It’s no secret that our modern environment, while filled with many wonderful conveniences and other advances, is not as healthy as it once was. Our air and water are not as clean, we’re surrounded by toxins in everything from the dyes in our clothing to the products we use to clean our homes, not to mention stressed by our hectic lives.
Even when we follow an optimal diet, consuming plenty of dark, leafy greens, bright orange and yellow veggies, and juicy fruits, we’re not getting all the nutrients we need and expect. Many people are startled to learn the fruits and vegetables grown today are actually not as nutritious as they once were. In fact, they are much less rich in vitamins and minerals, in some cases with reductions as great as 40% or more!1
How Did This Happen?
The modern cultivation practices used by the massive companies known together as agribusiness focus on speeding growth, increasing size, and improving pest resistance. Increases in yield that are produced by fertilization, as well as other environmental means, tend to decrease the concentrations of minerals in plants. This is called the “dilution effect.”2 Furthermore, while modern agriculture has increased the food supply, making more food available for more people, in the process it has also stripped the nutrients from the soil in which our food grows. This is called soil depletion, and every new season of crops grown actually increases the problem.
A study at the University of Texas analyzed nutritional data from the US Department of Agriculture of 43 different fruits and veggies for two periods, 50 years apart. The study found marked declines in calcium, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin C. Further, the same researchers believe declines in other nutrients such as magnesium, zinc, and vitamins B6 and E are likely.3 Another study concluded that you’d have to eat eight oranges to get the amount of vitamin A your grandparents got from enjoying just one.4 The dilution effect and soil depletion have a double whammy on the nutritive value of our food.
The Impact on Your Health
These minerals and vitamins are essential for your cells and organs to function properly. They support your body’s optimal growth and development, and are vital for the health of your immune system. As I explain in my New York Times bestseller, The Autoimmune Solution, a wide array of autoimmune conditions, which together affect at least 23.5 million Americans,5 are frequently linked to nutrient deficiencies in addition to other factors including stress and our toxic environment. Nutrient deficiencies can also play a role in fatigue, mood imbalances, thyroid dysfunction, and heart disease, among other issues. Let’s take a look at the vitamins and minerals we know have declined in our produce to see how they impact your health.
We all know calcium is good for your bones and teeth. Without enough of it to form a compound called hydroxyapatite, our bones would become soft and bendable. Calcium also plays an important role in your nervous system, allowing your brain to control the release of neurotransmitters, the chemicals that interact with your nerve cells. Key plant sources of calcium include kale, bok choy, oranges, edamame and broccoli rabe. Rather than relying on a multivitamin to supply additional calcium, I often recommend a calcium supplement.
Iron binds with hemoglobin in the red cells of your blood to carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. It also helps bring oxygen to your muscles. It’s critical in fighting invaders; without enough of it you are more prone to infections and may feel weak because you can’t process the energy within your body. Iron deficiency, also called anemia, can be characterized by tiredness, difficulty maintaining body temperature, and decreased immune function. Iron rich plants include all dark green vegetables, prunes and raisins.
Vitamin B2, also called riboflavin, plays a critical role in your body. It helps process proteins, fats, and carbohydrates and regulates your body’s energy supply. It also helps maintain membranes in your digestive system, and supports your liver and adrenal glands. A lack of riboflavin can cause skin dryness and cracking, rashes, weakness and vision problems. Many of the most widely known sources of riboflavin contain gluten or are grains, so if you’re following an autoimmune-friendly protocol, I recommend avocados and spinach. A supplement that specifically supports adrenal function may also be helpful if you’re dealing with adrenal fatigue.
Vitamin C is used by your body to form a protein to make skin cells, blood vessels, ligaments, and tendons. It also helps repair wounds, cartilage, bones and teeth, and is critical for the absorption of iron. Although rare, a severe lack of Vitamin C results in scurvy, characterized by bleeding gums, loss of teeth, and depression. All citrus fruits contain Vitamin C, as do guavas, strawberries, papaya, and broccoli.
