Jaw-dropping discrepancies between what the “experts” recommend, and what your body REALLY needs
This past June marked an important anniversary in the history of nutritional research. Ten years ago, two landmark studies were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).1,2 They revealed that the dietary standards set by the U.S. government are grossly inadequate.
These two studies should have changed the way doctors viewed the role of optimal nutrition in preventing and treating chronic diseases.
Yet, here we are—a decade later. And the government recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) are still the only benchmark conventional doctors acknowledge and recommend.
The information on nutrition and health that the public is given (and not given) by the government sometimes reminds me of the book Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. Really one scene in particular that depicts an aviator being hit by anti-aircraft flak. The protagonist, Yossarian (Alan Arkin in the movie), labors carefully to bandage the relatively superficial wounds on the injured flyer’s arms and legs. Yet, when he finishes, he opens the flyer’s heavy flight jacket only to find his intestines spilling out through a fatal abdominal wound.
Bloody and graphic, yes. But not that far off from how the government handles its RDAs. Follow them, and we’re all like poor, well-intentioned Yossarian. Applying Band-aids to potentially fatal health problems.
I pointed out in the Daily Dispatch “RDA to Nowhere” how most of the government guidelines on nutrient intakes are hopelessly outdated.
They were designed to prevent frank vitamin and nutritional deficiencies. And diseases like beri-beri, kwashiorkor, pellagra, rickets, and scurvy.
So yes, the government is keeping us safe from some deadly scourges— of the 19th century. But what about what’s killing us in the 21st century?
Will they ever move on to the true nutritional medicine proposed 10 years ago in those landmark JAMA articles?
Government RDAs don’t even come close
In those decade-old JAMA articles, the researchers gathered more than 150 studies. And after carefully examining all the data, they determined just how much of several common vitamins most people need each day to help prevent today’s chronic diseases. Including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis, as well as infectious diseases.
But, in many cases, what they found was vastly different from even the most current government RDAs. Which, by the way, were evaluated and revised just last month!
Take a look at the chart at the bottom of the page, which shows the current RDA of several specific nutrients, compared to the optimal amounts determined by the JAMA articles back in 2002.
Obviously, the government is still hopelessly out of touch with what the human body really needs for optimal health.
One step forward, two steps back
Today the government does (finally) recognize that vitamin D deficiency is a serious problem—even by their standards. Current estimates show that up to 30 percent of the population isn’t getting the RDA. But the true dimensions of the worldwide vitamin D deficiency epidemic are likely a lot higher from the standpoint of optimal nutrition. Meanwhile, at the same time, they tell everyone to avoid sun exposure, which is critical for achieving and maintaining even the RDA vitamin D levels. (For the record, you should aim for 15-20 minutes of direct sun exposure—on the arms and legs—per day, at least three times per week. Without sunscreen.)
The government also continues to dwell on nutritional “problems” that don’t really exist. For example, they still focus on iron deficiency as a “major” public health issue. (Despite the fact that it occurs only in 11 to 16 percent of some subgroups of children and child- bearing women.) Granted, they now recognize that their old iron measurement techniques leave a lot to be desired. Of course, they haven’t done anything about their standards.
And one troubling new development that no one is currently talking about is the prevalence of iodine deficiency—especially in young women. We thought we had that problem licked by adding iodine to our salt supply. But with the CDC constantly telling people to lower their salt intake (to potentially dangerously low levels at that), it’s really no wonder this problem has emerged. I’ll tell you more about iodine deficiency in next month’s issue.
In the meantime, let’s get back to the topic at hand. How the current RDAs simply won’t help you reach optimal levels of any nutrient. Let alone protect you from today’s biggest health threats. And, more importantly, what will.
|Nutrient||Current government RDA||Optimal amount (via 2002 JAMA articles)|
|Folate||400 micrograms||800 micrograms|
|Vitamin A||3,000 IU for men 2,333 IU for women||15,000 IU|
|Vitamin B6||1.3 milligrams for adults up to 50 1.7 milligrams for men over 50 1.5 milligrams for women over 50||3 milligrams|
|Vitamin B12||2.4 micrograms||9 micrograms|
|Vitamin C||90 milligrams for men 75 milligrams for women||2,000 milligrams|
|Vitamin D||600 IU||2,000 IU (but safe in doses up to 30,000 IU)|
|Vitamin E||15 milligrams||70 milligrams|
The best way to get everything you need for optimal health
Those landmark JAMA articles also pointed out, as I have for 30 years, that the stand-alone nutrients recognized by the RDAs actually fall short in yet another way when it comes to helping you get the optimal nutrition you need…
You see, on their own, these vitamins don’t include the other critical nutritional components in healthy foods and vegetables (like lycopene and lutein, for instance).
