Overfed Yet Malnourished – What is Happening to Our Food?
I recently heard from a retiring cardiologist about his experience at a conference. At the end of the conference the speaker had them all stand and asked them to do one simple task: “Those of you who think dairy is healthy please stay standing, those who think dairy is unhealthy please sit down.” All of the doctors looked around for a second and about half sat down while the other half stayed standing. The speaker then said, “In this room, we have some of the top cardiologists in the world. For something so simple, like diet/nutrition, why is there still so much confusion about what to eat and what not to eat?”
While diets can and should be custom tailored to an individual, there are general principles on what should be considered a main foundation.
While it may be hard to believe, nutrient deficiencies still exist in the majority of the population today. Yes, even with the current obesity epidemic, the current abundancy of food/calorie rich diets, and how much food is fortified with nutrients, nutritional deficiencies still exist. One study from the Journal of American Medical Association states that suboptimal vitamin status is not unusual in developed western societies, and that these suboptimal vitamin statuses can lead to many chronic diseases (1). Nutrient deficiencies spare no population or socioeconomic status; they have been seen from the morbidly obese (2,3) to athletes (4,5).
Why are we still nutrient deficient with all this abundance of food?
Think quality, not quantity.
This principle was instilled in me at a very young age while at a family Christmas party. Earlier that year each person was required to pick a name from a hat and then purchase a gift for that relative to be exchanged at the family party. All the gifts were placed around the tree until the grownups said it was time to open gifts. All of the kids gathered around the tree hours before it was actually time to open gifts. Being a kid and doing what kids normally do, we carefully snooped around the tree to read the names on all of the gifts and guess what each person got for each other. There was one gift that stood out. In the corner of the room, back behind the tree was a huge gift. This box was huge and heavy too! It must have been as big as we were and as heavy! I carefully navigated through the sea of gifts hoping I wasn’t going to see my name on a gift until I reached the big one! I got closer and closer to the huge box, stood on my tip toes to see the top, only to find that the gift was not for me, but for one of my cousins. In fact, just to the left of that box was my gift. At about half the size of a shoe box, mine was dwarfed by the huge gift that stood in the corner. I was green with envy, until it came time to open the gifts. Apparently one of my uncles thought it would be funny to wrap a pair of socks in a huge box, and weigh it down with 3 or 4 larger rocks to make it seem legitimately heavy.
Food is not as nutritious as it once was.
Using the previous story as an analogy, the gift box represents the physical structure of food, and its contents (like the socks) represent all of the micronutrients, minerals, and phytonutrients it carries. Just like the huge gift box, we have plenty of food around us, but also like the disappointing socks the foods we grow have less nutrients today than ever before. In both Canada and the United States, around 85% of the mineral content in top soil has been depleted in the last 100 years (6). When the soil gets depleted of nutrients, guess what also gets depleted of nutrients—the fruits and vegetables that grow in that soil. One study stated that the depletion has led to a 6% – 38% reduction in various vitamin and mineral content within the last 50 years alone (7).
To make things worse…
On top of lowering the diversity of various vitamins and minerals in our fruits and vegetables, we have engineered new plant breeds that are laced with glyphosates and other chemical toxins (8). Of the chemical toxins, glyphosates are amongst the most widely used, with more than 18.9 Billion pounds used since 1974 (9). Glyphosates are what is found in RoundUp, and its use has increased more than 15 times since genetically modified “Roundup Ready” (or glyphosate-tolerant) crops were introduced in 1996 (9). Some people believe that the heavy use of chemicals contributes to the nutrient deficiencies in foods we see today.
We know from research, that Roundup has been shown to do the following:
• Chelates Minerals
Chelating agents will bind to certain metals, rendering them useless. Glyphosate binds to a wide array of metals (10) including manganese, iron and zinc. These metals serve as cofactors to hundreds of enzymes that regulate other vitamin and protein synthesis in the body.
