... with you on your journey
A thorough and insightful analysis questioning the validity of supplementation.
[Editor: our thanks to Debbie Took for allowing reprinting from her original blog]
Let's start with the disclaimer. Not a doctor. Not a dietician. Not a biochemist. Not a 'raw food guru'. Just a raw food coach who blogs. In fact, I don't even possess a chemistry O-level. As with any blog article, this article represents my personal opinion (together with the opinions of others working in the health field, including a raw food guru or two!) and is not intended to diagnose, treat, etc.
Having got all that out of the way...
it is interesting that when people move from a cooked-food diet, where all sorts of enzymes, vitamins and minerals are cooked out of food, to a raw food diet, where all those enzymes, vitamins and minerals are - hooray - left intact, that they are then subjected to sales pitches from those who tell them that their raw food diet is not as wonderful as they thought, that there are very likely things missing in the diet, and that to achieve optimum nutrition...buy their supplements. In fact, one luminary has now gone so far as to say that it is 'not possible' to meet all our mineral needs through a raw food diet, and that if we take his special course we will then find out what minerals will be 'missing' and 'where to get them from'(!). Statements of this kind will concern many a raw fooder,particularly those who can't afford to buy these supplements anyway, so I think it only fair to point out that many people in the raw food world do not share his opinion.
What do I mean by 'supplements'? Extracts, mixtures of extracts, sold in powder, capsule or liquid form. One thing most of them have in common is that they are very expensive - around £50-80.
This article is biased. I'm generally anti supplements. This articles outlines the case against supplements. Why? Because, if you want to find the case for any supplement, it's very easy. Just google, and you will find thousands (more) of words extolling its virtues. 95% is written by those selling supplements. The remainder is from users convinced of their benefits.
Please note my use of the word generally. I am generally anti supplements. What this means is that I'll 'never say never', and if at any point I'm convinced that a supplement would be the right thing for me, I'll take one. Whether or not raw vegans need to take Vitamin B12 for example is a hugely-debated area. At present I do not supplement for B12. There are many healthy long-term raw vegans who do not, and some symptoms that have been attributed to B12 deficiency may well be due to other factors, eg deficiencies of other vitamins/poor absorption. But - OK - I'll admit I'm not totally sure on the B12 thing, but I'd be far more likely to switch to a raw vegetarian diet than supplement. And be assured that whatever your favourite 'raw foodguru' says about B12, there'll be another equally knowledgeable person that will have his own set of compelling evidence that the opposite is the case.
Also, I will always support my fellow raw foodists' decisions to do whatever they feel is best for their health, and their children's health. Two raw foodist mothers - Shazzie and Holly - have come under fire on raw food forums recently. Both felt for various reasons that their children's raw vegan diets were not what they could be, and made the decision to add to their diets. Shazzie initially chose vegan+supplements, then added a little raw egg yolk to her daughter's diet. Holly chose to add raw dairy to her children's diets. Behind each of these decisions was a lot of thought and research and the motivation was to do the very best for their children. If it were me, and I felt the raw vegan diet needed something more, I would be more inclined to add raw vegetarian foods than supplement, but that's based on what I have come to understand about supplements and what makes intuitive sense to me. But let's all be prepared to admit that however strongly held our beliefs, and however much 'science' we've found to back our case (and it's always possible to find some!), any one of us could be wrong.
I've written this article because those who say they are 'anti' supplements are challenged regularly. I can quite see why the statement'I don't believe in supplements' can seem narrow/closed-minded. It can seem that the 'anti' supplementers haven't considered the facts, are forgetting that 'we're all different' (and similar...), aren't sufficiently concerned about demineralised soil. Etc. But whilst some raw foodists just instinctively don't want to put anything into their bodies other than raw plant foods in the form in which they grow naturally, others do have a fuller rationale, but find the thought of communicating a view of nutrition (and disease) that is a little different from that of the world at large (and of many raw fooders) somewhat daunting. So...I'm going to have a go here, and if anyone would like to use this article in discussion, please feel free to link to it.
Please note that I am NOT arguing whether supplements are a good idea or not for the average cooked-food eater. I am discussing the case against supplements for those on a diet of raw plant foods, where the majority of the food is organic.
WHERE IS THE EVIDENCE THAT RAW FOODISTS ARE NUTRIENT-DEFICIENT?
So many of us switch to raw food, see ailments vanish, feel better than we ever have done before, then join raw food forums, and sooner or later...the dampers kick in, as we're persuaded by other raw foodists, and particularly by those selling supplements, that we are likely to be, or will become, deficient in various nutrients.
