beef and dairy are more nutritious than conventional beef and dairy, especially in regard to Omega 3 fatty acids.
Meat, eggs, and dairy products from pastured animals are ideal for your health. Compared with commercial products, they offer you more “good” fats, and fewer “bad” fats. They are richer in antioxidants; including vitamins E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C. Furthermore, they do not contain traces of added hormones, antibiotics or other drugs (Eat Wild).
Organic meat and milk differ markedly from their conventionally produced counterparts in measures of certain nutrients, a review of scientific studies reported on Tuesday. In particular, levels of omega-3 fatty acids, beneficial for lowering the risk of heart disease, were 50 percent higher in the organic versions (New York Times; Organic Meat).
Saturated and monounsaturated: Grass-fed beef has either similar, or slightly less, saturated and monounsaturated fats.
Omega-6 Polyunsaturated Fats: Grass-fed and grain-fed beef contain very similar amounts of Omega-6 fatty acids.
Omega-3s: This is where grass-fed really makes a major difference, containing up to 5 times as much Omega-3.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA): Grass-fed beef contains about twice as much CLA as grain-fed beef. This fatty acid is associated with reduced body fat and some other beneficial effects…
Vitamin A: Grass-fed beef contains carotenoid precursors to Vitamin A, such as beta-carotene.
Vitamin E: This is an antioxidant that sits in your cell membranes and protects them from oxidation. Grass-fed beef contains more.
Micronutrients: Grass-fed beef also contains more Potassium, Iron, Zinc, Phosphorus and Sodium (Authority Nutrition; Grass-Fed).
The first site, Eat Wild, on the indicated page then has a very long list of summaries of studies that have shown the nutritionally superiority of grass beef and dairy over commercial beef and dairy. Elsewhere, the site has a directory for where grass fed beef and dairy can be found across the USA. You can search by your state to find a farm near you.
Now it is true that grass fed beef and dairy is more expensive than commercial beef and dairy. But it is also true that supplemental omega 3s, CLA, and other nutrients found in grass feed beef and dairy are very expensive. And that money would be better spent on the natural way of attaining these nutrients by eating grass fed beef and dairy rather than the very unnatural, piecemeal approach of trying to attain these nutrients from pills and powders.
Note that the phrase “pasture raised” is not identical to “grass fed.”
Here’s a simple way to grasp the difference between the two terms: “grass-fed” refers to what an animal eats (grass); “pasture-raised” refers to where it eats (on a pasture) (Humaneitarian; Pasture-raised).
What is the difference between “pasture-raised” and “100% grass-fed”?
Pasture-raised animals graze certified organic pasture whenever weather permits and receive supplemental grain rations.
100% grass-fed animals receive only fresh pasture and dried forages, like hay. They may consume supplements as needed, but never receive grain rations (Organic Valley; What is).
There are debates about which of these two are best, but if you find either phrase on a meat or dairy product, it would be far better than a product from grain-fed, stall-raised animals.
Standard American Diet
The next claim of supplement proponents as to why people need to take nutritional supplements is the Standard American Diet (SAD) is, well, sad. It is composed mostly of highly processed, nutrient deficient foods. As a result, most Americans are deficient in many nutrients, and the way to correct these deficiencies is with supplements, especially mega-dose supplements.
2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for America:
The first part of this claim is again true. Most Americans are not meeting the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for America:
About three-fourths of the population has an eating pattern that is low in vegetables, fruits, dairy, and oils.
More than half of the population is meeting or exceeding total grain and total protein foods recommendations, but, as discussed later in the chapter, are not meeting the recommendations for the subgroups within each of these food groups.
Most Americans exceed the recommendations for added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium.
In addition, the eating patterns of many are too high in calories….
Only 20 percent of adults meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity.
The mention of “subgroups” in the second line is due to Americans not consuming sufficient whole grains, seafood, and legumes. All of these poor habits contribute to the fact that, “more than two-thirds of all adults and nearly one-third of all children and youth in the United States are either overweight or obese.” This in turn leads to many health problems experienced by Americans, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Those problems in turn lead to them having a greater risk of serious consequences from a Coronavirus infection. But does this poor eating pattern also lead to nutritional deficiencies in the current American diet that need corrected by supplements?
Nutrients Deficiencies in the USA:
How common are nutrient deficiencies in the USA? Some claim they are very common, while others say they are rare. The difference is due to how a deficiency is determined.
