Vitamin Supplements – Part Three

Part One

Part Two

Part Four

In part three of what will now most assuredly be four parts total, I'm going to show why, if following a Paleo diet, you probably don't require supplementation (with a few exceptions). Whereas, if you eat bread, pasta, sugary foods, rice, cereals, corn products, processed foods and such, you very likely have numerous vitamin deficiencies under the surface. In your case, supplementation might be a good idea indeed.

Now, unless you're a paleo eater who has already seen this sort of thing, prepare to be shocked. You grain eaters: prepare for great chagrin, because you are about to see in living color how nutritionally bankrupt your diet is; you know, the one based on "lots of servings of 'healthy' whole grains." But the honest truth and hard reality is that if you eat grains, beans, rice, breads, cereals and so on as daily staples, you are getting awful nutrition. That's a fact; not an opinion. Let me go a step further: if you give any of your kids this crap as daily staple, it's tantamount to starving them. I'm serious.

In Loren Cordain's book, The paleo Diet, he has a slightly flawed but fabulous illustration of how radically awful and crappy the "Standard American Diet" (SAD) is in terms of nutritional content, contrasted with how radically amazing the paleo diet is. Again: this is fact, people, not speculation. Grain eaters, and even vegetarians and vegans who eat processed veggie foods: your guys' diets suck batsh*t off cave walls in comparison to the paleo diet. Vary the ingredients if you like, then verify nutrients at the USDA's own nutrient database. You're going to come out with the same answer. If you eat an average diet you are eating a woefully nutrient deficient diet.

I shall begin by Quoting Dr. Cordain from chapter 2, from the section The paleo Diet: A Nutritional Bonanza.

Many registered dietitians and knowledgeable nutritionists would predict that any diet that excludes all cereal grains, dairy products, and legumes would lack many important nutrients and would require extremely careful planning to make it work. Just the opposite is true with the paleo Diet — which confirms yet again that this is exactly the type of diet humans were meant to thrive on, as they have for all but the last 10,000 years.

The paleo Diet provides 100 percent of our nutrient requirements. My research team has analyzed the nutrient composition of hundreds of varying combinations of the paleo Diet, in which we've altered the percentage as well as the types of plant and animal foods it contains. In virtually every dietary permutation, the levels of vitamins and minerals exceed governmental recommended daily allowances (RDAs). The paleo Diet even surpasses modern cereal and dairy-based diets in many nutritional elements that protect against heart disease and cancer… […]

In fact, the paleo Diet is packed with much higher levels of many nutrients that are deficient in both vegetarian and average American diets, such as iron, zinc, vitamin B1, B2, B6 and omega 3 fats.

He goes on to outline a typical day on a paleo diet vs. a typical day on the SAD, both at 2200 calories. First, the paleo day.

For breakfast, she eats half a cantaloupe and a 12-ounce portion of broiled Atlantic salmon. Lunch is a shrimp, spinach / vegetable salad (seven large boiled shrimp, three cups of raw spinach leaves, one shredded carrot, one sliced cucumber, two diced tomatoes, lemon juice / olive oil / spice dressing). For dinner, she has two lean pork chops, two cups of steamed broccoli, and a tossed green salad (two cups of romaine lettuce, a half-cup of diced tomatoes, a quarter-cup of sliced purple onions, half an avocado, lemon juice dressing). She tops it all off with a half-cup of fresh or frozen blueberries and a quarter-cup of slivered almonds. For a snack, she has a quarter-cup of slivered almonds and a cold pork chop.

Now, the first thing that might strike you is what an amazing amount of food that sounds like, and for only 2,200 calories, pretty much an average daily intake for lots of people. However, this is where I think there's a bit of a flaw. This day contains 190 grams of protein, 142 of carbohydrate, and 108 of fat (which actually comes to 2,300 kcals). This comes out to 33% of calories as protein (25% for carbs and 42% for fat) which I don't think is realistic on a daily basis. The underlying reasons are beyond the scope of this, but a more appropriate ratio would be 25p / 25c / 50f and I would certainly be happy with another 10% from fat and 10% less from carbs.

Now heres a day of SAD.