We can't be felled on the 'biggies' - protein, calcium...there's ample out there to reassure us that we're not going to go short of those.Cariminerals (many of which we'd never heard of before) - even though we're in fact ingesting far more of them than on our previous cooked diets - according to some, the raw food diet will be failing us there.
But where's the evidence for this? In general, figures on nutrient deficiencies quoted are based on the population as a whole, and this pool will comprise mainly cooked-food meat-eaters. I've also seen figures revealing nutrient deficiencies in ill people. The population in general will very likely be deficient in all sorts of things as much of the food eaten is damaged. The population in general also consumes things that are actively antagonistic to nutrients in the body, eg alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, birth control pills and other drugs. So, for a raw foodist, it's no argument for a supplement seller to say 'x% of people are deficient in' this/that.
It might be relevant to say 'x% of raw foodists are deficient in' this/that, although of course this would need to be based on fact. Some make claims that raw food diets are deficient based on case studies of isolated raw foodists who had become ill - 'sample size of one' studies! But there could have been so many other things in those people's lives that could have contributed to the ill-health.
If we saw a large-scale controlled study of long-term 100% raw vegans who take no supplements were 'deficient' in a certain nutrient, well, yes, that would be interesting.
But then we'd have to look at what 'deficient' actually means. How are the RDAs (recommended daily allowances) for various nutrients set? Well, please someone tell me different, but googling suggests they are guesstimates based on averages of levels from a 'pool' of 'apparently healthy' people in the population as a whole. Now, as we all know, the population (the majority on a SAD diet for example) isn't that healthy. 'Apparently healthy' people aren't that healthy! For example, one-third of men aged 30-50 have prostate cancer and don't know it (source), I've heard 50% of over 50's have tumours of some sort (no source but plausible, I think you'll agree, after considering the prostate source), and 'apparently healthy' people suffer from a host of ailments that we're told are 'normal', but which raw fooders have seen disappear with a change of diet...
And, what this could mean is: the pool (of, actually, unhealthy people) could have 'x' level of a certain 'nutrient' in their body. It could actually be far too much! And then what happens of course is...the RDA is set from those figures, and ironically the 'health-seeker', who eats and lives far more healthily than the average, gets 'blood-tested' for this nutrient, finds he's 'lacking' (of course...), then supplements and - phew - his level is now up to the level of the pool. He then finds, to his surprise, that his health is not improving, but the reverse.... Just a thought.
If I ever see a large-scale controlled study of 100% raw vegans who take no supplements which shows on average that ill-health is present that could reasonably be linked to a deficiency of a certain nutrient, then I might be persuaded to take a supplement.
Haven't seen one yet.
PRO-SUPPLEMENT ARGUMENTS - TWO EXAMPLES
'It's essential for those living in a cool climate to supplement for Vitamin D.'
Is it? Those who have researched this will find many conflicting opinions on how much sunshine is needed for the body to make Vitamin D. And, as usual, they all disagree. However, a rough average is around 15 minutes a day. True, we have many days in the UK where sunshine isn't present. But we can store Vitamin D. So, being outside for most of the day on just one sunny day in the summer can make up for 24 sunless days. Also, is there any point in the last few weeks where the sun has indeed been shining outside, and you've been on-line? Have your children ever played inside when it's been sunny outdoors? And the sun does shine in the winter - lots! Isn't the answer to adjust our lifestyles rather than take a powder?
'Aren't you concerned about mineral-depleted soil?'
The piece de resistance of those selling supplements to the smug raw foodist. I'm quite concerned about GM foods, and irradiated foods, but mineral-depleted soil? No, not bothered much. Organic farmers are doing all sorts of things to maximise soil nutrient content, eg adding rock powder to soil, introducing soil-based organisms, and even adding ocean water (sprinkled some on my own garden recently). Victoria Boutenko in 'Green for Life' quotes figures that show the mineral content of organic plant foods to be many times higher than non-organic.
And, I've read that although the mineral content of soil in certain locales may be deficient in one or two important minerals, people who eat plant foods grown on a wide variety of soils are unlikely to develop any deficiencies (an argument perhaps for not always buying local (!)). And for those who say 'not everyone can afford to buy organic' - if they can afford to spend £70 on a 'miracle' mineral supplement, yes - they can.
Also, I'd suggest to anyone who's concerned about 'mineral-depleted soil' to eat more fruit. It's only the topsoil that will be affected to any significant degree by mineral depletion. The roots of fruit trees go down a lot further than that and will bring up minerals from sub-soil, from rock layers deep in the ground. And even if a tree is deficient to any degree in minerals, what will happen is that it will produce less fruit, not 'minerally-deficient' fruit.