The easiest way to do so is to study the diets of Americans, and then to compare the levels of nutrients being consumed to the RDAs. When that is done, it looks like Americans are deficient in many nutrients. For instance, in 2011, headlines rang out, “Nine Out of 10 Americans Fall Short of Key Nutrients They Need, New Study Concludes.” The key points of this report were:
The new research, which analyzed government food consumption survey data, indicates that nine out of 10 Americans fall short of key nutrients in their diets – shortages that could put their health at risk. The report identifies a total of 11 “gap nutrients,” including calcium, vitamin D and potassium – three of the “nutrients of concern” identified in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s report….
Potassium, fiber, vitamin D and calcium suffer the widest gap with the greatest number of Americans falling short of daily recommendations among the identified 11 gap nutrients, according to the report. Vitamins A, B-6 and B-12, zinc, folate, magnesium and iron round out the list.
“The nation’s nutrient shortages are directly linked to the under-consumption of the specific foods and beverages that supply these nutrients, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lowfat milk,” said New York-based registered dietitian Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, author of Feed Your Family Right! and Nutrition at Your Fingertips (PR Newswire).
Although the majority of Americans consume sufficient amounts of most nutrients, some nutrients are consumed by many individuals in amounts below the Estimated Average Requirement or Adequate Intake levels. These include potassium, dietary fiber, choline, magnesium, calcium, and vitamins A, D, E, and C. Iron also is under-consumed by adolescent girls and women ages 19 to 50 years. Low intakes for most of these nutrients occur within the context of unhealthy overall eating patterns, due to low intakes of the food groups—vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and dairy—that contain these nutrients (Dietary Guidelines).
To be clear, the way these deficiencies were determined was by looking at what Americans as a whole or on average were eating, and then comparing the nutrient content of that food with the RDAs. Using this methodology, the vast majority Americans were found to be deficient in at least one nutrient, with the mentioned eleven being the most common. This methodology of comparing food intake with the RDAs is the most common method of determining if a person or people group is deficient in a given nutrient or nutrients. But it is not very accurate.
The reason it is not is what was explained previously. The RDAs are set so that they cover the nutrient needs of the vast majority of Americans. But most people’s needs are actually less than the RDA, not greater as supplement proponents claim. As such, when the actual blood and urine tests are done, the percentage of Americans that are actually deficient in nutrients is far less.
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) is CDC’s ongoing national survey to assess the health and nutrition status of the U.S. population. The Second Nutrition Report includes results from blood and urine samples collected from people participating in NHANES from 2003-2006. In addition, results from NHANES 1999-2002 are included for biochemical indicators measured during that time period….
The Second Nutrition Report found less than 10% of the U.S. population had nutrition deficiencies for selected indicators. However, for most nutrition indicators, deficiencies varied by age, gender, or race/ethnicity and could be as high as nearly one third of certain population groups…
Of all the nutrients listed, the most people had vitamin B6, iron, and vitamin D deficiencies, and the fewest people had vitamin A, vitamin E, and folate deficiencies…
Dietary Guidelines for Americans indicate vitamin D is a nutrient of concern in American diets, advising that people choose foods that provide more vitamin D (CDC’s Second Nutrition Report).
Thus, when actual biochemical tests are done, less than 10% of Americans are deficient in any nutrients. This confirms what was said before—the RDAs are more than adequate for the vast majority of people as even with most people consuming less than the RDAs of eleven nutrients, the vast majority of people are not deficient in them. But the three most common deficiencies as determined by biochemical analysis were among the eleven identified by diet comparisons, namely vitamin D, iron, and vitamin B6.
How to Correct These Deficiencies:
As all three quotes indicate, the way to correct these nutritional deficiencies would be to improve the diets of Americans. The best food sources for each of these nutrients would vary by the nutrient. But here, if a supplement is needed, all it would take is a basic multi with 100% of the DV for these nutrients. And the CDC report goes on to recommend supplements of folate and iodine be given to pregnant women. But a mega-dose multi is not necessary.
But whatever the exact number of people with deficiencies, such a possibility is probably why some claim they feel better after starting to take a mega-dose supplement. Such a product will quickly correct a deficiency, leading to improved health. But once the deficiency is corrected, it would not be necessary to continue to take the mega-dose of the nutrient. It would be much better to improve the diet so as to consume a sufficient amount of the needed nutrient. And a basic multi would ensure that the deficiency does not reoccur. But to continue to take the mega-dose supplement could prove dangerous due to over intake of nutrients, as discussed previously.
