Adequate nutrient density provides the building blocks for health, longevity, and vibrancy. Unfortunately, your diet is less than nutritious. And your supplementation program — if you have one at all — is likely inadequate. Let’s fix that!
Let’s begin with an analogy. One that I like to use with my Efficient Exercise clients:
Consider a construction site; workers are on hand, tools at the ready. Everything’s a go, except…
…except that no construction materials have yet arrived. The heavy equipment is stationed. The workers are milling about. But hey, they’re paid by the hour, so slingin’ a hammer or not, they ain’t too worried about the situation.
Time passes. Equipment sits idle. The workers ease into shady nooks. Naps and lazy conversations ensue.
After a while, a flatbed truck pulls up to the site and dumps every 2 x 4, truss, shingle and slat-board needed to construct the mini mansion. The workers suck down the remainder of their Marlboro’s and truckstop coffee, then descend upon the material.
But it quickly becomes evident that some brainiac back at the home office forgot to order one little thing that has now put a halt to *any* construction: there’s not a single piece of hardware anywhere to be found in the delivery. No nails, no screws, no brackets of any kind. All that raw material, tools and heavy equipment. All that (mildly) enthusiastic labor. And still *nothing* is getting — or is ever going to get — slung together, anytime soon.
The moral of the story? Beyond that fact that some “brainiac” back at the home office will be looking for a job by the end of the day? Well, here it is: that confluence of construction workers, tools, and heavy equipment? Yeah, that’s your body.
That truckload of raw construction material unceremoniously dumped at the site? Those are the macronutrients — the constituent carbohydrates, protein and fat — of your last meal.
And all that hardware that now has the whole shebang at a standstill? That, my friend, is the micronutrient content of the food you eat; the vitamin, mineral and phytonutrient density packaged within the macronutrients.
Note: an extensive list of mineral-rich foods can be found, here.
Table of Contents
- The Key to Health, Longevity, and a Vibrant Life: Nutrient Density
- Creating Models
- Are Vitamins and Supplements Necessary?
- Smoke and Mirrors
- Soil Depletion
- Transportation Requirements
- Overweight… and Undernourished
- A Two-Pronged Attack
- Actionable Next Steps
- Further Reading
- In Conclusion
The Key to Health, Longevity, and a Vibrant Life: Nutrient Density
Before the biohacks for sporting performance, before the blue light blockers and cryotherapy and binaural beats, there is the foundation of health and vibrancy. That foundation is built on two things: nutrient density, and physical activity. This post covers the former.
But you need to know that like the concrete that forms your home’s foundation, your health foundation must have the proper mix of fundamental elements, lest that foundation will crumble. And with it, all structures, no matter how solid, built thereon.
Our species evolved as obligate movers, and opportunistic eaters. Physical activity and hunt-and-gather eating is woven into our DNA. And if we are to live the healthy, vibrant lives that is our birthright, we have to honor those things that are elemental to our humanness.
For a great foundation article on physical activity, see the Theory to Practice Strength Training Template.
And before we dive right into the nutritional side of things, we have to understand one thing: “opportunistic eating” in today’s environment is a far cry from what it was during 99.9% of our species’ evolution.
So, in order to navigate our current environment with both skill and ease, we need to create a model by which to operate by, day-to-day. A model that will allow us to make healthy eating choices without giving the act much thought.
We create models of how to swim, ride a bike, and drive in traffic without having to expend much brain energy, concentration or will power. The act becomes “automatic”. And we can do the same with proper dietary choice. Supplementing, as we’ll see, the fill in the gaps.
Believe me, I get it. From a biochemistry standpoint, that opening analogy is scientifically inadequate.
But here’s the deal: I work with real-world clients who just need some kind of model to make sense of all this wizardry that is the human body.
Yes, there’s more — a hell of a lot more — to this biochemical symphony composed of the human body and incoming macro and micronutrient content. But the fact of the matter is this: modernity has made the simple act of eating in healthy way so bewildering complicated to most that analogies like this have to be drawn for the sake of remedial education in the art.