This mineral affects your skin and the production of white blood cells. It also helps with hormone production and aids in digestion. It’s critical for the health of your thyroid because it plays a role in the enzyme your body needs to convert T4 (the inactive form of thyroid hormone) to T3 (the active form.) Zinc deficiency can cause hair loss, diarrhea, skin sores, and weight loss. Plant sources of zinc include mushrooms, lentils, hemp seeds and most nuts.
Magnesium should be the fourth most abundant mineral in your body. It is a factor in more than 300 systems that regulate biochemical reactions as diverse as protein synthesis, muscle contraction, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation. It’s imperative for your immune function and heart health. It also helps you absorb calcium and enables healthy bowel movements by drawing water into the intestine. Foods rich in magnesium include dark leafy greens, seeds, coconut milk, among others. This all-important mineral is so critical yet research by the National Institute of Health suggest that half of all Americans don’t get the recommended daily dose from they foods they eat.6 That’s why I recommend a dedicated supplement that is bound to citric acid for easy absorption.
This important vitamin helps your body in several unique ways. It makes the mood regulator serotonin as well as norepinephrine, an important chemical that enables you cope with stress. It also produces melatonin which helps you sleep and aids in the production of hemoglobin to move oxygen through your body. With too little B6, you can be prone to skin rashes, mood changes, low energy, and tingling in the hands and feet. Plants that are rich in Vitamin B6 include avocados, sweet potatoes, and bananas.
Vitamin E is critical for eye and skin health, as well as a strong immune system. It’s an antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage. A lack of vitamin E can cause muscle pain, decreased coordination and visual disturbances. One of the fat-soluble vitamins, it naturally occurs in green, leafy vegetables.
Vitamin A is actually a group of fat-soluble retinoids. Perhaps its most important function is as a component of rhodopsin, a protein that absorbs light in the retinal receptors, making vision possible. It also supports cell growth and differentiation, giving it a critical role in the function of your heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs. Eye issues including dry eyes and night blindness are two common symptoms of Vitamin A deficiency. There are two types of vitamin A. The variety derived from plants are carotenoids, the most important of which is beta-carotene. This is found in carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, apricots, and cantaloupe.
Organic is a Better Choice
By now, most of you know I am a medical doctor, not a farmer. However, I was raised in a family in which much of our produce came from our own backyard. We ate a seasonal diet, full of fresh veggies and fruits. Although I no longer have the time or space to tend a large garden, I have tried to ensure my daughter has access to the same type of wholesome produce I was raised on. I write all about this in my bestselling Autoimmune Solution Cookbook.
However, in turns out that’s a bit more difficult than I anticipated. Even organic growers often make do with hybrid seeds, so most commercially available organic produce is not of the heirloom variety. That is, it’s not exactly the same type of fruit or vegetable grown prior to the 1950s, our benchmark for the decline in nutritional value.
So, while organic is definitely better for a whole host of reasons, it still won’t be packed with all the nutrients you need. Your best bet for fruits and veggies is locally produced, organic produce grown from heirloom seeds, such as those often found at farmers’ markets.
Add a High-Quality Multivitamin to Your Routine
Because it’s extremely difficult to get all your necessary nutrients from the foods you eat, and because soil depletion is making that even tougher, I recommend taking a high-quality multivitamin to ensure you get all the nutrients you need. The phrase high-quality is key because not all multivitamins are created equal!
After years of searching for a multivitamin that contained all of the essential nutrients at the levels your body actually needs and not finding one, I decided to formulate my own. The Myers Way® multivitamin is made with pharmaceutical-grade nutrients at optimal levels and in the most bioavailable forms, so that they are readily absorbed by your body. I specially designed it to support those of us with autoimmune and thyroid issues, although it’s perfect for anyone looking to build a foundation for optimal health. It is also completely free of common inflammatory and toxic ingredients and does not contain gluten, wheat, dairy, corn, soy, GMOs, yeast, or artificial sweeteners.
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