Children, young women, the elderly and vegetarians seem to be at the highest risk of several deficiencies. The best way to prevent a deficiency is to eat a balanced, real food-based diet that includes nutrient-dense foods (both plants and animals). However, supplements can be necessary when it is impossible to get enough from the diet alone (Authority Nutrition: 7 Nutrient).
Problems Supplements Would Not Correct:
Going back to the initial quote from the Dietary Guidelines, there is far more that is wrong in the American diet than nutrient deficiencies. The main problem is most Americans consume way too much added sugars and other processed carbohydrates (carbs), saturated fat, and salt. This is mainly due to Americans consuming too much processed foods in general, which usually contains these elements.
But most processed carbs (like refined flour) in the USA are fortified with various vitamins and minerals. Many other processed foods are also fortified. This is why most Americans are not clinically deficient in most nutrients. Since synthetic nutrients are used for this fortification, this once again proves that synthetic nutrients can be absorbed and utilized by the human body, as discussed previously.
But what this fortification process does not correct, and neither would mega-dose nor food-based supplements, is the deleterious effects of processed foods. As indicated, the over-consumption of sugar and other processed carbs, saturated fat, and salt leads the development of the many degenerative diseases Americans experience. Some will dispute this claim in regard to saturated fat and sodium. But both are in fact deleterious. A discussion of these issues is outside the scope of this article, but they are addressed in this writer’s book Creationist Diet: Second Edition.
But here, it will also be said that neither the fortification of foods nor nutritional supplements would provide the other beneficial elements found in whole foods that are lost in processing other than vitamins and minerals, namely the aforementioned phytonutrients, along with fiber. Some supplement companies are now adding phytonutrients to their nutritional supplements or selling them separately. They are also selling supplemental fiber. But it is impossible to reproduce the balance of these element found in unprocessed foods in pills. Moreover, rather than eating refined breads and cereals and other processed foods and then taking a nutritional supplement, supplements of phytonutrients, and a fiber supplement, it would make much more sense to consume whole grains and other whole foods and thus to attain all of these beneficial elements in the balance that God/ nature intended them to be consumed.
Deleterious Artificial Elements:
In addition to being packed with refined carbs and saturated fats, processed foods often also contain artificial flavorings, artificial colorings, preservatives, and other artificial ingredients. Also, as already mentioned, most fruits and vegetables and other plant foods are grown using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and feed animals are given hormones and antibiotics. All of these artificial elements can have deleterious health effects on the humans who consume these foods.
This again is a controversial subject that is outside the scope of this article, but it all adds up to the Standard American Diet being far from the ideal for human begins to consume. And it leads to the next claim of supplement proponents.
Toxins in Environment and Foods
The next claim of supplement proponents is that these toxins in our food, along with toxins in the environment, increase nutrient needs. And since we do not attain sufficient nutrients for this purpose from foods, it is necessary to take supplements to make up for this lack.
One way to reduce the toxic load on the body is to not consume foods that contain the aforementioned artificial ingredients. This can be done by eating only natural, organic food. Not smoking, air filters on your heating/ cooling systems, using the previously discussed water filters, and other steps can be taken to reduce other toxins.
That said; it is true sufficient nutrients are needed for adequate elimination of toxins from the body:
Q: How does the body handle toxic substances?
A: All cells in the body have some detoxification capacity. For most toxins, however, the cells of the intestinal lining and the liver are the key detox centers in the body. You can think of the cells in the intestinal wall as being the first barrier to toxins, both physically and chemically. The next major detox site is in the liver, which is a complex chemical factory capable of carrying out thousands of chemical reactions.
Typically, when toxic compounds (including many drugs, pesticides and natural toxins) are encountered by these cells, the substances are chemically altered in ways that reduce their toxicity and allow them to be eliminated in the urine.
Optimal function of this complex chemistry is dependent on an adequate supply of all essential nutrients….
Overall, eating a wide variety of foods increases the odds of meeting all nutrient needs and decreases the odds of getting too much of any single toxin (Nutrition ATC; Sufficient).