Now let's take a look at this same 2,200 calorie diet for our sample twenty-five-year-old woman — but let's replace most of the real foods (lean meats and fruits and vegetables) with processed foods, cereal grains, and dairy products. Remember, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Pyramid encourages you to eat six to eleven servings of grains every day. The nutrient breakdown depicted below closely resembles that of the average American diet. This is the same diet that has produced a nation in which 63 percent of all American men over age twenty-five and 55 percent of women over age twenty-five are either overweight or obese.

For breakfast, our twenty-five-year-old woman eats a Danish pastry and two cups of cornflakes with 8 ounces of whole milk, topped off with a teaspoon of sugar, and drinks a cup of coffee with a tablespoon of cream and a teaspoon of sugar. Because of the large amounts of refined carbohydrates consumed for breakfast, her blood sugar level soon plummets and she is hungry again by midmorning, so she eats a glazed doughnut and another cup of coffee with cream and sugar. By noon, she's hungry again. She goes to the McDonald's near her office and orders a Quarter Pounder, a small portion of French fries, and a 12-ounce cola drink. For dinner, she eats two slices of cheese pizza and a small iceberg lettuce salad with half a tomato, covered with two tablespoons of Thousand Island dressing. She washes it all down with 12 ounces of lemon-lime soda.

Now, you are welcome to try it. Go ahead and replace the danish and donut with, say, "nice" whole grain bread and butter. It's not going to make much nutritional difference because the foundation (grains) is pure crap. Do you know why so much of it is "fortified" with this and that? Because it's crap and would be even worse crap if not "fortified." The breakdown is 62 grams of protein, 309 carb, and 83 fat (2,231 kcals). So, in terms of percentage: 11p / 55c / 34f. This doesn't even qualify as a "healthy low-fat" diet (<20% from fat), and you know what? If getting low fat meant buying a bunch of "low-fat" processed foods that line the supermarket shelves, it's going to make the already disastrous nutritional picture you are about to see even worse.

So, how do they compare in terms of essential vitamins and minerals? For the paleo diet, every single nutrient from A to Zinc, except D, comes in at a minimum of 150% of the RDA to as much as 1000%+ in excess of the RDA. No supplements required.

For the SAD, the picture is dismal, and BTW, I for years ate a diet quite similar: bagel & cream cheese for breakfast, some sort of fast food or deli sandwich for lunch, and crap like fast, processed food, or pizza for dinner at least 2-3 times per week.

This diet typifies everything that's wrong with the way most of us eat today — the modern, processed food-based diet. It violates all of the Seven Keys of the paleo Diet — the ones we're genetically programmed to follow. Except for calcium and phosphorus, every nutrient falls below the RDA. The protein intake on the standard American diet is a paltry 62 grams (57 percent of the RDA) compared to that of the paleo Diet (a mighty 190 grams, or 379 percent of the RDA). Remember, protein is your ally in weight loss and good health. It lowers your cholesterol, improves your insulin sensitivity, speeds up your metabolism, satisfies your appetite, and helps you lose weight.

It's very true what he says about protein, and this is, in the end, a battle over hunger. Nothing satiates like protein and I've tested that even on a low carb AND low fat, 95% protein diet of 220 g of protein per day, 900ish calories. By day three or four, I could no longer keep up the protein intake. 900 calories per day for a 210 pounder at the time, and I couldn't eat it all. Protein is king, but I think about 30% of energy is probably going to be an average upper limit for most people. 25% is going to be even more fine and dandy.

Frankly, I'm shocked at how little meat so many people eat nowadays.

So, to wrap it up, since this is about supplementation, you simply don't need to concern yourself with it if you are eating paleo (with exceptions in Part Four), and after all, we should all agree that getting our nutrients integrated with our food is the optimal method. But if you eat the SAD, then if you're not willing to change to the world's most nutritious, natural diet, then you better start popping the pills. This brings to mind one common objection to paleo eating: expense. Well, if you want to meet or exceed nutritional requirements, what's going to be better: the added expense of real food or the added expense of pills?

