Another “Duck Dodgers” installment. For background, please also see: Iron, Food Enrichment and the Theory of Everything. That post primarily looked at iron fortification as problematic. This post takes a much deeper look at other fortified nutrients and their impact on satiation and body weight set point.
In 1980, wholesale grain lobbyists, led by the American Bakers Association, began an experiment on our food supply—one that would have far reaching effects on our lives and our health. They would engage in a “super-enrichment” of our food supply, and hardly anyone noticed.
Below, we will show that this health experiment artificially normalized our appetites for foods that we should have lost our appetites for—and it ultimately contributed to the American obesity epidemic in a way that few obesity researchers have ever considered.
Bon Appétit for Good Health
It may be hard for us to relate to, but during the 19th century people were said to be in good health when they had a good appetite. To say Bon appétit, was more than to wish someone a good meal—it was to wish them good health.
This is an important historical clue because, as we will see below, without artificial stimulations the human body has internal safeguards to prevent overindulgence, even when one lives a sedentary lifestyle and even when one attempts to rely on junk foods as food staples.
Sedentary Lifestyle = Loss of Appetite
Today, it’s commonly believed that a sedentary lifestyle promotes obesity. However, when 19th century Americans led a sedentary lifestyle, they tended to lose their appetites.
“Deficiency or loss of appetite…is a common consequence of sedentary life.”
How did they remedy such a loss of appetite? The cure was regular exercise.
The Physiology of Digestion (1836)
The fact of Nature having meant the inactive and indolent to eat and drink less than the busy and laborious, is established not only by the diminished appetite and impaired digestion of human beings who lead a sedentary life, as contrasted with the keen relish and rapid digestion usually attendant on active exertion in the open air, but on a yet broader scale by the analogy of other animals.
And we see this phenomenon repeatedly in 19th century texts.
“A man, after full living, sedentary avocations, and irregular hours, begins to feel loss of appetite, head-ache, drowsiness, depression of spirits, fickleness of temper, with sense of fullness, and uneasiness on pressure in the right side…”
In order for our 19th century ancestors to eat poorly, or beyond their means, they usually needed to stimulate their appetites, in some way. Back then, loss of appetite was a telltale sign of poor health.
…Extreme indulgence in confectionery, pastry, iced creams and sweetmeats, ruins both the teeth and the digestive organs; and yet the natural appetite craves none of these, or seldom and in small proportions…
…Sedentary life, in civilized society, requires, in many instances, a sort of artificial stimulus in food and drink, unnecessary to a person living and working in the open air.
Today, it is difficult for us to comprehend that the 1865 edition of The New American Encyclopædia says our natural appetite does not crave lots of refined sugar. You’d never guess, given the modern appetite. And the loss of appetite, from a sedentary lifestyle, appears again and again in the historical literature.
This all flies in the face of the “thrifty gene” hypothesis. We aren’t supposed to get fat when we become sedentary, we’re supposed to lose our appetites.
Refined Foods = Loss of Appetite
Many people today also think that eating a diet high in refined white flour causes obesity. But, would it surprise you that during the 19th century the opposite happened?
During the 1800s, Americans who ate too many refined foods came down with a condition known as “Dyspepsia.” Dyspepsia was a kind of indigestion—probably a combination of SIBO, deficiencies, and lack of dietary fiber. The hallmark symptoms of Dyspepsia was a loss of appetite and the cure was whole, fiber-rich foods such as Graham bread, and fiber-rich cereals, advocated by John Harvey Kellogg and his sanitarium.
“The appetite may remain intact in dyspepsia; but, as a rule, it decreases or disappears entirely.”
The Dyspepsia of phthisis (1894)
“In the early stages of the complaint, the appetite may present little or no deviation from the normal, but as the disease progresses it tends to diminish and may even disappear.”
Yet, today, the exact opposite happens. Americans no longer lose their appetites when they remain sedentary and eat lots of refined foods. Instead, they have extremely large appetites and become obese.
How can this be?
Using History Books to Solve a Dietary Mystery
The answer to this mystery lies in the nutritional discoveries made during the first half of the 20th century. Scientists during the 1920s knew that when animals are fed pure, nutritionless flours and refined grains as staples, those animals quickly lost their appetites. While adding brewer’s yeast, rich in B vitamins, quickly increased appetite and promoted beneficial weight gain. This strong appetite factor is actually responsible for the discovery of B vitamins.
