Week 9: Foods Fit for Living - the List

This site began with a simple, personal goal: eat well.

Doing so proved more difficult than we thought it would be, requiring knowledge beyond what is readily offered by both the food industry and the US government. A constant negotiation between Washington, DC elected officials and lobbyists seesaws between human and economic health. Food labels - the only tangible outcome of this perpetual tug-of-war, are are only moderately helpful, focusing on calories, fats, sugars, sodium and fiber. While these are important metrics, they are hardly comprehensive. More key nutritional data are missing on labels than is included: that of all 14 vitamins and 16 minerals, as well as detailed information related to the make-up of a food's fatty acids, proteins and carbohydrates. The differences within each category are essential to whether something is good for you, or bad. Furthermore, when we eat out, whether at a pizza joint or a fine restaurant, it's impossible to determine whether our body's needs are being met. Instead, we are forced to rely on instinct and rules of thumb: 'eat some salad', 'skip the cheesecake', 'leave some fries on the plate'...

In establishing FFFL, we had a few fundamental questions in mind: 

  1. What foods are healthiest, and why?
  2. What are the best sources of each nutrient, and in what form?
  3. What do we need to consume in order to meet 100% of the 'recommended daily intake' of all nutrients? Is it even possible to do so in a single day, from real foods? And what would that menu look like? 
  4. Once we have answers, can we create a single chart of the world's healthiest foods with comprehensive nutritional data, as a reference for people?

The answer to the last question is yes - and we've included it here, for you. Comprised of the 81 foods we consider both healthiest and widely available, they run the gamut between single-nutrient dynamos and pan-nutrient superstars. 

You can download a high-resolution version of the chart here. Print it. Study it. Keep it as a reference in your kitchen, with your cookbooks or taped on the inside of a cabinet door. We do. Serving sizes are included both in volume and in weight, to help quantify things that don't measure easily, like greens. To that end, a kitchen scale is a small investment that can help you to develop an instinct for portion size and remove the mystery. Nutrient levels below 7% of daily recommended intake have been omitted, to focus instead on significant contributors to dietary health. Percentages are based on a 2,000-calorie diet for an 'average' person. Lastly, nutrient levels vary - sometimes dramatically - based on a food's freshness, preparation, and growing methods. We always recommend you buy the freshest food possible, grown in the most natural way available, and eat it in its least altered state. 

What follows is a selective list of foods/groups that everyone should include regularly in their diets. They include just some of the foods from our comprehensive chart, to dive a little deeper into what makes them so good for us. They are powerhouses across a variety of key nutrients; are readily available, most anywhere; and will, together, provide you with the ingredients for long-term dietary health. Beyond these, remember the well-worn adages: eat the rainbow (all colors); vary your intake (for broader nutritional health); process (i.e.: cook/blend) whole foods minimally, while avoiding all things laboratory-made; eat at peak ripeness (local beats transported); and prepare it yourself, to the greatest degree practical (so that you know exactly what you are eating).

Avocados 

Avocados deliver nature's highest dose of monounsaturated fats, which help reduce levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, thus lowering your risk of heart disease and stroke. After avocados, the foods next highest in monounsaturated fats are olives and olive oil, cashews, salmon and almonds.

The fats in avocados (and the other foods listed above) are key to promoting the body's absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. In the case of vitamin A, avocados increase the absorption of carotenoids in low-fat foods like sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach and kale by 200-600%. They also improve the conversion from beta-carotene to vitamin A. Carotenoids (like beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein, to name a few) are key to eye health (the reduction of retina degeneration) and positively influence a wide spectrum of systems, from male reproductive health to liver, prostate, colon, breast and lung health.

Surpassed only by beans and barley, one avocado serves up 40% of your DRI of fiber - 63-82% of which is insoluble, in the California and Florida varieties, respectively. Soluble fiber lowers blood cholesterol and glucose levels by slowing the absorption of sugars. Soluble fiber also helps you feel full longer, reducing your urge to overeat and thereby aiding in weight loss and reducing rates of obesity. Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, remains intact through your lower intestine, where it pushes waste, including toxins, out of your system, keeping you 'regular'. 

Beans

Yes - I just lumped all beans together. While there are over 40,000 types of bean, fewer than a dozen make up the overwhelming majority of those broadly cultivated and consumed. Most of these are included on our list: pinto, garbanzo (chickpeas), black, kidney, navy, lima and soy, as well as lentils and green peas. While nutrient densities vary, all beans follow a similar profile with respect to being a significant source of fifteen vitamins and minerals, with occasional standouts in any particular category. 

