In 2018, a study found that 42% of the U.S. population is deficient in vitamin D, and another study in 2020 found that over half of Americans are deficient in magnesium. Two incredibly important nutrients that are anti-inflammatory and necessary for regulating other functions in the body. Yet, these aren’t the only vitamins that many Americans are deficient in.
How could a first world country that's abundant in resources such as meats, vegetables, and clean drinking water have a malnutrition problem? One of the reasons most people highlight is due to American dishes having little to no nutritional value. If your diet consists of carb-heavy, sugary snacks or fast food, then you're mainly consuming empty calories – foods that are void of vitamins and minerals. But even if you're not really the type to eat junk, you could still be at risk of becoming deficient in certain nutrients.
But don’t fret! We’re in the process of learning and relearning, and on this journey we can learn how to navigate America's growing epidemic of vitamin and mineral deficiency together.
There are 60 essential minerals, 16 essential vitamins, 12 amino acids, and 2-3 essential fatty acids that our bodies require to function properly. That's 90 essential nutrients that we're talking about – 90 that doctors probably don't test for enough in patients. They should, though, because a deficiency in some of these vitamins and minerals manifests itself in a myriad of ways, like mental health disorders, fatigue, irritability, and irregular heartbeats and blood pressure, just to name a few. The point is, these essential nutrients are key to feeling great.
I do somewhat agree that you can get many of these vitamins and minerals through food, but that's only guaranteed if you're involved in this process through lab panel testing and carefully tracking your daily intake of nutrients. That being said, a lot of us struggle to get our nutrients due to society’s neglect of health over the past hundred years. Let’s go over them.
Our Soil Has Been Exhausted of Nutrients
Our vegetables and fruits were much richer in nutrients in the past. Today, our grocery store veggies contain fewer vitamins and minerals, and modern agricultural practices are to blame. Most farms are only focused on removing pests, producing massive yields, and increasing growth rates instead of improving nutrition. Our soil today reflects this, which means that food grown in that soil has less nutritional value.
Most farms are focused on removing pests and increasing yield, not improving nutrition.
Donald Davis and his research team from the University of Texas at Austin's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry published a study in 2004 that compared vegetables from different time periods. They compared the nutritional value of 43 different vegetables and fruits from the years 1950 and 1999 and reported declines in protein, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin B2, and vitamin C. Each year, our crops lose more nutritional value, and we have to eat more vegetables and fruit in order to meet our recommended daily intake of essential nutrients. So for the people who don’t meet their RDAs in fruits and vegetables alone, I recommend supplementing.
How Fluoride Competes with Minerals
Fluoride is added to our water supply to “prevent tooth decay.” This means it's in our drinking water, our toothpaste, and our shower water. But what exactly happens when we consume high amounts of fluoride for decades, which is exactly what most of us are doing today?
Fluoride actually competes with some of the nutrients in our body. One example is iodine (which many Americans are already deficient in), which is important for thyroid function. Fluorine (the element fluoride is made from) and iodine have a similar structure so the thyroid displaces iodine with the high amounts of fluorine that we take in.
Fluoride is also known to compete with magnesium and calcium – which may actually be worse for your teeth in the long run, since fluoride disrupts the bone formation and bone resorption process. In order to combat the high amounts of fluorine that we ingest topically and orally, I suggest supplementing (under careful supervision from your doctor) with iodine drops and selenium, both of which are important in regulating thyroid function.
Mercury Can Deplete Zinc
Mercury is present in many packaged foods and drinks. High fructose corn syrup is found to have traces of mercury, and there are plenty of foods that contain high fructose corn syrup. Canned fish like tuna or salmon can also contain mercury.
High exposure to mercury can lead to emotional changes, insomnia, and poor mental performance.
High exposure to mercury can lead to emotional changes, insomnia, headaches, and poor mental performance. High mercury consumption has also been shown to deplete nutrients like zinc. Zinc helps fight off bacteria and viruses, and helps to produce proteins and DNA. I believe mercury is one of the sneaky metals that lurk in many foods, so it’s very important to eliminate high amounts of mercury in the body as much as we can while also supplementing with zinc.
Sugar Depletes Your Body of Nutrients
Carbohydrates have the ability to displace many nutrients in our bodies. This is because the process of metabolizing carbohydrates requires B vitamins, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, copper, zinc, and chromium. High fructose corn syrup may deplete vitamin D stores, and sugar disrupts the absorption of vitamin C (since they both share the same protein transporter). You get the point – sugar, in many ways, can deplete or disrupt many of the essential vitamins and minerals our bodies require to stay optimal. So in conjunction with taking supplements, I recommend limiting your intake of sugar.
Our Water Isn’t Really Pure
Minerals are incredibly important for basic functions in the human body like bone growth, fluid regulation, nerve and muscle function, improving metabolism, and more. Our tap water is said to have traces of minerals, but it also contains inorganic compounds like microplastics or parasites (which also deplete vitamins and minerals). Depending on where we live, our water may not be the best quality, so you could consider supplementing with minerals like magnesium, calcium, bicarbonate, sodium, sulfate, and chloride.
If we make dietary changes like consuming less mercury or sugar and eating more foods high in nutrients, we may need fewer supplements. I believe it's possible to skip supplements if you can track your vitamin and mineral intake through foods, but for many busy people, it could be very difficult to rely on our diets alone. And because America and other countries are facing soil depletion and are exposed to heavy metals or toxins that compete with nutrients, my personal opinion is that it's imperative to supplement.
You can opt for whole food supplements, like beef liver pills or powdered oyster pills, or choose a product that has been third party tested for quality control. I recommend learning about the foods that you eat the most and what they contain or don't contain, in order to narrow down the supplements you need to take to feel like your best self.
Lastly, it's important to note that I'm not a doctor or expert in your personal health journey. In considering supplementation, please keep in mind the potential dangers of supplement toxicity as well. It is essential that you take the necessary precautions in lab testing and discussing these topics with your doctor before adding supplements into your diet.
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