Studies In Deficiency Disease, Chapter VI, by Sir Robert McCarrison (1921)
“Distaste and loathing of food, loss of appetite, and it may be also depraved appetite, are thus cardinal symptoms of deficiency disease, and their significance is great. They are due in part to the monotony of the food, but in the main to insufficient supply of vitamins, and of vitamin B in particular. Thus Osbourne and Mendel have found that if animals, fed on purified dietaries, free from this vitamin are given yeast separately, it increases their appetite for the deficient food, no doubt inconsequence of its high content of vitamin B. The well-known effect of yeast in improving the appetite in human beings is probably due to the same cause. Drummond finds the addition of this vitamin to a synthetic diet, causes a greatly increased intake of food and consequently increased rate of growth…The animals are impelled to eat more in order to satisfy the cells stimulated to growth by the vitamin. Vitamins are thus indirect stimulants of appetite, they induce the desire for food, and are, therefore, indirect stimulants of digestive juices. It seems to me that “loss of appetite” is one of the most fundamental signs of vitamin deprivation. It is a protective sign, the first danger signal of impending disaster. It should at once excite suspicion as to the quality of the food in any patient who may exhibit it.”
If you didn’t catch that, read it again. If animals try to rely on refined foods as staples, they will naturally lose their appetites. If researchers add vitamins to a synthetic, purified diet, it will “greatly” increase their appetite and intake for that refined diet.
After Thomas Osborne and Mendel discovered the effect between a “small daily dose” of B vitamins and appetite, Osborne later said…
The Water-Soluble Vitamine (1920)
“For a long time it has seemed that the problems presented by feeding our young rats were in many ways similar to those of infant feeding. Until Mendel and I learned how to supply the vitamines to young rats we had endless troubles which are now overcome.”
In other words, humans and animals have a natural tendency to become less hungry when fed deficient and nutritionless food. It’s an innate, protective mechanism to prevent the cravings of nutritionless staples. Recent studies continue to confirm this.
And this wasn’t an isolated finding with rats. In the early 1920s, George Cowgill found that B vitamins could increase the appetites of mice, rats, pigeons and dogs. He coined term “appetite vitamin” for vitamin B1 (thiamine). Small amounts of dried brewer’s yeast, were soon commonly added to the feeds of cattle. In order to get humans craving nutritionless foods, you have to fortify those foods with vitamins.
In 1933, Harris et al. published an exhaustive study observing the appetites of rats and vitamin-enriched foods. The experiments showed that rats deficient in B vitamins craved enriched foods—presumably due to the experience of the beneficial effects, and not the taste. When the diets contained more than the minimum amount of the vitamin, the deficient rats restricted themselves to the enriched diet exclusively. Furthermore, a rat not so depleted will eat enriched and non-enriched diets indiscriminately, until it begins to suffer from the vitamin deficiency, when it will also begin to exhibit the preference for the enriched food. The study also showed that the rats could be “educated” to eat the enriched foods if they couldn’t figure it out on their own.
In other words, enriching refined foods—and “educating” people to eat those foods—tricks the body into craving a food that it would otherwise lose its appetite for. And as we will see, below, this is exactly what the American Bakers Association did to Americans. Enriching white flour enables people to eat refined junk food.
Obesity Without Enrichment
Obviously one does not need food fortification in order to become obese, but in order for humans and animals to have a good appetite, the research shows that they must obtain appetite-normalizing vitamins from somewhere.
William Banting is perhaps one of the first well-documented examples of the relatively rare instance where someone could become obese on a diet of pure, non-enriched carbohydrates. Banting’s appetite notoriously increased when he exercised. And he satisfied it by eating lots of sugar and refined foods. But he did something else…
Banting had a habit of drinking beverages rich in Vitamin B with those nutritionless foods.
On corpulence in relation to disease, by William Harvey, 1872
“Mr. Banting became fatter as long as he lived what is called “low,” i.e., when he ate principally bread and potatoes, with the addition of large quantities of beer, milk, and sugar; whilst, when he lived “well,” i.e., principally on meat, he became thinner…”
Raw Milk and unclarified or unfiltered beer—as was the standard at the time—are good sources of B vitamins when consumed in large quantities, as he did. Banting fortified his diet, and he exercised, which allowed him to have an appetite for junk food.
So long as someone was obtaining sufficient B vitamins in their diet, they could have the appetite to eat whatever junk they wanted to. However, there are limited ways to do this in a non-enriched country: supplements, lots of meat, unclarified beer, or real whole foods. If you choose real whole plants / grains / legumes as your source of B vitamins, you have to eat a lot of them to obtain the sufficient dose, and they are full of satiating fiber. Perhaps nutrient-density isn’t all that helpful in some situations. Meat is relatively expensive and since obesity today tends to target people of low socioeconomic backgrounds, it seems unlikely that the lower class would able to afford to eat like King Henry VIII did.