Beans are the plant world's reigning monarchs in protein content, packing roughly 30-60% of your daily recommended intake (DRI). Queen among queens is the soybean, with nearly 29g (57%) per cup. All beans contain at least 30% of your DRI. If you are vegetarian or simply avoid animal proteins due to (largely well-founded) health concerns, then the bean family, which includes lentils and green peas, are a phenomenal resource.

Folate is a broad group of B-vitamin nutrients, of which folic acid - the only form found in fortified foods - is just one. Women in particular are familiar with the need for adequate folate intake, as it is a key nutrient in female reproductive health, insofar as reducing the risk of neural tube defects in pregnant women. Beyond this well-published benefit, folate is a key contributor to human neurological health, maintenance of a healthy colon, and - when combined with zinc sulfate, has been shown to augment male sperm count by 74%, along with their motility and morphology rates. While folate (from the latin root word for 'leaf') is often associated with dark, leafy greens, beans are the single greatest source of this nutrient, with lentils (90% of DRI) leading the charge, and pinto and garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas) comprising a close second.

Fiber. Yet again, in this category, beans occupy the top nine spots in the world's best source of dietary fiber. From navy beans (76% DRI) to kidney beans (45% DRI), fiber is the digestive system's ally, providing all the benefits to general health that we've already outlined just above.

Cruciferous vegetables

While we covered this category of wonder foods in detail in Week 8's post, any list would be incomplete without them. The group is varied, and includes such seemingly different vegetables as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, rutabaga, turnips, bok choy, and Chinese cabbage, in addition to arugula, horse radish, radish, wasabi, and watercress. Part of their key value as a group is their glucosinates, which offer several benefits, including reduction of lung and colorectal cancer risk, and fortification of the gut's lining - keeping toxins inside of it so that the digestive system can purge them. Beyond glucosinates, crucifers are powerful anti-inflammatories. Chronic inflammation, as we reported in Week 3's post - and which is caused in great part by what we eat - can 'lead to environments that foster genomic lesions and tumor initiation' - i.e.: cancer, as summarized in a highly detailed 2006 entry in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine here. Put in plain English: cancer cells feed on inflamed tissue, while the reverse - a reduction in inflammation - starves the cancer cells of the nutrients that allow for their proliferation in our bodies. 

Individually, the nutrients in crucifers vary far more than they do in the bean family. Let's look at three individual all-stars in brief. These three vegetables are individually among the world's healthiest foods.

Broccoli is the plant world's best manager of corporeal inflammation, oxidative stress (which does damage to cells, pointedly DNA) and toxicity. Together, these three processes are interwoven, with an imbalance of one creating an imbalance or reduced ability to manage the others. Broccoli does two things: it manages the relationship between them, and it contains nutrients that are themselves anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and detoxifying. Although we cut inclusion of nutrients off at 7% DRI on the FFFL list, one cup of broccoli contains at least 5% of twenty-four separate vitamins and minerals, making it one of the most robust in the plant kingdom, including 240% of vitamin K, 135% of vitamin C - far more than an orange! - and nearly half of your folate. In addition, that serving provides 8% of your omega-3s, 21% of your fiber and 7% of your protein, to highlight just a few.

Brussels Sprouts top the list of glucosinate content among crucifers, besting even broccoli in this regard and making them an anti-cancer champion. Like broccoli, they are also great detoxifiers, anti-inflammatories and anti-oxidants. From a nutrient standpoint, Brussels sprouts contain twenty-one separate vitamins and minerals. Most of these track closely with those in broccoli. Brussels sprouts have the edge in also providing 10% of your iron, and 11% of your omega-3s. Beyond the percentages of your DRI (daily recommended intake) within each category, the specific make-up of glucosinates and anti-oxidants vary between crucifers, and so you will want to vary your intake and sources.

Arugula (called Rocket in the UK) has a bitterness that the Mediterranean farmers where it originates enjoyed, and which, like herbs, green tea and radishes, stimulates an entirely different digestive process than do other non-bitter foods. Those who advocate nutrient balance suggest we get adequate amounts of foods that contain all four basic tastes (leaving umami aside): sweet, salty, bitter, sour. Each one aids in a feeling of satiety, reducing the urge to overeat. Beyond this, bitter foods like arugula activate taste buds that simultaneously promote enzyme production and bile flow. These processes are key to digestion, which breaks down foods into nutrients the body can then use. Besides arugula's broad nutrient base - fourteen vitamins and minerals - these bitter greens are natural liver detoxifiers.

