Do you really need to intake every known nutrient every single day? Do the federal (United States) nutrition “requirements” hold any water?
The story of my most recent nutritional epiphany is coming up shortly, but first, let’s examine the concept of Daily Value, what used to be known as Recommended Daily Allowance, taking the mineral iron and vitamin C as examples. The Daily Value of iron, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), is eighteen milligrams for women. That means that a woman’s body needs to minimally absorb eighteen milligrams of iron every day in order not to develop iron deficiency anemia. The Daily Value established for vitamin C is the amount one’s body needs in order not to develop scurvy. In other words, the Daily Values are those which a person supposedly must absorb every day in order not to develop the deficiency diseases or conditions related to the various nutrients.
There are several problems with these established Values. First, if you are only getting just enough not to manifest symptoms of a deficiency condition, you still may be deficient in a nutrient. Second, note that I am using the word “absorb” rather than “eat” or “consume.” No matter how healthy you may be, your body will never absorb 100% of the nutrients you take in through your mouth.
In fact, some of the numbers are quite discouraging. If you eat meat or eggs, you will absorb only up to 30% of the iron in them. Notice “up to”, meaning depending on you and/or the particular food eaten, you may actually absorb less. Eat a plateful of spinach or other iron-rich plant food, and the numbers are even sadder: you absorb up to only two to ten percent of whatever iron may have gone down your esophagus!
So let’s say you’re looking at a food label that says that one serving of that food provides 100% of the DV of vitamin C. You may have to actually consume two, three, even more servings to absorb all that you supposedly need for that day. If we’re talking about processed foods where synthetic vitamins have been added back, the actual absorption will be even less.
Finally, the Daily Values do not take into consideration individual differences. For one thing, most of the time when you see the percent of DV of iron a food has, the percent is related to a man’s needs, not a woman’s needs (a woman in her childbearing years needs about ten more milligrams of iron per day than the average man).
For another, we all have different body chemistries, and experience different health challenges. I believe I will have to take at least 500 mg of vitamin C (that’s 833% of the DV) every day for the rest of my life because of the deficiencies I have suffered as a child (which have resulted in eye issues – easily strained, get tired after reading for a short while, hypersensitive to the sun, etc.). When a person is under chronic stress, he generally requires a higher magnesium (and perhaps other macro minerals) intake. My body might need less potassium than yours does, but more vitamin D, and so on.
“So, what’s the point of looking at the DV?”
Exactly! There is not a point – unless you want to get stressed about your nutritional intake, which might cause you to become deficient and/or make absorption even more difficult.
Keep in mind, as well, that the honorable people in Washington, D.C. who have come up with the Daily Values and Four Food Groups/Food Pyramid/My Plate diagrams have been influenced by many green pieces of paper handed to them by agricultural lobbyists. It may be possible – it just may be – that the established DV of the B vitamins, of which wheat contains several, has been so established to incite you to eat more bread.
“How do I know if I’m getting enough?”
Ah, now we are getting closer to my story. My favorite way to spot deficiencies is by muscle testing. I describe it thoroughly in my book Crazy Simple, so I’m going to refrain from doing so on this blog. Do on online search for “how to muscle test yourself” for further explanation.
Muscle testing is free, easy, and instant. You simply go through a list of vitamins and minerals and ask your body if you are deficient in any of them. Hair analysis costs, and only tells you how your body was doing four months ago. Blood tests cost as well, and unless you have insurance and are working with a health care practitioner, it will be expensive to find out whether you are getting enough of all the nutrients (I’m not even sure every known nutrient can be detected in the blood).
Besides, blood testing is not always fully accurate. A test I had a little while back showed that I was getting sufficient magnesium. But if I don’t take the supplement, I told the chiropractor who was interpreting the results, magnesium deficiency symptoms (like restless legs) return with a vengeance! (The chiropractor told me to stay on the supplement).
The supplements I take are the supplements that muscle testing has revealed I need. And sometimes, I need less of a certain supplement, sometimes I need more. I muscle test each one at least once a month - some of them, like iron, every day.