Banting was wealthy enough to afford meat and lots of turbid beer, and these foods likely enabled him to eat as much refined foods and sugar as he wanted to. He lost weight when he removed refined carbohydrates, sugar and beer (and stopped exercising).
And during the 19th century, beer drinking was known to promote obesity in sedentary people.
Comparing height of body and breadth of chest with the weight…it will be found that, as a rule, brewery workmen, as has already been said, are not remarkable for obesity; on the contrary, the rare occurrence of weight that does not correspond with the size of the men is striking. It is reasonable to assume that the mode of life of brewery workmen accounts for this favorable showing,and that the same quantities of beer, if consumed by men of sedentary habits—shoemakers, for example—would produce different results.
So, you can see a pattern emerge. Whether you’re a farm animal, a rodent, or a human, you must acquire some source of B vitamins to maintain appetite—it doesn’t matter where the B vitamins come from so long as you obtain them to keep your appetite up. As Osbourne and Mendel, and countless other researchers showed, this is why the diets of farm animals and lab rat chow must be fortified. The subjects would not have the appetite and growth response from those purified foods otherwise.
A good example of this is in non-enriched countries that eat the most meat—which happens to be a good source of B vitamins—tend to have high obesity levels. Furthermore, studies show that meat consumption correlates with obesity. Eating lots of meat would enable people to obtain the vitamins to normalize an appetite for refined junk foods, without the need for enrichments. Nutrient-density may backfire by giving one too much freedom with their appetite.
You may recall in Gary Taubes’ book, Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It he described Depression-era children who became obese on white bread. Just like Osbourne and Mendel’s rats, it would not have been possible for those children to have had the appetite to consume so much refined flour, without obtaining B vitamins from other sources (perhaps supplementary yeast cakes).
In farm animals, antibiotics and enrichments are used to stimulate growth, in part due to the ability of antibiotics to suppress microbes that compete with the host for fortified nutrients, and perhaps due to their potential to increase absorption of some minerals. It’s not a stretch to say that, during the American Obesity epidemic, we essentially became fattened farm animals.
Deficiencies Modulate Taste buds
Interestingly, nutritional deficiencies can physically change our taste buds. People who are deficient in minerals like zinc or copper cannot sense the offensive metallic taste in supplements, until they are no longer deficient. Even metabolic derangements can change our taste buds. Taste buds are supposed to crave what the body needs and and those cravings change with seasonal deficiencies. Enriching food interferes with this process as we end up craving the refined foods that are deleterious and lack the key anti-inflammatory micronutrients, such as Manganese and Copper, as well as the fiber and phytochemicals we need to be healthy.
The Enrichment-Obesity Connection
In 2014 Zhou et al. wrote, “We therefore hypothesize that excess vitamins may play a causal role in the increased prevalence of obesity.” In their papers, they not only show strong correlations between enrichment levels and obesity trends in developed countries, but they also show that developed countries that do not fortify have much less obesity. (Non-fortified countries with high obesity either import a lot of fortified foods and/or eat a lot of meat, which is rich in B vitamins). Not only that, but Zhou et al. points out that obesity epidemics occur immediately after increases to enrichment levels.
Zhou et al. mentions a number of complex, controversial and unproven theories to explain the clear correlations between enrichment and obesity. Unfortunately, this may have led researchers to ignore these correlations.
But Zhou et al. also reported that early research on B vitamins showed that they were observed to be appetite stimulants. Occam’s Razor comes to mind, once again, and suggests the simplest explanation is probably the right one. Curiously this has all been overlooked by obesity researchers. So we decided to investigate and what we found cracked the case wide open.
The Enrichment of America
In the early days, bakers and consumers were generally against the idea of adding expensive vitamins to flour—it made flour more expensive. However, bakers certainly noticed that customers preferred the taste of bread made with brewer’s yeast.
At the turn of the 20th century Americans ate a high carbohydrate diet but were skinny and scrawny. If you wanted to be popular, you needed some curves. At the time, nearly every major magazine major magazine and newspaper in the country ran advertisements for a patent medicine known as “Ironized Yeast” to promote weight gain and appetite stimulation. To this day, some bodybuilders use brewer’s yeast to stimulate their appetites.
A 1934 paper in JAMA doubted the need for these new yeast vitamin tablets, and dismissed the idea that iron deficiencies were common for those with varied diets.
