Food never ceases as a hot topic in the world of health and wellness. And why would it? No matter who you are, where you’re from or what you do, food is your primary source of energy and without it you would not survive for very long.
And despite our interest and promotion of a multitude of health and wellness matters here at Made To Thrive – from light to EMF to sleep to cutting edge biohacks – food and diet remains the subject people cannot seem to get enough of.
So let’s look at food from the perspective today of whether you are getting enough. But not enough food, enough nutrients. Because this is actually what food is aiming to accomplish – to nourish and support the biological functions of your body. Sure, food is about more, it is pleasurable and it has a staple of community and hospitality for millennia. Yet, I would argue it has become too much about more – immediate satisfaction/gratification, convenience, mouth pleasure, aesthetics, Instagram. All of which confuses the focus of food and its primary function of supplying nutrition.
That’s why a brand-new study caught my attention. Published just weeks ago by Ty Beal, a Research Advisor on the Knowledge Leadership team at the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), the study proves yet again what those of us who advocate for real, whole, natural, ancestrally and evolutionary logical foods already know. First, that most people are nutrient deficient and just don’t know it. And secondly, that the most nutrient dense and nutrient available food comes from eating real, whole, natural, ancestrally and evolutionary logical foods.
But right before we jump into the specifics of the study, a quick look at the researcher’s motivation. This is Ty Beal’s second study, following his 2017 study titled Global trends in dietary micronutrient supplies and estimated prevalence of inadequate intakes. The findings of that study were that “at the global level, micronutrients with the lowest levels of adequate estimated intake are calcium, iron, vitamin A, and zinc, global level” . A large discrepancy between high-income countries (HICs) and low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) was also highlighted, showing that whilst LMICs still suffered from too little food compared to energy requirements, the HICs who have more than enough food are still suffering from nutrient deficiencies due to the types of foods eaten as well as to eating a very narrow range of foods.
Jumping into the new study, Priority Micronutrient Density in Foods, Ty Beal and his team set out to investigate what it would take to counteract the deficiencies in iron, zinc, folate, vitamin A, calcium, and vitamin B12, specifically, what foods it would take. Here is the exact objective of the study:
“We aimed to identify the top food sources of these commonly lacking micronutrients, which are essential for optimal health, to support efforts to reduce micronutrient malnutrition among various populations globally.”
And what was the conclusion?
“We find that the top sources of priority micronutrients are organs, small fish, dark green leafy vegetables, bivalves, crustaceans, goat, beef, eggs, milk, canned fish with bones, mutton, and lamb. Cheese, goat milk, and pork are also good sources, and to a lesser extent, yogurt, fresh fish, pulses, teff, and canned fish without bones.”
There is nothing surprising about these results as they translate to what is common parlance many will know as effectively the paleo diet but what is in essence a human diet, us humans being the product of evolution from omnivorous apes who have eaten omnivorously for almost the entirely of our time as Homo sapiens. The only thing surprising about these results is that they would be found by any as surprising.
The study does another thing very well. It demonstrates nutrient density in an extremely effective way – thinking in terms of portion or size. Figure 1 of the study portrays the “calories and grams needed to provide an average of one-third of recommended intakes of vitamin A, folate, vitamin B12, calcium, iron, and zinc for women of reproductive age.” And what it shows is that there are basically some foods where you have to eat kilos and kilos and kilos of daily – like grains – to get the same required spectrum of nutrients one could get in 7 grams of liver or 22 grams of dried fish. (This doesn’t even then consider the inflammatory nature of certain foods – like grains.)
Point being, people are undernourished because they are eating foods that simply cannot provide enough nutrients unless one chews and swallows several kilos per serving, which is of course impossible. In a podcast conversation with functional health expert Chris Kresser, also a Made To Thrive affiliate, the author stressed, that “absorption isn’t usually much more than the recommended intakes. So what is important to highlight is that inadequate intakes over an extended period of time can create a deficiency with severe consequences that is difficult too correct.” Therefore, the idea that just taking a supplement or two is the cure to the ill of improper food choices is devastatingly misguided. Starting to take a supplement in something one has become chronically deficient in will take long if ever to correct itself. Supplements are also not as bioavailable as people believe, especially without the expert guidance one can receive from a qualified health coach.
Made To Thrive does not take a philosophical nor ideological stance on diet. Nor do the authors of this study. They conducted the study with no agenda but to find the most effective sources of nutrients to end global malnutrition.
The results are however clear, and more so, the results are consistent with what we see with our clients and our knowledge and understanding of nutrition. Food is not made equal. Nor are nutrients and bioavailability. So whilst step one is always to cut out processed and premade food, step two is to consider if the dietary choices one makes is feeding more than just the stomach. It needs to be feeding the body.
People are eating far too much of what provides them too little and far too little of what provides them more than enough.
To get just one-third of one’s daily requirement of vitamin A, folate, vitamin B12, calcium, iron, and zinc one need to eat half a kilo of chicken, 1.5 kilos of roots and tubers like potatoes, 2.4 kilos of refined grains like rice, at minimum 4 kgs of refined grains like rice, 1.4 kgs of something like bread. OR, just 7 grams of liver, 128 grams of kidney, 180 grams of egg and 218 grams of seafood.