Do the Nutritional Math
Did you know that approximately two-thirds of the standard American diet is made up of unhealthy fats and refined sugars having low or no nutrient density? It’s sad, but true. But beyond that, do the math. That means that the remaining one-third of the average diet has to somehow compensate for what is lacking in the other two-thirds of the diet. The fact is that the remaining one-third is probably not from nutrient-dense food either and cannot possibly meet the essential nutrients a person needs.
Don’t’ get me wrong. Americans eat plenty of food; it is just not the right kind of food. Typically, Americans eat foods low in nutrient density--empty-calorie or junk foods. In fact, the leading nutritional problem in the United States today is “over-consumptive under-nutrition,” or the eating of too many of these empty-calorie foods.
This is not just appalling dietary commentary. It’s serious stuff. Nutrient deficiencies can rob the body of its natural resistance to disease and can also contribute to aging, while weakening the body’s overall physiological and psychological performance.
And this is also not just conjecture. Our diets really are missing the boat on the essential nutrients for health. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that a significant percentage of the U.S. population receives well under 70% of the U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin A, vitamin C, B-complex vitamins, and the essential minerals calcium, magnesium, and iron.
Additionally, most typical diets contain less than 80% of the RDA for calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, and manganese, and the people most at risk are young children and women of all ages. To add to this underachieving, many think that the RDA percentages are set too low to begin with—so we could really be missing the mark.
And what’s more is that the standard American diet has been cited by numerous studies since the 1960s as a contributing, causative factor in a variety of diseases including heart disease, atherosclerosis, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, and colitis. The implications? Bad diet equals bad health.
To add to the mix, environmental pollution and stressful lifestyles create the need for even greater nutrient intake—which the average diet does not deliver. The bottom line is this: as the standard American diet is resulting in dangerous deficiencies, people need more nutrients to maintain good health. People may appear to be adequately fed, but they are, in fact, nutritionally starved.
Now here’s a little bit about the effects of deficiencies: Historically, nutritional deficiencies were recognized only if they led to diseases such as beriberi, pellagra, or rickets. Nowadays, many health experts are recognizing mild and moderate nutritional deficiencies which, in the past, may have been attributed to other causes.
For example, the first signs of B-vitamin deficiency may include subtle behavioral changes such as insomnia, mood swings, and an inability to concentrate. Other symptoms of nutritional deficiencies can include fatigue, nervousness, mental exhaustion, confusion, anemia, and muscle weakness. Additionally, marginal deficiencies of vitamins A, C, E, and B6 may also reduce immunocompetence, impairing the body’s ability to ward off disease and to repair tissues.
Nutritional scientists are learning, however, that these symptoms are actually deficiency signs that can respond favorably to dietary improvement and nutrient supplementation. Note, however, that each person needs different types and amounts of nutrients depending on age, activity level and general state of health—and that there are many different types of nutritional supplements to choose from, should you decide to use dietary supplements to fill in nutritional gaps.
Not all supplements are created equal, however, so be sure to choose wisely. In everything from dosages, Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs), to the manufacturing process for supplements, you need to become as informed as possible prior to adding a supplement regimen to your lifestyle. And, as always, you should consult your health professional prior to making any health-related decision.
In the next issue, we will navigate the dietary supplements landscape and see what’s out there.