Of obligate movers and opportunistic eaters. Your evolutionary ancestors were leaner and healthier than you. Yet they had no idea this process even existed.
So yes, healthy eating in our current environment is an art that does require a good amount of education. And that education has to be built upon a simple model so as to make it usable, day to day.
Because at the end of the day, we’re not biochemists. Well, most of us aren’t, anyway. But as technology expands at an exponential rate, outpacing our human capacity to make sense of it all, we have to create meaningful models to operate by. Models that, if we follow, will help navigate us through the ever changing landscape in which we find ourselves.
This is the same reason I’ll pull out the ol’ Grok the caveman analogy to help explain the benefits of eating Paleo. We’re not aiming for perfect scientific accuracy here, only actionable models. Directional accuracy > scientific perfection when it comes to navigating the real world.
Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash
Because the fact of the matter is that some of our technological discoveries have been Godsends to our species. Others have added ease to our lives (cars, for instance), but that ease has come with a severe downside (lack of exercise).
And nowhere is this conundrum more prevalent than in our food supply.
We have abundance, yes. But, as we’ll see, that abundance has come at the cost of destroying the very soil in which our food grows.
Are Vitamins and Supplements Necessary?
The obvious follow-on question is this: can I get all the micronutrition I need from my food?
I’m glad you asked. And the answer is, well…maybe. Do you:
- hunt your own meat, concentrating on eating the internal organs of that which you kill?
- forage on pristine, untilled lands?
- drink solely from unadulterated springs?
- live in a toxin/pollution-free environment?
- get plenty of full body sun exposure daily?
- take no pharmaceuticals?
Excellent! No need to dawdle here anymore. Go check out strength training template article, and get your swole on!
However… if the above is not you, and you feel so inclined, please read on. Because, yes — in order to be optimal, you’ll need some manner of supplementation.
Check this out:
Chances are, no matter how good your diet, you have a nutrition deficiency
The question now becomes not one of if you need supplementation, but one of “what”, “how much”, and “how often”.
Smoke and Mirrors
Cruise the produce aisles of any grocery store today and you’ll see overflowing displays of beautifully plump, colorful and seductive fruits and veggies. These displays give one the impression that, in this most awesome modern, technically advanced age, quality (and, by implication, nutrient density and health) is at our very fingertips.
Just an I Dream of Jeannie-like nod, and uber-nutrition will saturate our bodies.
Just another in a long string of wins for science!
We put a man on the moon, motherfuckers! And eradicated smallpox and polio! And now science has put a serious one-up on Mother Nature herself by bettering her at her own game: producing a surplus of nutritious, satiating, disease-fighting food.
Except that, unfortunately, this as false an assumption as could ever be. For every “advance” there are unintended consequences. Sometimes those consequences are negligible, and the risk-to-reward plays out in our favor. Sometimes not.
The unintended consequences of our modern farming practices have been disastrous, both to the nutritional quality of our food supply, and to the health of our farmland soil. As evidenced by a continuing stream of credible studies, the quality (i.e., nutrient density) of our food supply is in serious question.
The nutritional value of modern crops has declined precipitously over the past few decades. Enough so, in fact, that the recommendation of “five servings of fruits and veggies a day,” has become, at best, anemic advice.
And “anemic” is an apt word choice here, as the nutrient value of CAFO (Confined Animal Factory Operation) beef is paltry compared to its pasture-raised alternative. Same for fish, fowl, pork… you get the idea.
So what the hell? What’s the problem, here?
Well, at the root of the problem (see what I did there?) is soil depletion. As early as the 1940’s, scientists began documenting disturbing observations of rapid mineral depletion in the soil. Now, there are for sure a plethora of contributing factors here, but unabated use of petroleum-based fertilizers and over /mono-crop farming practices and associated techniques have had the largest effect on the accelerated depletion (both in amount, and quality) of our soil.