The facts are, of course, that as a medicine yeast has no important place except as a means of furnishing vitamin B, which ordinarily should be and would better be obtained from one’s food. As for a deficiency of iron, the average American dietary, rich as it is in meat, should make such a deficiency unnecessary if not improbable.”
Ironized yeast was believed to stimulate appetite because it was a rich source of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate. And the manufacturers added considerable quantities of iron to the yeast. The enrichments now added to refined grains are are thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate and iron.
When US food enrichments were first being proposed, it became clear that replenishing what was lost in the refining process was not the intention. Elmer McCollum discovered Vitamin A, Vitamin B complexes, and devised the naming system for vitamins. He soon realized that enriching foods was not about promoting health.
“McCollum was involved in many policy debates including one over the best strategy to fortify bread. He had shown, and publicized, that white bread was nutritionally deficient. With the development of synthetic vitamins, it was proposed that bread and flour be enriched with thiamin, niacin, and iron. This effort was lead by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council. McCollum was a member of the Board but disagreed and was strongly critical of the recommendation because supplementation with such nutrients failed to make up for all the losses suffered during milling wheat. As a result of his disagreement with the other members of the Board, his Board colleagues changed his status from Board member to panel member. As a panel member he was not invited to any of the Board meetings.”
McCollum was a great believer in nutrition through food and the importance of trace metals in the diet. He regarded drugstore vitamin pills and supplements as snake-oil quackery. And he was not alone. Many prominent scientists during his time were opposed to widespread fortification while those who backed fortification believed it was a temporary measure until more gradual education in the fundamentals of good nutrition, including the consumption of wholegrain foods, could take effect.
The Militarization of Food
Most of the technology for packaged junk food was developed by the US military. As a matter of national security, the technology to produce MREs is purposefully given away, for free, to the commercial food industry so that the cost will become cheap enough to produce it for the troops.
“As a means of cost reduction, and as way to readily tap the private sector during wartime, the government has forged a series of public/private partnerships with commercial food producers. The military’s technology and influence can be seen in effectively every grocery aisle…There haven’t been many studies about the long-term health impacts of the specific food technologies pioneered by the military.”
America’s widespread enrichment began during WWII when the food industry was called upon, by the military, to start enriching US flour. Given that WWII soldiers had diets limited by combat rations, the US military enacted War Food Order Number 1, issued April 25, 1944, which required all military purchases of flour to be enriched.
British troops were given Marmite—a vitamin B yeast extract. The troops needed these vitamins when surviving on limited rations, often eating them for weeks at a time. Non-enriched militaries, like the Russians, simply ate wholemeal flours with excellent results. Many state mandated enrichment laws soon followed the military’s use of enriched foods.
US Bread Becomes Fattening
Only, there was just one problem. Over time, American bread became seen as fattening. By the 1950s the “Wheat Flour Institute” was running major advertisements telling people that enriched white bread was an ideal food for dieting and that thiamine was necessary for a “normal appetite.”
The campaign didn’t reverse the decline in carbohydrate consumption. Americans were replacing their carbohydrates with fat—often with linoleic acid—and their health was deteriorating. Health officials and lobbyists agreed that something needed to be done to reverse the trend.
By the 1970s, lobbyists for the wholesale baking industry set out to fix the problem as they pressured the government to promote more grain consumption.
…”Bread has been falsely perceived as fattening, but that myth has been shattered by many nutritional studies including the research conducted by the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs and the Agriculture Research Service,” said Robert Wagner, president of the American Bakers Association.
The Senate panel noted that “bread consumption has been declining in the United States in part because it has been viewed incorrectly as fattening. Bread is of intermediate calorie density and relatively good source of protein.”
The concern over plummeting total carbohydrate intake over the 20th century was right there in the official Senate reports and in USDA studies leading up to the new 1980s Dietary Guidelines. The data showed that Americans had consumed roughly 56% carbs / 12% Protein / 32% Fat in 1909, and consumed even more carbohydrates during the 19th century.
The American Bakers Association
Founded in 1897, the American Bakers Association (ABA) is the lobbying group for the $102 billion wholesale baking industry, and if there were a single organization that was responsible for the destruction of traditional baking, they would be the prime suspect.
With a main office just a stone’s throw from Capitol Hill, their goal is to lobby congress, the FDA, the USDA and the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) to enable them to sell more white flour, sugar and junk food. They also lobby to undo healthcare reform.