But note the “prescription”—“eating a variety of foods,” not “take supplements.” Supplements simply are not needed for an adequate nutrient intake in most cases, as already discussed. And if a nutritional supplementation is needed, a basic multi will cover the need. A mega-dose supplement is not needed, and in fact, could contribute to the toxic overload:
“Excesses of all nutrients, from water, to iron, to water-soluble B vitamins, can potentially cause toxicities,” says Norman Hord, PhD, MPH, RD, associate professor in the department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Michigan State University. People who take vitamins and minerals in amounts above the established upper limits of the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) may harm tissues where the vitamin is stored in their body, Hord explains. That’s why you shouldn’t take more than the recommended amount…
“Certain water-soluble vitamins in excess can cause problems, such as too much vitamin B6 can cause nerve problems, too much niacin can cause flushing, and excess vitamin C can cause kidney stones,” Frechman observes. Excess folic acid may also mask a vitamin B12 deficiency, which is more common in people over age 50….
“Too much vitamin A, D, or K can lead to increased levels that are unhealthy and can cause health consequences,” says Frechman. She adds that too much vitamin A can lead to birth defects, and too high levels of vitamin E may increase the risk of hemorrhaging. Excess vitamin K can lessen or reverse the effect of blood thinner medicines and prevent normal blood clotting….
When the level goes beyond the safe upper limits, vitamins can act like drugs, says Roberta Anding, MS, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, director of sports nutrition at Texas Children’s Hospital, and dietitian for the Houston Texans pro football team. Excessive calcium intake, more than 2,500 mg a day, can interfere with kidney function, cause kidney stones and constipation, and interfere with the absorption of iron and zinc. One 2,500 mg calcium supplement is like drinking eight glasses of milk, which goes beyond the reasonable food level, explains Anding…. (WebMD; Know).
Wheat Allergy and Gluten Intolerance
Whole grains have been mentioned in this four-part article as a healthy food that contributes to nutrient intake. But there are many today who think that grains of all types, be they whole or refined, strip the body of nutrients. This is said to be due to the widespread prevalence of wheat allergies and gluten intolerance. But since grains are widely consumed, then it is said that supplements are needed to make up for the loss of nutrients caused by grain consumption.
This whole line of reasoning is bogus. Whole grains contain a wealth of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber that are beneficial and are easily absorbed. This is proven by the numerous health benefits of eating whole grain. In my book God-given Foods Eating Plan, I cite numerous scientific studies demonstrating that whole grain consumption is in fact beneficial. In doing that research, I came across no studies showing adverse effects from eating whole grains. That is, unless someone is part of the tiny percentage of people who are gluten intolerant or are allergic to wheat.
And it is just that, a tiny percentage. “Celiac disease, also known as gluten intolerance, is a genetic disorder that affects at least 1 in 133 Americans” (Celiac.com; home page). The 1 in 133 number is less than 1% of the US population. Related to this would be a wheat allergy. But, “… it’s estimated that approximately 0.4 percent of children and 0.5 percent of adults are allergic to wheat” (ACAAI; Wheat Allergy). Thus, both celiac disease and wheat allergy is very rare.
Now it is possible there is a condition called non-celiac gluten sensitivity, “a group some experts estimate at from 1% to 6% of the population” (Old Ways).
Adding together the most liberal numbers, at most 8.5% of the US population suffers from conditions that would require them to avoid wheat. Or looking at it the other way, for at least 91.5% of Americans there would be no benefit from eliminating wheat from their diets. As such, despite gluten-free and wheat free diets being all the rage today, there really is little reason for them.
With gluten-free foods increasing in popularity in both supermarkets and restaurants, it’s easy to think that they must have some health benefits. While gluten-free products do have a place in people’s diets with celiac disease (an autoimmune condition in which the body can’t digest gluten) or gluten intolerance, these products have no benefit to people without these issues. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Many of the products which have been made gluten-free are higher in calories and sugars and are also lacking in healthy fibers and proteins, so eating gluten-free without warrant can actually be detrimental to your health goals (9 News; Common).
This subject is dealt with in more detail in my Creationist Diet book. But here, it will be said there is no evidence an allergy to wheat causes nutrient deficiencies, but it is true celiac disease can cause a variety of nutrient deficiencies. But the prescription for it is not to take supplements but to avoid gluten, which will allow the intestines to heal and thus properly absorb nutrients. Maybe supplements will be needed until that time, and afterwards, if the restrictions of a gluten free diet prevent a person from consuming sufficient amounts of specific nutrients. But if it does, then a basic multi will cover the needs. A mega-dose supplement is not needed as a celiac who is properly following a gluten free diet will not have absorption problems.
