“Healthy Eating” and the Sabotage of Nutrient Synergy

Healthy eating is a slippery term in our country, as a quick survey of the evolving dietary guidelines and trends over the past few decades reveals we don’t have a clue what this means.  In the late 1970s, interest in this topic began after nascent findings identified a link between diet and the rise in degenerative diseases, leading to the adoption of a reductionist logic that essentialized foods according to select micro- and macronutrients, or just banished groups entirely.1-3  Categorizing some as dietary villains (e.g., cholesterol) and crowning others with health halos, officials have advocated, for example, consuming chicken devoid of skin, milk skimmed of cream, eggs without a yolk (this one now appears debatable) and copious amounts of fruits and vegetables, while the general public has tended toward pledging allegiance to paleo, keto, vegan, pegan or whatever currently happens to be the diet du jour.

Considering most approaches lack a historical precedent, their long-term efficacies remain to be determined; however, we do know that ancestral communities who prized all animal foods were largely free of modern ailments.4,5  Eating nose-to-tail was not solely for maximizing thrift and flavor, but done out of belief that each component possessed unique nutrients that worked cooperatively to promote health and wellbeing.  In this article, we explore eating as nature intended, with an examination into the synergistic interplay of nutrients in real foods (more on that below), as opposed to their devitalized and counterfeit counterparts.

 

What is nutrient synergy and why is it important?

Nutrient synergy is the concept that all nutrients in a food, like the parts of a well-oiled machine, depend on each other for optimal functioning.  When consumed together in their natural context, they: 1) serve as buffers by protecting against toxicities incurred from single nutrients and 2) enhance the biological availability of one another.6

 

Examples of nutrient synergy

Cooperative actions exist between all nutrients in their resident foods, but as a response to prevailing dietary recommendations and the plant-based movement, we have chosen to focus on two foods foundational to nearly all traditional cuisines: full-fat meat and dairy. 

 

Meat -  

Pertaining to the first instance, meat was invariably consumed with its natural marbling and/or attached skin, and typically flavored with a gravy comprised of organ meats, powdered bones and gelatinous parts.5  Interestingly, when the Canadian explorer and ethnologist, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, lived among the Inuit and Native Americans during the early part of the 20th century, he remarked they went through painstaking efforts to avoid consuming lean meat alone.  He writes, “The groups that depend on the blubber animals are the most fortunate, in the hunting way of life, for they never suffer from fat-hunger.  This trouble is worst, so far as North America is concerned, among those forest Indians who depend at times on rabbits, the leanest animal in the North, and who develop the extreme fat-hunger known as rabbit-starvation.  Rabbit eaters, if they have no fat from another source – beaver, moose, fish – will develop diarrhea in about a week, with headache, lassitude and vague discomfort.  If there are enough rabbits, the people eat till their stomachs are distended; but no matter how much they eat they feel unsatisfied.  Some think a man will die sooner if he eats continually of fat-free meat than if he eats nothing, but this is a belief on which sufficient evidence for a decision has not been gathered in the North.  Deaths from rabbit-starvation, or from the eating of other skinny meat, are rare; for everyone understands the principle, and any possible preventive steps are naturally taken.”7

Apart from being unapologetically delicious, it almost seems as if primitive peoples knew through a mixture of innate wisdom and trial and error that eating animals in the completeness of their packaging was critical for staving off disease.  From a scientific vantage point, protein consumed in the absence of animal fat is known to deplete hepatic stores of vitamin A, as this fat-soluble nutrient necessitates assimilation of protein throughout the body.8,9  Moreover, when muscle meat – high in the amino acid methionine, which regulates cell growth, repair and communication, as well as detox capacities – lacks support from constituents in offal and connective tissues, it raises an individual’s risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.10-12  Specifically, B vitamins in liver assist this amino acid in cellular maintenance activities, while glycine in skin, tendons and ligaments converts any excess into the chief antioxidant, glutathione.  Left to its own devices, methionine will transform into homocysteine and damage the interior lining of blood vessels.