• Endocrine Disruption
Researchers have found that glyphosate can disrupt hormone pathways in the body as low as .5 parts per million (11). This level is 800 times lower than the level authorized in certain food or feed (12) which is 400 parts per million.
• Destroys gut bacteria
Glyphosate have been shown to destroy our good gut bacteria while leaving many of the bad bacteria still in tact. One study from the Journal of Current Microbiology stated (13):
“The presented results evidence that the highly pathogenic bacteria as Salmonella Entritidis, Salmonella Gallinarum, Salmonella Typhimurium, Clostridium perfringens and Clostridium botulinum are highly resistant to glyphosate. However, most of beneficial bacteria as Enterococcus faecalis, Enterococcus faecium, Bacillus badius, Bifidobacterium adolescentis and Lactobacillus spp. were found to be moderate to highly susceptible.”
• Damages our mitochondria
Our mitochondria are considered the powerhouses of our cells as they provide the necessary energy for everyday life. Glyphosates have been shown to damage the ending processes of the mitochondria called the electron transport cycle. Some studies claim that it can reduce cellular energy production by up to 40-50% even at small doses (14).
The food of today no longer has the diversity and nutrients as they once did. To add to that statement, now conventionally grown agriculture comes with a diverse set of chemicals which can impede on the fundamental processes to human health. When the fundamental processes to human health breaks down and we experience symptoms, typically our first “go to” are pharmaceuticals, which have been shown to further decrease vital nutrients in the body. This topic is worth another blog article in and of itself, but for now an excellent site on drug induced nutrient deficiencies can be found on the natural medicines comprehensive database website (15).
Stop eating and drinking empty calorie foods and start looking for foods that are packed with nutrients. Foods that are rich in nutrients include: Organ Meats, cooked meats, spices and herbs, vegetables, sprouted nuts and seeds, some tubers such as sweet potatoes, and certain fruits. Foods that are nutrient poor include: whole grains, legumes, processed foods, processed fruits and juices. You want the majority of calories throughout your day from those foods that are nutrient dense.
Organic vs Non-organic?
This question arises every day in our clinic. The truth is that you have a better chance of getting more nutrient dense foods when you purchase organic produce. One systematic review (16), which compiled research from 343 other studies, which looked at the nutrient and pesticide content of organic foods found that eating organic food could boost a person’s antioxidant intake by up to 40%. That same study found that on average, pesticide levels were anywhere from 48% to 400% lower in the organic produce compared to conventionally grown produce. Remember, pesticides (like glyphosate) can add to the toxic burden and decrease our body’s ability to absorb other nutrients.
When eating organic is too expensive!
This is another common problem we see in our clinic. The truth is the insult our bodies take form conventionally grown produce in my opinion is the toxic burden of pesticides. For those who want to have up to a 400% decrease in pesticide levels in food, buy organic when possible. For those who may not want to spend their whole paycheck at whole foods and other health food stores, I highly encourage you to check out Environmental Working Groups website (17) and sign up for their newsletter. Every year, they come up with a list called the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen.” There you will find lists of foods that are highest in pesticide counts, called the “Dirty Dozen.” The emphasis on buying organic from the “Dirty Dozen” list is greater than the “Clean Fifteen.” The “Clean Fifteen” includes a list of 15 different foods that are usually lower in pesticides and cash can be saved by buying these conventionally. They are constantly updating the list every year so I encourage our bloggers to give them a nice warm Integrative Brain and Body hug and sign up for their newsletter.
To wrap it all up, I would by lying to you if I said the food we put into our mouths day in and day out has no impact on our health and overall brain and body. Food should be used as medicine, it should be healing! The demand and critique for what we eat is higher now than ever before. With the depletion of nutrients in our food, and the number of chemicals used on plants today, more than ever before we need to take a closer look at what we eat and not just eat things that are fast and easy. We should strive to seek out the foods that are higher in nutrients. Only by doing this will we become nourished rather than over-fed.