By the 1970s the ABA had a problem with people eating significantly less carbohydrates each year. Little did they realize, it was their own adulterations and enrichments that caused grains to become a liability for Americans. While Gary Taubes and Nina Teicholz tell us that increased carbohydrates caused American obesity, the fact of the matter is that complex carbohydrates alone couldn’t have caused the obesity epidemic because Americans were once scrawny eating a high carbohydrate diet. In fact, from 1889 to 1961, carbohydrate consumption in the US dropped by ~30%.
Meanwhile, this perception of bread being fattening wasn’t happening in European countries, like France, which has never fortified its flour with appetite-stimulating vitamins or adulterations.
By the 1960s, Americans were eating significantly less flour than their Western counterparts in Europe.
France continues to successfully sell more flour and baked goods because it cares a great deal about its traditional breads. In 1993, the French government passed the décret pain (Translation) to protect the strict definition of traditional breads and the purity of their ingredients. Adulterations and enrichments are not permitted.
Today, France consumes 40% more wheat per capita than Americans do, has maintained one of the lowest obesity rates of any developed country, for decades. They eat smaller portions and routine gym exercise is unpopular there.
The ABA Lobbies to Promote and Increase Enrichments
During the 1970s, the FDA was systematically being transformed through political maneuvers. In 1976, Congress overruled the FDA’s regulatory efforts with the passage of the Vitamins and Minerals Amendments. The new law prevented the FDA from classifying excessive levels of vitamins or minerals as a drug. At the time, the FDA viewed the industry’s use of enrichments as needless and irrational consumptions of added vitamins and minerals.
Next, the ABA was able to convince the FDA to triple iron enrichment levels—a move that was later rescinded due to an outcry from doctors.
The Enrichment Debate (1977)
“The iron super-enrichment controversy which has been simmering for several years shows signs of coming to a boil once again. Five years ago the Food and Drug Administration proposed to require a three-fold increase in the amount of iron presently added to bakery products. The American Bakers Association has renewed its request to the Food and Drug Commissioner this regulation while many physicians have steadfastly opposed the adoption of such a ruling.“
In order to increase to FDA enrichments levels, sufficient information needed to be presented to identify the nutritional problem and the affected population groups. The FDA’s current policy does not specify that deficiencies be present in “a significant number of people” as recommended by the Food and Nutrition Board. So long as any deficiency exists, everyone can be dosed with the enrichment.
For instance, folic acid enrichment is now given to 318 million Americans solely to improve the folate status of pregnant women, to reduce Neural Tube Defects (NTDs). The policy is celebrated by the American Bakers Association for reducing NTDs by “36%”. However, in absolute terms, enrichment only reduces NTDs by 0.015%. Unfortunately, the policy may be ineffective, is believed to harm considerably more people than it helpsand it may also be increasing colon cancer..
In the 1970s, doctors knew that high levels of iron were toxic and inflammatory, while industry lobbyists wanted us to consume more enrichments. No one knew this better than William H. Crosby, one of the founding fathers of modern hematology, who wrote two public letters in JAMA expressing his outrage for lobbyists who were pushing dangerous fortification guidelines. Crosby accused the FDA, and McGovern, of falsifying data in order to invent a non-existent anemia epidemic.
William H. Crosby (1975)
“…the data were manipulated to suggest a national catastrophe, especially in the area of anemia”
“One nutritionist with whom the plans were discussed has written to me: “I was particularly pleased to see your criticism of the Ten-State Nutrition Survey. It was apparent from the protocol that there were no controls, or I should say random sampling techniques, for which I was very critical, and the response was simply, This is what McGovern wants.”
Iron “super enrichment” was reversed in 1978 thanks to Crosby and others who were concerned about iron overload. However, in 1981, iron enrichment levels in flour was increased by approximately 25% and the amount of enriched products on the shelves began to skyrocket.
In 1994, cereal grain products provided more than 50% of the iron in the U.S. food supply. Today, enriched flour compares to whole wheat like this.
A single slice of enriched white bread now has as much appetite-stimulating B vitamins as a medium sweet potato and more riboflavin and niacin than a cup of beans. These enrichments are specifically designed to enable people to eat refined foods as staples, which are rapidly digested and lack the satiating fiber and phytonutrients that are found in whole grains and complex carbohydrates. Moreover a diet that lacks fermentable fiber promotes diet-induced adiposity.
As the ABA was influencing the Dietary Guidelines during the 1970s, the ABA was simultaneously lobbying to significantly increase the FDA-suggested enrichment levels in wheat flour (rice enrichment levels did not increase). Next they made sure the Dietary Guidelines and Food Pyramid heavily promoted the consumption of those enriched grains.
To this day, the ABA leads a group of 7 major grain lobbyists known as the “Grain Chain” whose primary mission is to get enriched grains perpetually included in the government’s official Dietary Guidelines, just as they did in 1980.