It stands to reason that plants, which thrive outdoors, must have some built-in protection from the elements. Indeed, they’ve developed antioxidants to protect them from oxidation and “free radicals” that are inevitable parts of constant exposure to oxygen in the atmosphere and to regular climatic events.
So eating a nutritious, balanced diet is truly the only way to get all the biologically-active and beneficial compounds you need for optimal health, whether the RDAs even recognize them or not.
Of course, I don’t mean to diminish the importance of those RDA nutrients. It’s just that you’ll get even more benefits if you opt for whole foods that contain them. Because these food sources also offer other benefits that still aren’t even on the government’s RDA radar screen yet.
Here are the best food sources for the RDA nutrients listed in the chart above.
Folate dark green, leafy vegetables (like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, spinach); asparagus; avocados; bananas; beans; oranges; yeast
Vitamin A organ meats, fish, shellfish, egg yolks, fruits and vegetables (some carotenoids in fruits and vegetables are converted to vitamin A in the body)
Vitamin B6 poultry, fish, shellfish, soybeans, bananas, nuts, peas
Vitamin B12 poultry, fish, meat, eggs
Vitamin C broccoli, citrus fruits, melons, peppers, strawberries, tomatoes
Vitamin D saltwater fish, fish liver oil, liver, fortified milk (and while it’s not a food, don’t forget about a critical source of vitamin D: sunshine)
Vitamin E nuts, vegetable oils, wheat germ
One quick note for vegetarians and vegans. Take another look above at vitamins A, B6, B12, and D. Most of these key nutrients come from animal sources. Unfortunately, the average human just can’t get optimal nutrition from a diet that doesn’t include meat. So vegetarians and vegans should always take high-quality supplements to achieve optimal levels.
Getting to the “guts” of the problem
Unfortunately, the government is no closer today to giving people truly sound nutritional advice than they were a decade ago. Like poor, misguided Yossarian from Catch-22, the “experts” can’t seem to get at the real “guts” of the problem.
I remember exchanging communications a few years ago with one of the leading Ph.D. nutritional experts at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. He’s a very influential figure in the American Society for Clinical Nutrition and plays a big
role in helping determine the RDAs. I asked him flat out why he still didn’t accept that optimal nutrient intakes need to be higher than the established RDAs. He responded simply, “There is no evidence.”
By what standard?
Maybe he and his colleagues haven’t been reading the Journal of the American Medical Association for the past 10 years.
But if we wait for all the evidence sought by some of these non- medical, Ph.D., career scientists we’ll all be dead. Probably from some preventable disease. (And don’t forget that these ivory tower so-called “experts” live on salaries that are publicly funded by the credo that we always need more research anyway.)
This evidence is here—and has been for at least a decade. So do yourself, and your health, a favor and forget about the “bare minimum” RDAs. Instead, strive for optimal nutrition.
Focus your diet on the foods listed above, and fill in any gaps with good, high-quality nutritional supplements.
The kids aren’t alright
A new study in the Journal of Pediatrics finds that U.S. children aren’t getting the missing nutrients they need most from vitamin supplements. And it turns out, the children taking supplements aren’t the ones who need them in the first place.
The problem varies by age group. Most children under 8 appear to get several of the nutrients they need (to meet RDAs at least) from the foods they eat. However, even with the use of supplements, more than 1/3 still don’t get enough calcium and vitamin D.
On the flip side, children who use supplements are getting too much vitamin A and iron. Nutrients that, in excess, can actually be toxic. Kids are getting excess amounts of folate and zinc, too.
This study also found that supplement use among children drops from 40 percent at ages 2 to 8 years to less than 30 percent at ages 9 to 13. And barely 25 percent of teenagers are taking supplements. So it’s no wonder many kids between the ages of 8 and 18 have low levels of key nutrients.
But in another interesting twist, those who do use supplements were also more likely to get enough calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamins A and C from food alone. In other words, the kids using supplements aren’t the ones who really need them.
And in a surprising statement to Reuters, one of the NIH researchers who authored this study suggested that manufacturers of children’s supplements should consider reformulating their products to actually meet the real nutritional needs among children. Rather than not providing enough of some nutrients, and providing too much of others.
Of course, in true NIH form, she declined to elaborate on what specific changes should be made by manufacturers or consumers. Instead, she stated that the NIH is “here to help consumers; we do not make recommendations on supplement use.”
This comes from a nutritional epidemiologist at the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements.
Memo to NIH: After hundreds of millions of dollars of research on nutrition and health over the past 30 years, the “help” that consumers need now is just that. Namely, real “recommendations on supplement use.”
1. “Vitamins for Chronic Disease Prevention in Adults: : Scientific Review,” JAMA 2002; 287(23): 3,116-3,126 2 “Vitamins for Chronic Disease Prevention in Adults: : Clinical Applications,” JAMA 2002; 287(23): 3,127-3,129