A last note on arugula (and other dark, leafy greens): beyond measuring vitamin and mineral content, an index of great value exists that analyzes content and density of the root nutrients behind the vitamins and minerals that contain them, since vitamin and mineral names are, frankly, just convenient labels for groups of organic compounds produced and consumed by plants and animals alike. The index is called the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI), and measures phyto-chemicals like polyphenols, carotenoids, retinoids, glucosinates and chlorophylls, among others. Arugula scores sixth highest on the ANDI, behind other foods you may have intuitively expected: kale, collard greens, bok choy, spinach and Brussels sprouts. ANDI scores don't replace other measures of nutrition in any way. They do provide information about a growing area of scientific research into the relationship between phyto-chemicals and health. While broad conclusions are highly contested, a large number of researchers are beginning to connect high phyto-chemical content with lowered risks of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, cancers, diabetes and neuro-degeneration. An interesting resource for more information can be found here.

Spinach

Spinach is, gram per gram, the single most nutrient-dense food in the world. So much so that it almost feels like a 'gimme' to spend time discussing it here. But then again, if everyone knew what we do about nutrition, we wouldn't need sites like this to help connect people with real data from people who don't sell anything or have a vested interest in specific outcomes. So where to begin with this god among plants? Spinach is a good to excellent source of twenty-four distinct vitamins and minerals, with a single serving providing your entire DRI of vitamins A and K, the majority of your manganese and folate, and between one quarter and one third of your magnesium, iron, copper, vitamins B2 and B6, vitamin E, calcium, vitamin C and potassium. Like kale, spinach tops the list of bone health-promoting vitamin K, at nearly 1,000% of your DRI in a single serving. After nuts and beans (and soybeans' derivatives, tofu and tempeh), spinach is among the highest sources of plant-based protein, adding 11% of your DRI. Only green peas, at 15% (!) and oats, at 13%, rank higher. Lastly, spinach plays the same anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and detoxifying role as crucifers, keeping your systems healthy.

(Side note: the common green pea is a powerhouse on its own - an excellent source of fifteen vitamins and minerals, has significant protein, as we saw, and 30% of your daily fiber.)

Marine Foods

Salmon, sardines, scallops and shrimp - all in one alliterative breath. What do two fish, one mollusk and a crustacean have in common? Apart from being sea creatures, which matters from a health standpoint, they are perhaps the healthiest contributors to several essential nutrients that are almost entirely absent from the plant world. These include vitamins B12 and D, choline and selenium. B12 is essential to DNA production, brain and nervous system health. Luckily, it can also be stored for years in the body, unlike all other B vitamins. Vitamin D is key to bone health, increasing calcium in the bloodstream. Choline is central to production of phosphatidylcholine - a key structural building block of cells - keeping them elastic yet impermeable. And in addition to its anti-oxidant protection, selenium is responsible (with iodine) for strong thyroid function, turning T4 hormones into T3. In just 2 months of a low-selenium diet, thyroid function can begin to suffer. 

Thus, the inclusion of animal foods is key to ensuring adequate intake of all four key nutrients and avoiding deficiency and its attendant health risks. Salmon provides the second highest density of B12 (236%), the highest of D (128%), the fourth highest of selenium (78%), and reasonable choline (19%) - leading the list among healthy animal foods for that reason. Sardines top the list of B12 (338%), are second best in D (44%), third highest in selenium (87%) and provide reasonable choline (16%). Scallops provide 102% of B12, excellent choline (30%), and 45% of daily selenium. Shrimp provide excellent B12 (78%), chart-topping choline (36% - followed only by that found in egg yolks), and a selenium content (102%) second only to tuna, which we do not recommend due to high mercury content and overfishing.

Apart from these unique nutrients, all four sea creatures provide excellent protein, at approximately half of the DRI, and critical, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon and Sardines each provide more than half the DRI of omega-3s, while scallops and shrimp each provide 15%. Lastly, all four are extremely low in mercury levels and other toxins (if the salmon you eat is from Alaska, which it should be - either sockeye or coho), making them the safest and most sustainable in the aquatic world.