Bread is Broken
But now for almost a century, bakers have added brewer’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) to flour to speed up the fermentation process. This strain of yeast was not only the source of the B vitamins that Osbourne & Mendel’s discovered, but the yeast imparts a umami flavor, and research in the 1940s showed that associating some B vitamins with a flavor can enhance their appetite-stimulating effect—especially if the enrichments are promoted and encouraged through an education program, as they are today.
In recent years, it’s become a fad to be wary of grains. Yet, few acknowledge that modern industrial grains are heavily processed into oblivion.
There is some hope, however, as many people are finally beginning to rediscover that real unadultured and traditionally milled whole grains can offer significant health benefits.
Only Three Developed Nations Enrich Their Grains
Enrichment in developed nations is not about curing widespread deficiencies—it’s about enabling people to eat more processed foods that they would otherwise lose their appetite for. It is done to sell more processed foods.
American mills and grain suppliers add enrichments to refined grains out of their own pockets and their own volition. The policy makes the products more expensive. It is not mandated by the US government (though it is mandated in the UK and Canada). It comes off looking like charity, but it should be obvious that the multi-billion food dollar industry does not spend large amounts of money influencing Washington and on enrichment machinery for charitable reasons.
Today, only three developed nations have widespread food fortification: The US, Canada and the UK.
Developed countries have no need for fortification. Pellagra and Beriberi are almost non-existent in unfortified developed countries and NTDs are very rare, even without fortification.
The Iron Fortification Myth
There are no anemia epidemics in countries that ban fortification. Iron supplements are now known to be highly inflammatory in the gut even at low doses, and have been found to disrupt the microbiome. Most Westerners already have too much iron in their diets. Even low levels of iron fortification is known to promote inflammation in non-anemic men.
…There are two major problems [with iron supplementation]. The chemical environment in the gut, particularly the rapid pH change from the acid of the stomach to the essentially neutral small intestine, as well as the presence of reducing agents like ascorbate, will promote redox cycling between the Fe(iii) and Fe(ii) states. Therefore, any iron that doesn’t get absorbed — which can be up to 70% of the content of a supplement tablet — can cause serious problems, since this redox cycling generates free hydroxyl radicals through Fenton-type chemistry, which leads to inflammation. The second problem is that any remaining soluble iron will travel to the lower bowel, where it is absorbed by pathogenic bacteria. ‘The iron-hungry pathogens can then outcompete the more favourable gut microflora,’ Pereira explains, ‘which is when you get side effects like diarrhoea.’
There is even some evidence that high iron intakes may increase appetite. Moreover, inflammation and obesity reduces iron absorption, furthering the unabsorbed iron enrichments to promote even more inflammation in the gut. It’s possible that this inflammation is not only reducing absorption of other micronutrients, but inflammation can also disrupt B vitamin metabolism, which interestingly, can be a feature of obesity. Increased iron intakes promote copper deficiencies—and copper is needed to reduce inflammation. However, copper is not one of the standard enrichments.
If iron fortification were actually about solving anemia, the food industry would have fortified with copper—it’s been known since at least the 1930s that iron deficiency anemia can be cured by increasing copper intakes, as copper is needed for iron utilization.
Too Much Zinc
It’s been long known that a zinc deficiency can promote anorexia. However, there may be another side of the spectrum. Zinc is added to breakfast cereals in large quantities. This started in the 1970s, shortly before the obesity epidemic. Zinc inhibits expression of uroguanylin, which is now known to be a satiety hormone.
This suggests zinc deficiency would cause anorexia, and indeed it does. It also causes poor growth and late puberty, which means zinc deficiency is unlikely to be common because poor growth and late puberty are not common. Puberty is actually too early these days. People are obese, not anorexic. So why does Big Food add all that zinc to breakfast cereals?
Big Food doesn’t care about our health. They fortify foods because they don’t want the consumers to lose their appetites for the refined foods they are selling us.
Not Enough Manganese or Copper
The food industry makes every effort to give us excess iron, even though most people in developed countries have too much iron. Iron can be highly inflammatory as it tends to oxidize in our bodies. The food industry cares very little about giving us manganese and copper, since deficiencies in these key minerals are silent killers that can go unnoticed and have little effect on our appetites, but which are also needed to keep iron in check.
The food industry cares very little about giving us these micronutrients, since deficiencies in these key minerals are silent killers that can go unnoticed and have little effect on our appetites.
