But even for the most health-conscious eaters, there are factors that are beyond our immediate control that can have an effect on our diet and our ability to absorb certain nutrients from food. Poor eating habits are the most obvious reason for inadequate micronutrient levels in the body, but even those aboard the ‘clean eating’ wagon may still benefit from incorporating nutritional supplements into their diet.
The Modern Diet and Lifestyle
The way the modern human being has evolved means that our diet and lifestyle may not be sufficient in providing everything we need for optimal health. Poor food choices and restrictive ways of eating, intensive farming methods and depleted soil, longer life expectancy, and an increasing reliance on medicine and antibiotics all contribute to a need to find adequate nutrients elsewhere, often in the form of nutritional supplements.
If we look back to the Stone Age - before processed food, farming, and medication as we know it today existed, it is likely that our paleolithic ancestors would have been getting everything they needed from their diet and active, outdoors lifestyles. Humans were designed to eat a diet higher in calories than the recommended intake for the average person today. Scientists have proposed that back in paleo times, humans would have been consuming on average between 3,000 and 4,000kcal a day, eating significantly larger quantities of food, resulting in a diet higher in vitamins and minerals. As we are no longer spending our days hunting and gathering, we burn fewer calories and therefore need to eat less food resulting in fewer nutrients.
Additionally, people who further restrict their intake through dieting may struggle to get adequate nutrients. Vegan diets, for example, do not contain the vitamin B12. Those who limit their calories or certain food groups by going on diets such as the Atkins or 5.2, may not be consuming an adequate amount of nutrients for optimal health.
Even the positive food choices that we are making may not be as beneficial as they once were owing to the depletion of nutrients in our food. People who have the best intentions and who prioritise whole food choices and a healthy balanced diet, have little control over how and where their food is grown, picked and transported. Intensive, monocrop farming methods have drastically reduced the level of nutrients in our soil and thus in our foods. According to the Earth Summit Report (1992), this could be up to 85% over the last 100 years.
The lifespan of humans is increasing and, as we age, we become increasingly depleted in micronutrients (1), resulting in a need for further supplementation. Antibiotics are just one example where medication affects the micronutrient levels in our bodies. By reducing the healthy bacteria in our gut, this, in turn, affects the production of B vitamins in our body (2). Further, the contraceptive pill has been shown to decrease levels of zinc (3), magnesium (4) and folic acid (5) in the body, and users of statins have experienced lower levels of vitamin D and CoQ10 (6).
Smoking and Alcohol
Studies have shown that smoking and alcohol consumption can also have a massive effect on the concentration of vitamins and minerals in the body. Vitamins C, E, and carotenoids in particular, are affected by smoking (7). Alcohol consumption can affect our nutrient levels too, reducing levels of folic acid, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, zinc, and selenium (8).
A healthy, balanced diet should be everyone’s goal, but it seems there are certain factors, such as farming, pollution, and medicine, that are simply out of the average person’s control. At VITL, we believe it is increasingly necessary for us to supplement our diets in order to achieve optimal health, whatever lifestyle or diet you choose to follow. However, it is important to note that there is no magic pill that you can take to counteract an unhealthy diet or lack of exercise. Whilst we recommend taking supplements to achieve optimal health and wellbeing, a balanced diet and regular movement cannot be overlooked as the key to a happy, healthy mind and body.
Next in this series, check out Part 2 where we examine some more key factors that have an influence on the body's nutrient status...