 

Dairy -

With regard to dairy, numerous cultures have relished its richness in taste and nutrient density for millennia, employing it in numerous sweet and savory applications and esteeming its restorative properties.  In Russia and Ukraine, for example, sour cream can be found in practically everything everywhere – from blinis and borscht to sunscreen – due to its heartiness and antimicrobial properties.13  In days of old in Costa Rica, raw milk left to sour overnight would be habitually consumed every morning as a means to “refresh the liver”, and in Scotland, buttermilk was enjoyed for its tang and treatment of dysentery.14,15 

Universally, there has been little appreciation or knowledge of low-fat, skim, or plant-based milks until the last century – and for good reason.1,16  The saturated fat in dairy, notably, is the only bona fide way to boost bone and cardiovascular health because it contains the most bioactive forms of vitamins A, D and K2, and in their proper ratios.6,17  A nutritional triumvirate, vitamins A and D first partner by binding shared receptors to promote calcium absorption from the intestine,18 and then vitamin K2 assists in its delivery to the skeleton.19  Failing to consume all three in the correct doses yields functional deficiencies, wherein the body perceives an insufficiency of one or more vitamins – even if the daily requirement for such vitamins is met – when intake of others is especially high, or vice versa.  Here, excess intake of vitamin A leads to the accumulation of phosphorus over calcium, effectuating bone loss and liver damage,20-22 and excess vitamin D engenders overproduction of vitamin K2-dependent proteins, resulting in soft tissue calcification and the formation of bladder and kidney stones.23-26 

 

How wholesome is your diet?

It’s ironic how in spite of our ongoing discoveries and advancements within the realm of nutrition, over 50% of US adults suffer from one or more chronic conditions.  In thinking we are wiser than the One who made all things and called them good (Genesis 1:31, 1 Timothy 4:4), we have inadvertently induced deficiencies and created toxins by substituting and manipulating the foods He has already perfected for us.  Our progenitors never complicated or overanalyzed their diets, but simply let their tastes be their guide – directing them to nutrients they needed (e.g., sweet = carbohydrates, salty = electrolytes, sour = acids, umami = amino acids, fat = fatty acids) and deterring them from those that cause harm (e.g., bitter = toxins); therefore a tasty diet was always equivalent to a healthy diet.27  No doubt this corroborates with historical and scientific evidence, which should provoke us – if it hasn’t already – to question whether our current dietary beliefs and regimens are in need of revision. 

In Genesis 9:3, God states, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you.  And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.”  Come and visit Family Practice Associates in Broomfield, Colorado today, and learn more about what it means to eat, drink … and be healthy.

 

 

by Brenda Burgess, PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry & Physiology (Dr. Pamela Abrams’ niece)

 