Vitamin and mineral therapy can be used in addition to the standard gluten-free diet to hasten a patient’s recovery from nutritional deficiency. However, certain ingredients in vitamins and supplements – typically the inactive ingredients – can contain gluten, so extra care must be taken to avoid any gluten exposure….
After treatment with a strict gluten-free diet, most patients’ small intestines recover and are able to properly absorb nutrients again, and therefore do not require supplementation. For certain patients however, nutrient supplements may be beneficial (Celiac; Vitamins).
The fact that people with celiac disease are at risk of developing nutrient deficiencies due to not eating whole wheat, barley, and rye shows these grains contain nutrients that are beneficial for the vast majority of people who are not gluten intolerant or allergic to wheat. And eating whole grains would negate the need for many supplements.
Along these lines, a short article in a cookbook I received with a Vita-Mix I purchased a while back makes an interesting observation:
The article is titled “The Poverty of Enrichment,” and states:
The practice of refining whole wheat gave birth to several other business—all motivated by answers to this question: “What to do with the discarded (and most nutritious) parts of the wheat—the bran, wheat germ oil, and endosperm?” Simple. Extol the wholesome virtues of these by-products and package them for sale. The resulting “new” products today represent millions of dollars in annual sales—wheat germ oil, bran flakes, vitamin E tablets, vitamin supplements, cosmetics, laxatives, and wheat germ.
Isn’t it interesting how big business has taken whole grain—a food you can buy for 20 to 30 cents a pound, broken it down into its individual parts, and sells it for $2 a pound ($1 an ounce for wheat germ oil)? (Vita-Mix, p.12).
Part Four of this four-part article will be posted on this website after it appears in the next issue of FitTips for One and All.
General (for all four parts):
All Scripture references are from: Analytical-Literal Translation of the Bible (ALT). Copyright © 1999-2019 by Gary F. Zeolla (www.Zeolla.org). Bolding added for emphasis.
2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for America.
5 Reasons To Take Nutritional Supplements.
9 News. Common nutrition myths.
10 Reasons to Take Nutritional Supplements.
Authority Nutrition: 7 Nutrient Deficiencies That Are Incredibly Common.
Dangers of Supplementation.
Debunked! 7 Common Senior Nutrition Myths.
Getting your vitamins and minerals through diet.
Parsonnet, Mia. M.D. What’s in Our Food? Madison books: New York, 1996.
PR Newswire. Nine Out of 10 Americans Fall Short of Key Nutrients They Need, New Study Concludes.
Why Do We Need Supplements?
Why Getting Your Nutrition Only from Food is A Bad Idea.
Why Is Crop Rotation Important?
For Specific Sections in this Part:
9 News. Common nutrition myths.
ACAAI (American College of Asthma, Allegory, and immunology: Wheat Allergy.
Authority Nutrition: 7 Nutrient Deficiencies That Are Incredibly Common.
Authority Nutrition: Grass-Fed vs Grain-Fed Beef – What’s The Difference?
CDC’s Second Nutrition Report.
Celiac Disease Foundation. Vitamins and Minerals.
Celiac.com. Home page.
Eat Wild: Getting Wild Nutrition from Modern Food.
Humaneitarian; Pasture-raised vs. grass-fed: What’s the difference?
New York Times: Organic Meat and Milk Higher in Healthful Fatty Acids.
Nutrition ATC. Sufficient nutrient intake equips body to fight toxins.
Organic Valley. What is the difference between “pasture-raised” and “100% grass-fed”?
PR Newswire. Nine Out of 10 Americans Fall Short of Key Nutrients They Need, New Study Concludes.
Vita-Mix Corporation. Whole Grains Cookbook, 1999.
WebMD; Know the Difference Between Fat- and Water-Soluble Nutrients.
God-given Foods Eating Plan - The approach of this book is to study different foods and food groups, with a chapter devoted to each major classification of foods. First the Biblical evidence is considered, then the modern-day scientific research is reviewed. Foods are then classified as "God-given foods" and "non-God-given foods." The main point will be a healthy eating plan is composed of a variety of God-given foods and avoids non-God-given foods.
Supplement Proponents’ Claims: Part Three. Copyright © 2020 by Gary F. Zeolla.
The above article first appeared in the free
FitTips for One and All newsletter.
It was posted on this site August 1, 2020.
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