Too Much, Too Often – Excesses in the Diet
Sarah Reid, RHNC
You can’t walk through a grocery store without spotting all kinds of “supplemented” foods. Likely jumping on the bandwagon of the thought that “nutrition should come from food, not pills”, companies strip the natural benefits from their foods first before adding mega-doses of artificial supplementation just to meet one nutritional standard or another. You can get away with all your recommended intakes each day by having tons of Wonder bread with “sterolized” margarine, fruit leather with added vitamin C and A (and possibly grape juice for the “real fruit”), extra-calcium fruity yogurts and popping a multivitamin for good measure. But all these fortifications and pill-mongering come with a cost. We’re getting too much of a good thing, and in the long run it will catch up with us.
It goes without saying that salt, sugar and saturated fats are the three nutritional “biggies” in the common diet. Almost all adults in the western world get too much sodium in their diet, while almost 80% of preschoolers exceed their Upper Limit intakes. 60% - 75% of us have too much saturated fat in our diets, and almost all processed foods contain staggering amounts of sugar (on average we eat 22 tsp/day – 20% more than 40 years ago).
However, most of us are unaware that too much of a certain “healthy” nutrient like a vitamin or mineral can harm just as much. The artificial vitamin A – retinol – in most supplements and fortified foods can result in skeletal abnormalities, bone pain, hair loss and chronic headaches that don’t respond to painkillers. Because it’s a fat-soluble vitamin, it is stored readily in our liver and fat cells and prevents the proper functioning of hormonal and detoxification processes. Supplements of folic acid – the processed version of the folate found in whole foods – is also required to be added into refined grain products and is being linked to certain cancers and mental decline in aging populations along with hiding potential B12 deficiencies. Foods that add every nutrient under the sun, like most multi vitamin and mineral complexes, often result in many of those elements not being absorbed at all – for instance calcium and iron compete with each other, while your system cannot synthesize copper, zinc and magnesium all at once. Any vitamin that’s water soluble is likely to be mostly flushed out of your body when taken en masse as a pill.
Children aren’t immune to the risk either. Many “child vitamins” mimic candy with fruity flavours and bubblegum or gummy-bear like appearance, and if allowed to access these potent products or are given the adult formulas, problems can arise. Excesses in the childhood diet also encompass the common “adult” problems of sodium and saturated fat, and are more at risk for micronutrient excess because of their high intake of fortified, kid-friendly processed foods. Check my related post on NIM dish for some of the common deficiencies in the diet.
The bottom line is that supplements should be supplements – not cure-alls or “miracle workers”. Wholesome, natural foods that are as close to the source as possible are some of the safest medicines out there. Take stock of your diet, read the labels on the things you buy, and find out just how much of just what is going into your (or your child’s) body each day. You might not need to pop a pill after all.