Updated: Mar 10, 2021
Vitamin and mineral supplements can be found everywhere these days. You can even purchase them from major supermarkets in the health food aisle for as little as 10 bucks! In 2017 in Australia, supplements were reportedly used by 47% of women and 34% of men. But do we really need supplements if we’re eating a healthy, well balanced diet?
Theoretically, No. In reality, it’s a different story. Unfortunately, agricultural processes of the last 50-100 years have resulted in significant nutrient depletion of many of the foods that we consume everyday. In fact, one study estimated that over 3 billion of the world’s population is deficient in basic, essential vitamins and minerals. Surprisingly, this is not only the case for developing countries, but also for the developed, western world. Many of us are actually over-fed but under nourished. What this means is, we are receiving adequate macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat) and calories (energy from foods), yet are deficient in micronutrient vitamins and minerals that are essential for healthy functioning.
Why is this the case?
Soil Mineral Depletion
As I mentioned, over the last 50-100 years, agricultural processes have changed considerably. This includes the cultivated varieties used, the increasing use of fertilisers and pesticides and changes in distribution time and methods. Genetic modification and cross breeding has resulted in crops that have a high yield, yet a low nutrient content. The biggest sufferers of nutrient deficiency include refined sugars, separated fats and oils and white flour and rice. Some of the nutrients most affected include protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron and vitamin C. When plant-based farmers choose breeds, they select their crops for the highest dry weight yield of carbohydrates, neglecting to consider the many nutrients and thousands of phytochemicals that also influence the quality of food. Quantity is chosen over quality.
A recent study showed that in the last 50 to 70 years, the nutrient content for many fruits and vegetables has declined from between 5% to 40% depending on the type of crop. Through his studies, one Dr even estimated that in order to receive the same amount of iron you used to get from one apple in 1950, in 1998 you had to eat 26 apples.
Another factor that influences the nutrient levels in foods, is the time between the picking of the crops, and when you receive it. Often foods are shipped and transported thousands of kilometers to get to their destinations. Sometimes, they require preservation such as a wax coating in the case of apples. The time lag from plant to plate, in addition with preservation methods, results in significant nutrient decline by the time you take a bite.
Finally, we see that increased pesticide and chemical use has decreased the soil microbe diversity. What does this have to do with the nutrient content of foods? Soil microbes are actually responsible for recycling soil minerals and synthesising vitamins! These products are then absorbed by the plant and make their way into our bodies when we eat the plants. There is strong evidence that long-term use of pesticides has had severe effects on soil ecology that has consequently impacted on the nutrient density of foods.
Increased toxin exposure
Not only have nutrient levels in foods decreased due to a decrease in soil bacteria variety, but our toxic exposure to pesticides and other agricultural products has also increased! Click here to read my blog that discusses some of the pesticides used and how they impact on your health negatively.
In order for our bodies to process and eliminate elevated toxin exposure, we require more nutrients and antioxidants. Thankfully, many antioxidants and other phytochemicals (plant chemicals) that help us detox from these harmful chemicals are present in fruit and vegetables! However, they are present in much smaller amounts. This is why we may require additional antioxidant and phytochemical supplementation.
Conditions associated with vitamin and mineral deficiencies
How to get your basic nutrients for everyday functioning: Two Recommendations
According to a study named “organic foods vs supermarket foods,” Organic foods have
- 63% more calcium
- 73% more iron
- 118% more magnesium
- 178% more molybdenum
- 91% more phosphorus
- 125% more potassium
- 60% more zinc
Take a "multivitamin"
Before you go out rushing to buy a multivitamin there is one thing you must know - not all multivitamins are made equal. Far from it! Often, supermarket or discount-vitamin stores stock multivitamins that are cheap yet not-so effective. In fact, they may be more harmful than helpful. In nature, many vitamins and minerals are found in a variety of forms and are bound to a variety of different compounds.
However, often multivitamins contain synthetics version of vitamins, meaning that your body has to convert them into an “active” form. For example, “folic acid,” often sold in fertility supplements and is mandatorily fortified in flour in Australia, is an inactive form. In order to become useful in the body, it must undergo a process called “methylation,” which requires nutrients such as B12, methionine, cysteine, taurine, DHA, Zinc, Magnesium, Potassium, Riboflavin, Niacin, Pyridoxine, Betaine, Choline and Sulfur. Through constant “methylation,” your body runs the risk of becoming deficient in a whole range of nutrients. So, what is the point of supplementing with the inactive form of a vitamin in the first place if it causes you to become deficient in other vitamins and minerals?
This is why using a whole-food based multivitamin is essential. Alternatively, it is important that you choose a multivitamin with active nutrients. I recommend using ATP Science's "Vital Food" supplement. This contains naturally occurring, active vitamins in a variety of forms derived from food. It also includes phytonutrients that help your body detox from toxic exposure as I mentioned earlier.