A Government Corrupted and Unable To Curb Enrichments
In the United States, white flour, white rice, pasta and corn grits are all enriched. Soon after the revision of the 1980 US Dietary Guidelines, promoting enriched grains, came significant increases to the FDA’s suggested fortification levels of flour. Both iron fortification and B vitamins were increased significantly. Thiamine was increased ~28% from the previous average range. Niacin was increased ~33% from the previous average range. And iron was increased by ~38 increase from the previous average range. The industry also expanded enriched flour into virtually all wholesale refined grain products. The total amount of iron compounds in the US food supply increased by 19-fold from 1970 to 1987.
By that time, the American obesity epidemic was well on its way, later followed by increases in diabetes, as Zhou et al. showed in their published correlations. Unfortunately, the FDA has been rendered powerless to regulate the food industry’s abuse of enrichments:
In 1980, the FDA published its final policy statement on food fortification, and emphasized that “FDA policy continues to be that current nutrition surveys show that widespread fortification of food is unnecessary…food fortification should provide consumers with a reasonable benefit without contributing to nutritional imbalance in the diet and without misleading consumers into believing that the consumption of a fortified food per se will ensure a complete or nutritionally sound diet.”
However, the new policies reflected the limits placed on the FDA by the Vitamins and Minerals Amendments, and were “expressed as a series of guidelines [italics added] which manufacturers are urged to follow…it is not intended to encourage widespread nutrient fortification of foods.” These 1980 guidelines remain the FDA’s definitive statement on food fortification to date…
…Today, federal regulation of food fortification has nearly returned to the pre-1938 situation. Juice drinks are fortified with b-carotene, tortilla chips with lutein, and breakfast cereals with 100% of the RDA of a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. With the major exception of the ability to remove dangerous products from the market and to regulate health claims on labels, the FDA has little authority to regulate industry-sponsored fortification. Not coincidentally, the nutrient content of the U.S. food supply has increased steadily since the 1960s, and much of this has occurred via essentially unregulated food fortification.
The FDA is supposed to make sure that food fortification does not promote nutritional imbalances. However, the ratios of today’s enrichments do not represent what is found in real foods. Far from it. For instance, manganese is needed to keep iron in check. Whole grains and granola have an iron to manganese ratio of 1:1, whereas many children’s cereals have an iron to manganese ratio of 20:1 or higher. It’s as if today’s enriched foods are intended to be inflammatory.
Vitamins and The Microbiota
Dr. Art Ayers thinks our gut flora may be able to produce the preponderance of B vitamins in a healthy diet, provided that the microbiome is adapted to that diet. A healthy diet and gut microbiota eliminates obesity. Vitamins are singled out in nutrition, because the body requires vitamins as enzyme cofactors. Professor Ayers says vitamins are so readily available from gut microbiota that vitamin availability is not totally dependent on the vagaries of diet.
Perhaps one example of this is that Japanese women were shown to have adequate folate levels despite having a diet poor in folate as well as a culture that tends to ignore recommendations for folate supplementation. It’s also worth noting that supplement companies also use bacteria to manufacture B vitamin supplements.
Indeed, vitamin supplements are a modern fad that were even shunned by the very people who discovered them. They are mainly useful for those with disrupted gut flora and poor diets. Ayers says the reason that vitamins are normally ubiquitous in the gut, is that vitamins are used by the microbiota in the biofilms lining the gut as quorum sensing signals. Not only do we crave the vitamins from foods, but since many of the soluble vitamins are used as communication molecules in bacterial/fungal biofilms, it’s plausible that mammals “sense” vitamins via their impact on gut biofilms. Thus, it is likely that supplemental vitamins will actually disrupt the signaling of intestinal biofilms and alter micronutrient metabolism. Gut biofilms act like the mycorrhizae fungi that control micronutrient uptake by the roots of plants.
Interestingly, it may be possible for high doses of supplemental vitamins to derange the metabolisms of offspring. This may be related to interactions in the maternal flora, or perhaps it’s the nature of epigenetics—your health can be determined by the actions of habits of your ancestors.
Successful Diets Avoid Fortification
It is interesting to note that nearly all successful diets avoid enriched flour. Even gluten free diets for non-celiacs—which only started in the US after 1950, when food enrichment became common, and shouldn’t even be needed for non-celiacs—may owe much of their popularity and purported success to simple enrichment avoidance. But don’t look now, the food industry is considering fortifying of refined gluten-free products.
Food Fortification Enables Obesity
Although Zhou, et al. have argued that vitamin enrichments caused the obesity epidemic, we aren’t so easily convinced the vitamins play such a direct causal role. However, the correlations are striking.