Nuts and seeds

This is another broad category to lump together, but is done so intentionally here. We typically use both food gropus as garnishes: that is, they don't make up the focal point of a meal or even a single dish, unless you're given to meals of PB+J. Serving amounts, similarly, tend to be quite small: a generous sprinkle over a salad; a handful eaten as a snack... Lastly, it would be difficult to single out one nut or one seed as a standout. The fact is, when it comes to individual nutrients, there is likely a nut or a seed that tops the list out of any food, and therefore you should include a variety of these heart-healthy, protein-dense, good-fat-filled mini-foods as a regular part of your daily diet. Some highlights: Peanuts. No food is higher (88% DRI) in biotin - a B-complex vitamin essential to skin health and blood sugar balance (since biotin promotes insulin production). Almonds are second highest, at 49%. Almonds are the second highest food in vitamin E (40%), after Sunflower seeds (at 82%). Vitamin E is a potent anti-oxidant that protects cells from free radical damage, and protects against heart disease by preventing the body's cholesterol from becoming oxidized. Flaxseeds are the food world's reigning champion (133% DRI) in omega-3 fatty acids, which, as we've seen in Week 3's post, are essential fats that reduce chronic inflammation, bad cholesterol, blood pressure, risk of stroke, heart disease, arrythmia, arthritis and dementia. Hemp seeds are a close second, at 127%, with walnuts following closely, at 113%. You should include all of these as a regular part of your diet. They all provide double the amount of omega-3s found in those cold water, fatty fish that we love so much and discussed above, like Alaskan salmon and Pacific sardines.  Sesame seeds - the kind often found on that decidedly unhealthy bagel we love so much - are the highest food in copper (163% DRI). Cashews follow next, at 98%. Sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and cashews each comprise a quarter of your DRI of zinc - the highest of any plant-based food. Zinc is an essential nutrient in promoting good immune function and skin health. For men, zinc also increases both the motility and quantity of sperm. Lastly, oddly, low levels of zinc have been associated with loss of taste and appetite. Protein? One serving of hemp seeds delivers 22% of your DRI - more than any other plant-based food, after beans. Almonds, cashews, walnuts, flax and sunflower seeds each deliver approximately 10% of your protein DRI. If you're a vegetarian, nuts and seeds are important sources of this tissue-building and -repairing nutrient.

Oh - and one more thing.

That perfect food day? The one in which a realistic, easy-to-assemble-and-eat set of foods delivers the hypothetical 100% of all daily nutrients? It's not as hard as you might imagine. We've made one, below, simply to illustrate the point. A high-res download is available here. Our one shortfall? Iodine. But if you eat your salmon wrapped up in nori and rice - a la Japanese - you've just hit a 100% day.

Enjoy!

Week 6: Vitamins - A Comprehensive Guide

What are vitamins, anyway?  We all know we need them. We know that malnourishment stems from a deficiency in them, among other nutrients.  Many of us even have a vague sense that we’re probably not getting our full dosage on a regular basis, but rationalize, “Well, I’m still alive and kicking, so does it really matter?”  Maybe the word conjures up memories of choking down massive, oddly metallic-tasting pills or dinosaur-shaped Flintstones tablets. Maybe you’re one of those folks who swears by loading up on massive doses of Vitamin C at the first sign of an oncoming cold. But really, if you had to explain to someone who had no concept of what a vitamin is, could you tell them where they’re found, what they do and why they are so crucial to the processes and functions that keep our bodies running? Could you explain to that person why you’re downing all that Vitamin C, in the hopes that you can fight off that cold before it fully sets in?

Merriam-Webster defines a vitamin as ‘a natural substance that is usually found in foods and that helps your body to be healthy.’  Seems straightforward enough. But what about all those letters: A, B, C, D, E and K? And what happened to F, G, H and I? To muddy things further, some vitamins have alternate names, like Retinol – one form of Vitamin A. In addition to aliases, some vitamins are broken down and assigned numbers, like B-Complex vitamins, which include a range of distinct but co-dependent nutrients – 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9 and 12 – aka Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Pantothenic Acid, Pyridoxine, Biotin, Folate and Cobalamin, respectively. 

Vitamins—like our bodies themselves—are complicated, but the good news is you don’t need to be a medical professional to understand what you need and be confident you’re doing right by your health.  As long as you can familiarize yourself with a few basic concepts and terms, and ensure adequate intake of a broad variety of real, whole foods in your diet on a regular basis, you can be reasonably confident about your vitamin levels. 