Okay, so you have determined your deficiencies. You can try adjusting your diet to eliminate them, or find the right supplement (muscle testing is great here, too – many supplements are subpar, and one supplement that may be perfect for one may not be the best for another).
Then what? How do you make sure that you will continue getting enough of all the other nutrients?
Yesterday (from the day I’m writing these words – and yes, here’s the story), I was begrudgingly eating some white rice with butter for a snack. Begrudgingly because one, white rice isn’t raw but I needed carbs and for some reason my palate wasn’t wanting something as sweet as fruit at the moment; and two, I don’t like butter. I’m not sure why; I used to love it. But ever since I discovered raw coconut oil, butter has given me ever-diminishing pleasure.
I was eating butter from grass-fed cows instead of coconut oil for one reason: to make sure I get enough vitamins A and K. The fat soluble vitamins are essential in order to have healthy teeth, and since I plan never to go to a dentist again unless I have another tooth break thanks to the stupid old mercury fillings my stupid childhood dentist stuck all over my molars, I want to do everything possible to keep my teeth cavity-free.
As I finished the butter, I decided I didn’t want to have to eat it ever again. What else will give me a good dose of those two vitamins? I knew that several greens did, and I headed for my copy of The World’s Healthiest Foods to look them up for the umpteenth time.
Halfway between the plate of recently-eaten rice and butter and the bookshelf where that large, green volume lies, came the epiphany: I don’t have to try to get every single nutrient every single day in order to be healthy. Now, obviously, my body needs some nutrients in large amounts every day, or I could save myself over a hundred dollars a month in supplements. But the other nutrients? I don’t need them every day, or I don’t need “100% of the DV” every day.
How do I figure? What happened at that moment, at that spot in the house, was that I remembered something about dentist Weston Price’s journeys across the world back in the 1930’s. He studied a bunch of different societies that had not yet begun to eat modern food, finding out their traditional diets and whether they had any tooth decay.
The number of cavities he found among any single group was a very small fraction compared to what he was encountering among his patients in the U.S. Very small, like under ten percent of the teeth he studied had cavities. How was this possible? He eventually figured out that besides not eating any processed foods, those peoples consumed dairy from pastured animals, organ meat, and/or seafood at least on occasion. These are the foods that provide the most easily absorbed forms of the fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E, and K.
BUT – and here came my epiphany - some of the societies consumed such foods only occasionally, say once a month or even less frequently, or consumed only small amounts each day. They were not consuming anything close to today’s “100% DV” of many nutrients.
What were they doing, the few groups with healthy teeth that were not consuming dairy, organ meats or fish several times a week? They were not eating unnatural foods, and they were eating a variety of natural foods, including – and I must make this point because Dr. Price went out of his way to find a society that was on a pure vegan diet and FAILED – occasional animal-based foods.
Standing in the middle of our Tiny House, I realized that I was still under the brainwashing influence of mainstream nutrition beliefs and teaching. I realized that I - you – have been lied to.
We do not need to get the 100% of the established Daily Value of every single known nutrient every day.
With some nutrients, getting a little bit every day, or even just once in a while will suffice. Which ones will depend upon your individual chemistry and lifestyle.
After receiving this freeing revelation, I muscle-tested it to be sure. Yep. The test confirmed it.
The steps to a nutrient-sufficient diet
1. Get unnatural foods out of your diet; that is, foods that come in any kind of package (the exception being things like dried beans and rice that are sold in bags – they are “whole foods” even though they are packaged).
2. Replace them with nutrient-dense natural foods (the ones you find on the outside perimeter of the grocery store).
3. Uncover any deficiencies and get them turned around.
4. Eat a variety of foods throughout the week.
5. Stop counting milligrams and IU’s of vitamins and minerals. Obsessing over them will not make you healthier.
Besides, there are many other nutrients in foods that remain unknown, and are probably just as important, if not more important, than those that are known. If you can’t obsess over what you don’t know, why bother obsessing over what you do know?