Occam’s Razor suggests a much more simple connection: significantly increasing vitamin enrichments in our food supply enabled the obesity epidemic by artificially normalizing our appetites for a refined and refined synthetic diet that we should have naturally lost our appetites for.
In other words, the food industry turned us into Osbourne and Mendel’s fortified lab rats and impelled us to eat a diet that our bodies wanted to reject. Had the 1980 US Dietary Guidelines simply encouraged Americans to eat whole grains, tubers and other real foods, none of this would have happened.
Food Fortification Destroys Dietary Traditions
The key to understand here is that enrichment eliminates the need for traditional foods. Ancient dietary traditions were carefully crafted, over millennia, to keep appetites up and promote good health.
The traditions did this by sourcing foods that tasted good and provided the nutrients needed to maintain an appetite. When some cultures relied heavily on refined grains—as the French and many Asian cultures have—their traditional foods make up for the losses by providing nutrients elsewhere in the diet. If they didn’t, people would simply not be able to have the appetites for those refined foods.
Without enrichments people who don’t eat properly come down with Dyspepsia and their bodies make it clear to them that they aren’t eating well.
Obesity is more rare in non-fortified populations because—supplements, lots of meat or large quantities of turbid beer aside—one has generally no choice but to acquire appetite-normalizing vitamins, from satiating sources, in order to have any appetite for junk food.
This is an important lesson for those involved with fortification projects in third-world countries, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). While it may seem admirable to cure micronutrient deficiencies, giving people synthetic vitamins results in the loss of ancient cooking traditions that were designed to provide nourishing staples. Food fortification enables populations to discard those traditions and eat junk food. Whether or not this is intentional or not is up to speculation.
Today, many third-world countries face a “double burden” of malnutrition and obesity. Obesity in those countries is often attributed to junk food, and greater access to meat, and the solution from these foundations is to throw more enrichments at the problem. While that may solve obvious deficiencies, it likely worsens obesity because one must have a source of B vitamins in order to have the appetite for junk food, and giving someone B vitamins enrichments easily allows them to discard their traditional cooking practices.
Now that we can more clearly see what happened to our grains in America, and how our food was turned into fortified rat chow, is there any hope for the US, Canada and the UK’s food supply?
In fact, there is. While much of Europe has shunned fortification and their populations only seem to enjoy better health and lower obesity because of it, there is a renewed interest in reviving traditional grains here in the US.
According to an upcoming documentary on the demise and grassroots renewal of our traditional baking practices, The Grain Divide: In 1880 there were about 24,000 commercial mills in the US. In 2014 there were only 200. Today, four companies control 80% of the market.
These few companies, in conjunction with the ABA’s lobbying, may have in fact played a significant, and perhaps deliberate, role in the American obesity epidemic—all in the name of selling more product. The American Bakers Association not only duped the government into allowing the super-enrichment of grains, but they also influenced the Dietary Guidelines to promote its own super-enriched refined foods, while increasing the production of those enriched foods to nearly all refined grains and junk food products. And, to this day, they remain vigilant in lobbying the DGAC to maintain the promotion and awareness of enriched foods while publically heralding enrichment as if it were one of man’s greatest achievements. It’s rather ingenious as anyone who opposes their business model is labeled a baby killer. They can even give money to politicians—make those politicians believe they are doing something good—and on paper a contribution from the American Bakers Association looks as harmless, and as American, as apple pie.
It was the perfect smokescreen as not a single obesity researcher, beyond Zhou et al, even realized it ever happened. Nor have any ever taken the time to distinguish the difference between, or control for, enriched foods and unadultered whole foods. Nor have any noticed that enrichments had skyrocketed after 1980. Almost everyone is oblivious to it and few even realize they are eating it.
But the good news is that we have a choice. 100% Whole Wheat flour is not fortified with synthetic vitamins and it comes with the full array of nutrients, fiber and phytochemicals needed to regulate health, appetite, and digestion. (Click the image to enlarge this one.)
Indeed whole grains are very health, only nobody would know it because less than 2% of the flour sold in the US is whole wheat and most of the whole wheat that is sold is overly processed.
What the US, the UK and Canada need now, more than ever, is a real bread campaign with support from consumers and without the influence of the American Bakers Association. Aside from banning enrichments, at the very least we need a décret pain to strictly define what a “traditional loaf” of bread can include: simply unadultered flour, salt, water and yeast or sourdough starter.
The beginnings of such a movement are already under way. A growing number of grist mills, especially in the Northeast, have been restored as people are waking up to the realization that minimally processed grains are essential to good health. That and a good appetite.