Side note: returning “life to the soil” is the long-term answer, and the Savory Institute is the preeminent authority on how that’s done.
Photo by Phú Nguyễn on Unsplash
The use of cheaper, higher yield crop varieties has only worsened the situation. Economies of scale and the chase for government incentives necessitate that large-scale commercial farmers, rather than planting region and climate-specific heirloom crops, opt for more profitable hybrid varieties that have been intentionally bred for production convenience, look and “sweetness”.
University of Texas biochemist, Dr. Donald Davis, has this to say:
“During those 50 years, there have been intensive efforts to breed new varieties that have greater yield, or resistance to pests, or adaptability to different climates. But the dominant effort is for higher yields. Emerging evidence suggests that when you select for yield, crops grow bigger and faster, but they don’t necessarily have the ability to make or uptake nutrients at the same, faster rate.”
So, like a South Beach bodybuilder in a fluorescent fuchsia banana hammock, these high-yield crops wind up being “all show and no go”; swole and tanned and purty, for sure — but pitifully absent of substance.
Side note: bananas are, compared to liver from pasture-raised beef, nutrient lame as well…
Another hit to nutrient density comes via transport distance and shipping time. To support extended transport times, fruits and veggies can be picked weeks before full maturity, then artificially ripened in route or at destination.
This means that a particular fruit or vegetable has not only spent less time in the ground or on the vine, but during transport time live material continues to respire, churning through what scant, beneficial antioxidants and polyphenols were in the produce to begin with.
Also, the mere jostling and handling of product during shipping degrades nutrient value. By the time the beleaguered fruit or vegetable does finally arrive at your grocer, it has considerably fewer of the very disease-fighting, health-promoting compounds that we consume them for to begin with.
We are, essentially, hunting health and wellness with the most precise sight set upon the most highly calibrated rifle available… only to be firing blanks.
Overweight… and Undernourished
And here’s one more thing to consider: how do think the body compensates for this lack of nutrient density? Very simply, it manipulates the hunger signal so as to consume more volume. An excess of empty calories, whether they come from Twinkies or nutritionally void “natural” foodstuffs, gets stored as — you guessed it — fat.
Photo by Christopher Flowers on Unsplash
Have you heard the term “overweight and undernourished”? Lack of nutrient density in the diet is the mechanism that leads to this condition.
So, what to do?
A Two-Pronged Attack
Personally, I take a two-pronged attack that’s actually very easy to implement.
First, I eat the best, most nutritious foods I can get my hands on. On this, I am uncompromising. Then, realizing that, no matter how well I eat there will always be shortfalls in my micronutrient levels, I supplement intelligently.
Yes. With the emphasis on intelligent. And, by extension, with an emphasis on high quality; which means we’re decidedly not talking about the highly compressed, little cinder blocks of indigestible (and unabsorbable) versions of cheap multivitamin / minerals, here.
With supplements, as with all else in life, you get what you pay for.
The good news is though, that with certified, high quality supplementation, a little goes a long way.
A big part of intelligent supplementation is the knowledge that our base supplementation program has got to be well rounded; mega dosing a single (or handful of selected) of vitamins and/or minerals de jure is ill-advised (extreme / special cases notwithstanding).
Because just as in the “construction” analogy above, you might also have the wrong size nails for the task at hand. Try framing a house with cabinetry nails… or building fine cabinetry with bulky framing nails.
The body utilizes vitamins and minerals in a bewildering array of combinations, concentrations and processes, with the bottom line being this: you’ve got to have good levels of the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals to make for a healthy, well-functioning body.
Mega-dosing in one or a handful of micronutrients is like having a kegful of framing nails on hand when you really need is tiny cabinetry screws. Those framing nails are useless for the task at hand and the fine cabinetry you’d hoped for is never getting built. No matter how many extra framing nails you have laying around.
