How many times have your heard that we can get all the nutrients we need from the food we eat? How many of you manage to eat the five servings of fruits and vegetables per day that are recommended? If you are unable to consume the five servings of fruit and vegetables that are recommended daily, you are not alone. Two thirds of Americans fail to eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables daily. Today’s active lifestyles make it virtually impossible to consume the perfect balance of different types of foods that is needed to obtain all the nutrients we need on a daily basis. Nutritional shortfalls exist for many nutrients in this country. Vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin B-6, folic acid, zinc, copper, calcium, iron, and magnesium are all lacking in the normal American diet.
A large nutritional survey conducted in 1994 showed that most American women are only getting half of the daily recommended intake of 400 micrograms of folic acid in their diet. Numerous nutritional studies also show that most of the elderly and most of the young women in the United States were getting less than two-thirds of the RDA of 15 milligrams of zinc in their diets.
Another nationwide survey showed that ninety-five percent of American women aged 18 to 44 were getting only a little more that half of the 18 milligrams of iron needed to offset the menstrual losses of this mineral. Studies of calcium intake have shown that 75 percent of all women over age 35 get less the RDA of 800 milligrams per day. This lack of calcium causes bone loss weakening the bones and causing osteoporosis. Calcium supplements can not only stop this bone loss but can also actually reverse it.
A study of meals served to students at 50 colleges found that the foods on the menu provided only 251 milligrams of magnesium a day- even though the RDA is 350 milligrams for men and 300 milligrams for women. Even if we only ate minimally processed organic foods, it would be hard to eat the amount needed to provide all the needed nutrients for optimal health. Especially since our ability to absorb and utilize the nutrients in our food diminishes as we age. Unfortunately, most of us eat a diet rich in highly processed nutrient deficient food.
Why is our food so nutrient deficient?
Well, it is mostly our fault. As consumers, we want picture-perfect produce. The food industry, thus, focuses on developing food that ships well, not on food that is nutritious. Tomatoes and lettuce are picked green and shipped in cold storage in order to appear picture perfect on the store shelves. Unfortunately, peak nutrition is achieved by letting the fruit ripen on the vine. Vine ripened tomatoes are proven to contain higher levels of beta-carotene, lycopene and soluble fiber than green picked fruit. Lettuce loses up to 46% of certain nutrients within 7 days of cold, dark storage. Most fruits and vegetables contain fewer nutrients today than in the past. Research by CTV, published in the Globe and Mail in 2002, reports that broccoli contains 62% less calcium, potatoes have lost almost all their vitamin A, and apples nearly half of their iron as compared to vegetables grown before the 1950’s. In fact, among the majority of fruits and vegetables tested, there was a 68% loss of Vitamin A, a 76% loss of Iron and an 80% loss of Calcium. Even if we were to eat our five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, we still are not guaranteed of getting the nutrients that we need for optimal health.
The main cause of the decline in nutrients in our food is the conventional farming methods used to grow most of our foods. Conventional farming methods deplete the nutrients in the soil which also diminishes the amount of nutrients in the plants that are grown. Soil can be depleted of most minerals in as few as five years of growing crops using pesticides, herbicides, and only minimal fertilizer. Conventional farming replaces only those nutrients that are needed for plant growth. No attention is given to replacing the many trace minerals that are essential for animal health. Modern livestock producers understand this lack of minerals in the crops and always have mineral blocks available for their animals. They understand that these minerals are necessary in order to achieve fast growth rates and good health in their livestock. Unfortunately, few of us realize that this supplementation is also necessary for our optimal health.
What must we do in order to achieve optimal health?
We can’t rely on the modern American diet to supply us with the nutrients that we need so we have to find alternative sources of these nutrients. One solution would be to eat only organically produced foods, fruits, vegetables and meat. Organically produced foods are grown with no herbicides or pesticides. This eliminates the toxins from our diet that are known to accumulate over time. These toxins are thought to be the cause of many of the chronic diseases that are associated with aging such as cancer.
We are told to wash our fruits and vegetables before eating them in order to remove these toxins but consider this. Those pesticides and herbicides are sprayed on the whole plant and on the soil that supplies the nutrition for those plants. How does the plant absorb that nutrition? The nutrients are absorbed from the soil into the roots and up into the plant and into the fruit. Any substance sprayed on the plant is also absorbed through the leaves into that plant. How does washing remove the spray residue that has been absorbed into the plant?
Organic farmers also strive to improve the soil through the application of more traditional fertilizer as well as by crop rotation. Thus, the soil has more minerals with which to nourish the crops which are then fed to the livestock. The food that is organically produced will be much more nutritious because of these practices than conventionally produced foods.
Unfortunately, organic food is more expensive than conventionally produced food. This may put a total organic diet out of the reach of most people. Besides, we all like to eat out occasionally and organic restaurants are very hard to find if, in fact, they even exist.
So how are we to ensure that we get all of the nutrients our bodies need in order to obtain and maintain optimal health? Nutritional supplements can supply these nutrients and with careful shopping can be quite affordable. However, it is important to realize that more than the cost of a supplement has to be considered in order to get the best value for your nutritional dollar. Some supplements may seem inexpensive but if they are not absorbable, that is, if they are in a form that our body can not utilize, they are simply of no value at any price. For example, there is an antacid that is currently being advertised as a source of calcium. However, the calcium in the tablet is calcium carbonate which is only ten percent absorbable and requires a good supply of stomach acid in order to be absorbed at that level. Isn’t the main purpose of an antacid to reduce stomach acid? The calcium in the antacid serves no other purpose than as a filler as its bioavailability is highly questionable.
Many of the needed nutrients work together in the human body and, as such, need to be available in the proper proportions and at the same time. For example, in order for B12 to be absorbed, folic acid is required and folic acid requires B12 to be absorbed. If one of these nutrients is taken without the other, a severe deficiency of the one not taken can occur. Another example is calcium which is best absorbed in the presence of magnesium, vitamin D and zinc. As you can see, there is much to be considered when deciding which nutritional supplements should be taken. I can only urge you to, please, learn about proper nutrition and what your body needs in order to stay healthy. A lot of the chronic diseases of today are caused by nutritional deficiencies and, as such, can be prevented by seeing that you provide your body with the building blocks of good health that it needs. Our body’s ability to renew itself and protect itself is amazing- provided that it is given all of the essential nutrients, the building blocks that it requires.