References

  1. Agriculture USDo. History of the Dietary Guidelines. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans Web site. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/about-dietary-guidelines/history-dietary-guidelines. Published 2020. Accessed February 20, 2020, 2020.
  2. Desilver D. What’s on your table? How America’s diet has changed over the decades. Pew Research Center. Fact Tank: News in the Numbers Web site. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/12/13/whats-on-your-table-how-americas-diet-has-changed-over-the-decades/. Published 2016. Accessed February 25, 2020, 2020.
  3. Fardet A, Rock E. Toward a new philosophy of preventive nutrition: from a reductionist to a holistic paradigm to improve nutritional recommendations. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md). 2014;5(4):430-446.
  4. Eaton SB. The ancestral human diet: what was it and should it be a paradigm for contemporary nutrition? Proc Nutr Soc. 2006;65(1):1-6.
  5. Price WA. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. 8th ed. La Mesa, CA: Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation; 1939.
  6. Jacobs DR, Tapsell LC. Food synergy: the key to a healthy diet. Proc Nutr Soc. 2013;72(2):200-206.
  7. Stefansson V. The Fat of the Land. MacMillan Company; 1956.
  8. Furusho T, Wada M, Yasuhara T, Kataoka E, Kato S, Masushige S. Tissue specific-distribution and metabolism of vitamin A are affected by dietary protein levels in rats. International journal for vitamin and nutrition research Internationale Zeitschrift fur Vitamin- und Ernahrungsforschung Journal international de vitaminologie et de nutrition. 1998;68(5):287-292.
  9. Narbonne JF, Daubeze M, Bonmort F. [Protein metabolism in vitamin A deficient rats. II. Protein synthesis in striated muscle]. Ann Nutr Aliment. 1978;32(1):59-75.
  10. Stipanuk M. Homocysteine, Cysteine, and Taurine. In: Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease 10th ed. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2006:545-562
  11. Bleie O, Refsum H, Ueland PM, et al. Changes in basal and postmethionine load concentrations of total homocysteine and cystathionine after B vitamin intervention. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2004;80(3):641-648.
  12. Gould RL, Pazdro R. Impact of Supplementary Amino Acids, Micronutrients, and Overall Diet on Glutathione Homeostasis. Nutrients. 2019;11(5).
  13. O’Callaghan T. 5 reasons the Russians put sour cream on EVERYTHING. Russia Beyond. Russian Kitchen Web site. https://www.rbth.com/russian-kitchen/328936-russian-love-for-sour-cream-explained. Published 2018. Accessed March 1, 2020, 2020.
  14. Baker G. Costa Rica: Land of the Centenarians. Weston A. Price Foundation. Traditional Diets Web site. https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/costa-rica-land-centenarians/. Published 2017. Accessed March 2, 2020, 2020.
  15. Sadiya A, Ahmed SM, Carlsson M, et al. Vitamin D3 supplementation and body composition in persons with obesity and type 2 diabetes in the UAE: A randomized controlled double-blinded clinical trial. Clinical nutrition (Edinburgh, Scotland). 2016;35(1):77-82.
  16. Sethi S, Tyagi SK, Anurag RK. Plant-based milk alternatives an emerging segment of functional beverages: a review. J Food Sci Technol. 2016;53(9):3408-3423.
  17. Jialal PRI. Biochemistry, Vitamin, Fat Soluble. StatPearls Publishing LLC. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK534869/. Published 2018. Accessed March 8, 2020, 2020.
  18. Schrader M, Bendik I, Becker-Andre M, Carlberg C. Interaction between retinoic acid and vitamin D signaling pathways. The Journal of biological chemistry. 1993;268(24):17830-17836.
  19. Schwalfenberg GK. Vitamins K1 and K2: The Emerging Group of Vitamins Required for Human Health. Journal of nutrition and metabolism. 2017;2017:6254836.
  20. Ribaya-Mercado JD, Blumberg JB. Vitamin A: is it a risk factor for osteoporosis and bone fracture? Nutrition reviews. 2007;65(10):425-438.
  21. Caire-Juvera G, Ritenbaugh C, Wactawski-Wende J, Snetselaar LG, Chen Z. Vitamin A and retinol intakes and the risk of fractures among participants of the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2009;89(1):323-330.
  22. Shah JMONA. Vitamin A Toxicity. StatPearls Publishing LLC. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532916/. Published 2019. Accessed March 8, 2020, 2020.
  23. Fu X, Wang XD, Mernitz H, Wallin R, Shea MK, Booth SL. 9-Cis retinoic acid reduces 1alpha,25-dihydroxycholecalciferol-induced renal calcification by altering vitamin K-dependent gamma-carboxylation of matrix gamma-carboxyglutamic acid protein in A/J male mice. The Journal of nutrition. 2008;138(12):2337-2341.
  24. Peacock M. Calcium metabolism in health and disease. Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2010;5 Suppl 1:S23-30.
  25. Challoumas D, Stavrou A, Pericleous A, Dimitrakakis G. Effects of combined vitamin D--calcium supplements on the cardiovascular system: should we be cautious? Atherosclerosis. 2015;238(2):388-398.
  26. Wallace RB, Wactawski-Wende J, O'Sullivan MJ, et al. Urinary tract stone occurrence in the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) randomized clinical trial of calcium and vitamin D supplements. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2011;94(1):270-277.
  27. Breslin PA. An evolutionary perspective on food and human taste. Curr Biol. 2013;23(9):R409-418.
Author
Brenda Burgess, PhD

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