My base supplementation consists of ID Nutrition. My ID Nutrition is uniquely configured and dosed, based on my personal requirements. Including any pharmaceuticals I might be prescribed.
This is hugely important, because nutrient / pharmacological interaction is serious business, and goes undetected by any normal screening mechanism. The bottom line here is that your doctor and even your pharmacist will be unaware of these potential hazards.
It’s not their fault; there’s just a ton of ever-changing information out there, and without a proper process to keep track of it all, potentially hazardous interactions will go unnoticed.
ID Nutrition has that process baked into your personal nutritional screening and recommendation procedure. And this is a “live” screen, that is updated continually based on the latest relevant science, and as vetted by ID Life’s Scientific Advisory Board.
As well, dosing is split into AM and PM packs according to the optimum bioavailability of each particular nutrient. This science is known as chronobiology, and it, too, is baked into the ID Nutrition system. And this, too, is done without your having to think about it.
It is an unfortunate unintended consequence of our modern environment, but beings raised in sub-optimal environmental circumstances will require some level of supra-evolutionary countermeasure to offset those effects.
This is true for animals in a zoo, as well as humans in the modern environment “zoo” that we’ve created for ourselves.
A one-size-fits-all supplement prescription fits exactly no ONE in particular.
But we have to remember that supplementation is just that: a supplement to an otherwise healthy diet and lifestyle.
While the studies cited in this piece have pointed to some serious issues with modern crop production, this doesn’t mean we should discount eating the highest quality foods possible. After all, fruits and vegetables continue to be our only source of uniquely packaged phytonutrients. That’s why it is so important for us to continue producing them in smart, environmentally sustainable ways.
Bottom line: you cannot supplement your way out of a careless diet. But you can iron-clad a good diet.
Actionable Next Steps
Here are some actionable steps that you can take to boost your overall health and vitality:
- go Paleo. Ditch the grains, sugar, soda and processed crap. Opt for the most nutrient dense foods available
- support you local farms, ranches, and farmers markets by buying their products. Farmers markets are a great way to do this
- eat protein from pasture-raised, naturally grazed animals
- don’t forget the organ meats! And bone broth!
- eat plenty of good fats. Olive oil, coconut oil, and fat from pastured animals, for example
Those few easy steps, coupled with a rock solid supplementation program to bridge the gaps, will ensure that all your nutritional bases are covered.
Not at all difficult to implement, and you didn’t need a PhD in biochemistry to understand the material at a level that will change your life for the better, forever.
From Knowledge to Action
Solid model, solid game plan. Now all you have to do is put this information into action.
But my experience as a coach (as well as a plethora of studies) tell us that implementation is where people fail. Because if more information were the answer, we’d all be billionaires with 6-pack abs.
And that implementation has to begin with the first step. The flywheel, so to speak, needs the initial few turns to establish the momentum that will help to keep the process rolling along.
And where you start doesn’t matter so much as that you need to start!
Start by beginning that weight training program. Hell, start by walking around the block.
Start by going that first day without any food that came out of a package. Start by not having a soda today.
And if you’ve already started, do something to make your program better today than it was yesterday.
Working out 4 days a week? Workout 5. Drive to work? Bike or walk. Or do what I did, and ditch your car completely.
Then, take the first step toward shoring up your nutritional deficiencies by taking you ID Nutrition health assessment. You deserve the health and vibrancy that is your birthright!
Click the box below to get started.
A few more citations for you to check out if you’re so inclined. This is hardly an exhaustive listing; just something to get you started if you’d like to research this area of study independently.
And I encourage you to do just that.
- Changes in USDA food composition data for 43 garden crops, 1950 to 1999. This 2004 article published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition compared nutritional differences in 43 garden crops between the years 1950 and 1999. Bottom line: Modern nutrient density (my term, not theirs) slumped 6 to 38% behind historic averages. Of the 13 nutrients considered, protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (Vitamin B2) and vitamin C showed the most precipitous decline. Many other nutrients had likely been similarly affected, but magnesium, zinc, vitamins B6, E (and others) were not sufficiently studied in 1950 to make official claims.