One critical thing to remember about vitamins, as with any other nutrient: intake is not the same thing as absorption.  For example: if you swallow a pill whose label tells you it contains 4,000% of your Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) of vitamin ‘X’, by no means can you take it for granted that you’ve actually supplied your body with 4,000% of that vitamin.  For starters, your system has a limit to what it can absorb for immediate use on its way through your digestive tract before being excreted.  On average, foods take anywhere from 30-48 hours to pass through our system before being eliminated; and specific nutrients have particular locations within the digestive tract where they are absorbed. Since water-soluble vitamins in particular cannot be stored by the body and pass relatively quickly through your system, and since the body can only absorb so much at once, then often, the overabundance of a nutrient is excreted before it has a chance to ‘do the body good’.

Another important thing to note: if you’re relying on artificial supplements, you need to know whether it is in a form that can be absorbed and used by your body – aka bio-available. At the health food store or pharmacy you’ll find aisles full of lab-developed – i.e. synthetic – versions of every vitamin, but in many cases our bodies don’t even know what to do with them.  An excellent example: we’ve been taught that Ascorbic Acid and Vitamin C are the same thing, ascorbic acid being what you’d find in those little brown bottles on the shelves. Unfortunately they are not in fact the same substance and studies show ascorbic acid doesn’t provide any of the same health benefits as actual Vitamin C as found in natural sources. In fact, these pills pass through your system without benefiting it in any way. Some call this ‘snake oil’. Thus Vitamin C tablets – whatever the dose – unfortunately won’t save you from that cold. This is why we stress the importance of obtaining vitamins from actual food sources – sources our bodies recognize and which allow us to effectively process, absorb and synthesize what they need. 

Most doctors and nutritionists agree that synthetic supplements are inferior to a healthy balanced diet for gleaning your nutrients, and many even argue that some if not all of those benefits pass through you unabsorbed.  Conversely, there are vitamins (the fat-soluble variety to be specific) that don’t get flushed when they should — instead they’re stored for later use, contributing to hyper-dosages that can actually become toxic in excess, or that can throw your body’s natural balance.  We will discuss this in a minute. Another important thing to remember about vitamins is that more is definitely NOT always better.  Even when consumed from healthy sources, vitamin excess can cause damage as readily as can a deficiency.

We’ve created a comprehensive chart as an at-a-glance reference to explain the specific roles each vitamin plays in keeping us healthy, including the body systems and functions with which each one is most closely associated; daily recommended doses for average healthy adults; and the healthiest sources for obtaining each. One caveat: there are plenty many situations in which your ideal consumption levels will vary from the generic, including, health conditions. The levels we have included in our chart are for the ‘average’ man or woman.

Copyright FFFL

 Water-soluble vs. Fat-soluble

Water- and fat-soluble vitamins are exactly how they sound: vitamins that dissolve in either water or fat, respectively. If you’re wondering why this is important, picture a bottle of olive oil and vinegar salad dressing.  The oil sits atop the water-based vinegar in a distinct layer, because the oil is less dense than the vinegar. As we all know, oil and water (or vinegar) don’t mix. You can shake that bottle all you want to form an emulsion (i.e.: combine them), but if you let the bottle settle, it’ll invariably separate once again. However, if you were to combine two oils – say olive and walnut – they would have no trouble bonding. Ditto vinegar and lemon juice – both water-based foods. For the record, this is not about salad dressing – it’s just there to illustrate a point. 

What we are saying is that fat-soluble vitamins need to be consumed with fats in order for the body to absorb them; otherwise they pass through unused. By contrast, water-soluble vitamins are readily absorbed without additional need, because water is readily on hand for use with digestion.

To wit: all B Complex Vitamins and Vitamin C are water-soluble, so they dissolve in the water in your body as soon as they’ve been ingested. Unfortunately, this readily available format also means that they’re easily flushed out of our systems, which means it’s important to make sure we get adequate amounts of each on a consistent, even daily basis.  Fortunately, because of their transient nature in our body, it’s extremely difficult to consume too much of these vitamins from food sources, as any excess is excreted as waste, obviating the need to worry about toxicity. 

Fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, on the other hand, are dissolved and absorbed by fat globules that are present in our digestive tracts while passing through, if present. This is why it’s important to consume these vitamins with a healthy fat source like avocado, healthy oils, fatty fish or full-fat dairy.  After being broken down in the small intestine and assimilated into the globules – called Triglycerides – the vitamin stores then make their way into the blood stream to be carried away to other parts of the body and stored in various tissues.  Unfortunately the body doesn’t do a great job of regulating these stores once they’ve been deposited, so the caches grow unchecked and can reach toxic levels if our intake is too high (aka hypervitaminosis.) Thus it is extremely important to be informed about optimal intake levels to ensure we don’t exceed these amounts. Excess intake is relatively easy to avoid when relying on natural food sources for our vitamins rather than on supplements, both because real foods typically don’t contain concentration levels of vitamins as extreme as in supplements; and because our stomachs become full long before we can consume enough food to do vitamin-based damage. On the reverse end of the spectrum, vitamin levels can easily become deficient if our fat intake is too low or fat absorption is compromised, such as in the case of digestive conditions (i.e.: Crohn’s Disease, IBS or Ulcerative Colitis), or by our selective exclusion of food groups, such as when we follow diets or make other dogmatic food-based lifestyle decisions.

 As far as cooking and storing goes, water-soluble vitamins tend to be highly sensitive to light, heat, and of course time, so it is important to try to consume foods in their freshest state with minimal cooking, and to store them in cool, dark places when you won’t be eating them immediately, which slows the decomposition of these nutrients.  Fat-soluble vitamins tend to be more stable and can withstand more abuse with regard to cooking, though they too are sensitive to light and should be stored accordingly.  Keep in mind, however, that when working with real, whole foods, they tend to boast a whole swath of different vitamins, as well as minerals and other nutrients, so it’s generally a good rule of thumb to try and keep these foods relatively intact – i.e.: minimally processed or altered – to minimize damage.  Interestingly, some foods benefit from cooking, as doing so can raise nutrient levels and/or bio-availability (the ability to be absorbed) more so than it their raw state.  You may have heard that the tomato, for instance, is very high in the phytochemical lycopene, but may not know that the amount of lycopene (and its bio-availability) differs greatly whether consumed raw or cooked.  One study conducted by Cornell University showed that while Vitamin C levels unfortunately drop by up to 30% during cooking, lycopene levels increase by 164% after a half-hour.  This provides us with an excellent example of why we should vary our methods of food preparation, since in many cases the levels of nutrients are affected by how we consume them – often in opposite directions.

Vitamins in Pill Form

We at FFFL are not doctors. We are people who have a passion for healthy eating and a penchant for doing research to feed our knowledge.  Naturally we understand that our readers come from all walks of life: male, female, a wide age range, various body types, health conditions and concerns. It is important that you use your best judgment when making decisions for yourself and your family. That being said: from what we – like others – have researched, pills and supplements don’t seem to be the answer. They are synthetic, and their bio-availability, as we’ve seen, doesn’t match that in real foods. Thus, supplements should be relied upon only if your health needs or lifestyle choices really do pose the risk of undermining your ability to otherwise obtain the nutrients you need, from whole foods. This is certainly the case with veganism and vegetarianism, in which the lack of good sources of critical fats, as well as choline, B3, B6 and B12, in particular – all overwhelmingly or exclusively found in animals – can pose a real challenge to ensuring your body gets what it needs to be healthy. This is why we emphatically advocate nutritional completeness over blanket lifestyle choices.

Vitamin-Enriched Foods

As with pill form, vitamin-enriched foods are synthetically added post-processing, most often because industrial processes strip source foods of most health benefits. For example: wheat. Its grain, composed of the germ, bran and endosperm – which sit at the base of the soft ‘crown’ atop each stalk – contain the bulk of its nutrients. The vast majority of wheat-based products in the United States – the breads, pasta, baked goods and snack foods – are milled to 60% extraction. This means that 40% of the original grain has been removed. Sadly, milling also correlates to a 50% loss of its store of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B9 (folate), and E – not to mention an equal loss of other minerals and nutrients, like calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, iron, and fiber. By contrast, whole grain foods – not to be confused with whole wheat flour products, as flour of whatever type is milled as described above – maintain 100% of its nutrient integrity. This is why since 1941, the US government has instated laws that require flour-based products be enriched to replace what has been lost. Enrichment means the addition of synthetic forms of vitamins and minerals, as with pills. We’ve seen already that these are poor substitutes to real food sources, with their lack of bio-availability. The same strategy has been widely applied to dairy, due to the destructive nature of pasteurization, as we saw in Week 4’s post; and to eggs, also covered in that post.

The answer, predictably, is to eat real foods that provide ample vitamins in their full complement and in combinations that ensure their absorption and utility.