One Simple Rule for Better Nutrition

Health Alert 276

Now that you know the real vitamins (see your last Health Alert, #275), you can apply a second strategy to simplify choosing the best ones. The basic concept is to mimic nature as closely as possible. Apply this rule to each supplement choice you make.

Today, I’ll explain two important applications of this rule that are sure to improve the quality of your nutrition and help you avoid supplements that may be working against you.

Nature Still Knows Best

When you eat whole foods, your body gets the nutrients in their most complete and natural form. This is important because nutrients rarely act as single isolated structures. Most occur as groups of related compounds and that’s how they exert their effects. Your body has evolved to encounter them in these natural combinations.

Here’s an example: Studies show that the building blocks of proteins (individual amino acids) taken as powders can cause calcium loss.(1) This led many "experts" to warn that diets high in protein will cause osteoporosis.

Yet studies that look directly at protein intake find that diets high in naturally complete proteins like red meat and chicken have proven to preserve calcium and actually improve bone strength.(1) Since it is still possible to get these complete proteins from your diet you should chose them as complete foods over protein powders or amino acid supplements.

Use Nutrient Complexes to Mimic Whole Foods

There are dozens of other examples where this rule can guide you. Let’s apply it to the dizzying array of supplements with different forms of vitamin E and vitamin A.

Most supplement forms of vitamin E contain only alpha-tocopherol. That is only one of eight different forms that make up the vitamin E family. Too much of this one form can interfere with the absorption of the others. This can act as a pro-oxidant instead of an anti-oxidant. This is the exact opposite of what you want your vitamin E to do and explains the recent confusion over vitamin E supplementation’s health benefits.

Vitamin A is similar. It occurs naturally as a mixture of brightly colored "carotenoids”. Vitamin A containing foods are important disease fighters. Yet, decades ago, we learned that taking chemically purified vitamin A did not have the same benefit as vitamin A containing foods. This has lead supplement makers to replace vitamin A with it’s naturally more abundant precursor, beta-carotene.

More recently, we have learned that taking beta-carotene alone interferes with the absorption of other carotenoids. This explains the studies that show both vitamin A and beta-carotene supplements actually increase your risk of macular degeneration even though we know that vitamin A containing foods decrease this most common risk of age-related loss of vision. There are many other carotenoids – all with specific roles to play. Lycopene and lutein are carotenoids most important for prostate and eye health as just a few examples.

This all sounds complicated I know but if you’ll apply my "natural mixtures" rule in each circumstance it becomes conceptually simple.

  • For carotenoids, eat mixtures of brightly colored fruits and vegetables and you’ll get the right mix of carotenoids.
  • Likewise, chose organic grass-fed organ meats, mangos, almonds and hazelnuts for a natural mix of the different kinds of vitamin E’s.
  • For added amounts, chose supplements labeled with “mixed tocopherols” when buying vitamin E and “mixed carotenoids” instead of vitamin A.

To Your Good Health,

Al Sears, M.D

(1) High Protein Diets: Separating Fact From Fiction. Stephen Byrnes Ph.D.