- One of the studies cited in the review above noted a drop of up to 84% in the mineral content of foods during a 62-year span (1940-2002). 84%!! And this analysis included a sobering look at animal products. Conventionally-raised beef, for example, notched a 38% drop in iron, an 84% decrease in copper and a 4% dip in magnesium content.
- A similar study published in the British Food Journal noted a significant decline in the nutrient density of vegetables grown in the 1930s vs those grown in the 1980s. For the 20 vegetables studied, the average calcium content dropped 19%, iron 22 %, and potassium 14%.
- In this NY Times article, foraging expert Jo Robinson explains that wild plants contain many times more phytonutrients than modern varieties. Wild dandelions, for example, have seven times more nutrients than spinach. Purple potatoes from Peru have 28 times more beneficial anthocyanins than Russet Potatoes. Select native apples, which are no bigger than the size of a cherry, have 100-fold more phytonutrients than the common Golden Delicious. He also explains how modern varieties came to be so nutrient impotent. Hint: blame your monkey-brain-driven sweet tooth.
- In 2006 the United Nations identified / classified a new type of micronutrient-driven malnutrition. From the report:
“…[A]nd further, billions of people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies (so-called ‘hidden hunger’) especially of iron, vitamin A, iodine, and zinc. Under-nutrition is the main threat to health and well-being not only in middle- and low-income countries but also globally…”
- All of which leads to this: the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published this 2002 warning stating that people can’t get enough vitamins from diet alone, and that supplementation in all adults is recommended, if not outright necessary.
The food you consume does not pack the nutrient punch that it did just a few generations ago. And not all supplementation is created equal.
Far from it.
For food to pack the nutritional punch that nature intended, it had to have been grown in healthy soil, and allowed to “ripen on the vine”. Neither of which is possible in today’s food system.
For a supplement to work, it has to be digestible and absorbable; that means those little cinder-block multi’s are useless… unless you’re using them as slingshot ammo. And to be truly effective, a supplement needs to be dosed to YOU. A one-size-fits-all supplement prescription fits exactly no ONE in particular.
Can you imagine how ludicrous it would be to prescribe everyone do 3 x 10 at 135 lbs in the bench press?
Ok, so I’ll get REAL sophisticated and say 3 x 10 at 135 for males, but we’ll go 3 x 10 at 95 lbs for females.
Whoo-hooo! That really dials things in, huh? Laughable, yes — but that’s exactly how standard supplementation is dosed.
We can do a hell of a lot better than that. Like precise, individualized dosing based off of an extensive, HIPAA-compliant assessment. Dosing backed by a continual review of extensive research by a top-tier medical review board.
These are just a couple of the reasons why ID Nutrition is the only micronutrient supplementation I endorse.
Optimal fueling for the body really is not rocket science, nor is it at all difficult or time-consuming. We have a viable model: eat a Paleo diet consisting of the most sustainable (i.e., locally, intelligently and ethically raised) food you can get your hands on. Bridge the nutrient density gaps with ID Nutrition.
Late edit (9/14/17):
As if 70 years of mono cropping and industrial farming weren’t already bad enough, rising CO2 levels are destroying the nutrient content of our food crops. It seems that plants compensate for higher CO2 levels by producing more glucose… at the expense of nutrient uptake.
And our bee colonies are the “canaries in the coal mine”. Pun intended. Though it’s less funny than… scary?
“…[T]hey found that the protein content of goldenrod pollen has declined by a third since the industrial revolution—and the change closely tracks with the rise in CO2. Scientists have been trying to figure out why bee populations around the world have been in decline, which threatens many crops that rely on bees for pollination. Ziska’s paper suggested that a decline in protein prior to winter could be an additional factor making it hard for bees to survive other stressors…”
Heal thyself, harden thyself, change the world –