In Part Four, I'll cover the exceptions that call for supplementation, why, and I'll cover what I take and where I get it. In the meantime, I'll have to get up a post for reference on the omega 6 to omega 3 ratio issue.

Go to Part Four

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  1. Brock on January 13, 2009 at 15:19

    I am still very confused by Dr. Cordain's position on fat, considering his knowledge of paleolithic people's (both ancient and recent) eating habits and level of health.

  2. Chris - Zen to Fitness on January 13, 2009 at 13:32

    Great article, covers a question I have been debating for a while. One of my new years things was to drop supplements (pill one's) I can say I have happily gone through 2009 just taking fish oil and an occasional scoop of greens powder and I feel great. Recently I have started having a squeezed lemon in hot water each morning upon rising this has improved digestion to no end, Supplements really are a con when eating good real food.

  3. Richard Nikoley on January 13, 2009 at 15:43

    Me too, but I pretty much just ignore it, now. I just hope it's an honestly held position and not one held in order to sound more plausible.

  4. Methuselah - Pay Now Live Later on January 14, 2009 at 04:58

    Good post Richard. There are mixed messages on this one from elsewhere, with Eades and Sisson both erring towards selective supplementation. Personally I am in your camp. Yes, we are exposed to more toxins and stress and yes, modern fruit and veg have been bred for taste not nutrientitional content…..but I feel we are at an advantage to our ancestors in having consistent, unlimited access to these foods. I believe this offsets the other issues. What do you think?

  5. Rachel on January 14, 2009 at 06:17

    People do avoid meat because of the junk science out there. When I go to the grocery store and I load up my cart with various kinds of animal protein, I definitely get funny looks. And when I have house guests, they're amazed at how much meat my SO and I consume. They keep asking me if I'm worried about my cholesterol and getting colon cancer eating so much meat. The popular mythology that eating animals=heart attacks and cancer is very difficult to overcome. I don't even bother defending myself anymore. I do notice that almost everyone saying this to me is overweight, while I and my SO are not.

  6. nonegiven on January 14, 2009 at 09:31

    One really sad thing about the SAD is many American women, dieting for weight loss are eating many fewer calories than your example. Also, they listen to WHO and claim they only need 50g protein per day. That's why so many go face first in a half gallon of Hagen Daz when confronted with disappointment.

  7. Rachel on January 14, 2009 at 11:43

    Nonegiven, I strongly agree with you. I think women both self steer, and are steered by others, AWAY from protein, to our detriment.

  8. Richard Nikoley on January 14, 2009 at 07:46

    I think you are right on and that's exactly how I view it. We can simulate seasonal variety on a weekly and monthly basis rather than quarterly and yearly with famine thrown in for good measure.

  9. Richard Nikoley on January 14, 2009 at 07:47

    Modern ignorance, Rachel.

  10. Pam Maltzman on January 16, 2009 at 01:52

    Cordain's seeming anti-fat hysteria bothers me, but I am all for eating more meat and fat. I do think it matters how the meat was raised (I would like to eventually try the grass-fed beef).

    I don't get the really pricy, pastured chicken, but I do get California-grown chicken and other poultry on sale as often as possible (right now I'm working my way through a bunch of small turkeys).

    I have tried raw dairy and want to get more of it on a regular basis (especially the butter!). I can get better eggs, produced locally, at a local feed store.

    I still get cravings for the wrong thing, and I still occasionally eat a fast-food meal when I'm out and around and doing errands.

    Reading your posts and looking at the pictures makes me hungry!!

  11. Chef Rachel on May 25, 2009 at 09:12

    Great post. I agree w/you about Cordain's sample paleo diet over-emphasizing protein. I don't think many women could stomach 12 ounces of meat in one sitting, then go on to eat meat, fish, or fowl at lunch, dinner, and snack. I find a smaller than 12 oz portion of meat with more fat more satisfying.

    Perhaps Cordain downplayed fat and saturated fat in his book because he was still heavily influenced by the dominant views of nutrition that bash fat, saturated fat, and choesterol.

    I think a big mistake so many people make on paleo diet is overeating lean meat and being too light-handed with the fat. This can people feel sick then give up this way of eating.

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