SUPPLEMENTS ARE UNNATURAL
In whole fresh plant foods all the nutrients are there in the proportions that enabled the plant to grow. Even those without chemistry O-levels know that chemicals work with each other rather in isolation. So, when we eat a bell pepper all the vitamins and minerals in that pepper will be there in the exact proportions that enabled that pepper to grow. Bell peppers are high in Vitamin C, and quite high in B6. When we eat a bell pepper, there will be all sorts of vitamins and minerals entering our body that will work together to help our bodies use the C and the B6. Isn't it safer to take nutrients in a mix that has been proven to work (the result being a healthy plant) than where the proportions of each nutrient have been decided by men?
Dr T Colin Campbell ('The China Study') says that vitamins and minerals should never be consumed in isolation of their naturally occurring state and that the evidence doesn't support there being any benefits from consuming isolated nutrients that way.
Mike Benton (Natural Hygienist) 'There are now mineral supplements which are advertised as coming from 'organic' sources. These are equally useless because they exist in a fragmented state, extracted from the sources within which they naturally occur. Minerals do not work in isolation. When they are extracted from their natural sources, the other co-existing vitamins, minerals and enzymes are also extracted. Even if they were, the process of laboratory extraction destroys any vital benefits that may have been associated with the minerals. Minerals must be consumed in their natural, unfragmented and organic state to be of any use to the body. The best mineral supplements are those naturally occurring in mineral-rich foods in their unprocessed state - fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and sprouts.'
Supplements in powder form are of course also stripped of their fibre and water. Dr Doug Graham ('80/10/10' Diet) When the water is removed, the oxidative process that occurs has a degrading impact on the nutrients that remain, leaving supplements far less nutritious than their whole-food counterparts.'
WHEN SUPPLEMENTS CAN BE HARMFUL
The BBC in May 07 reported a study (US National Cancer Institute) showing a link between prostate cancer and taking multivitamins more than once-daily. This was an association only, it was not possible to say that that the multivitamins caused the cancer, but study leader Dr Karla Lawson commented: 'Because multivitamins contain so many different components and men taking a lot of them were more likely to be taking other supplements, the researchers were unable to tease out what was causing the association.' (In other words, all the supplements taken had made things very complicated...)
Dr Alan M Immerman DC: 'When one tries to provide proper nutrition by extracting nutrients from food and taking them in various proportions and quantities, there is indeed a risk of creating imbalances. The best way to supply vitamins to the body is to create them as nature provided them - in foods.'
Dr Doug Graham: '...the marketers neglect to mention that too much of that nutrient is harmful in a variety of ways, not the least of which is the inevitable imbalances that result when we consume supplements of any kind. Most supplements are concentrated from plant foods, and despite our American 'more is better' mindset, the body does not appreciate these unnatural concentrates and has to work to expel them similarly to the way it has to eliminate toxic residue from cooked foods...Like an amateur barber who finds himself trimming each side of the hair to make things 'even' until his client is bald, a person who supplements with single nutrients (or any formulation or combination of extracted nutrients) inevitably creates greater and more confounding imbalances, whether or not the cause and effect are discernible in the short term.'
Many raw fooders will be familiar with the Kouchakoff studies, in which it was shown that, after cooked food, there was a rush of white blood cells (leukocytosis) towards the digestive tract - the body perceiving the cooked food as a foreign, toxic substance. The following also resulted in leukocytosis: drugs, medicinal herbs, and...nutritional supplements.
So, in whom do we place our trust? Nature, or man? I've an underlying distrust of what clever men tell me I should ingest, especially if there's a profit motive behind it. Meat marketing boards told us 50 years ago that we needed many more times protein than is actually the case. Little comfort to those who ate lots of beefsteak and are suffering from bowel cancer now. In the same era we were told that smoking was good for us. Men in white coats, men in cloaks, have had us taking all sorts of substances, to our destruction...
Where is the source of wisdom for what nutrients you or I could do with today - this very day? The supplement manufacturer, or our bodies? A few months ago I had a great desire for oranges. They tasted more delicious than at any other time in my life - ate loads of them! I believe that this was because my body at the time very much needed something in oranges. After a while my desire for oranges lessened - perhaps because my body had built up adequate reserves of whatever nutrient had been lacking. And that's how that cliche 'listen to your body' operates. The clever body can correct deficiencies all by itself by generating a desire for certain foods.
How on the other hand can it ever be right for an individual to take 'x' mcg/mg of a supplement every single day - that amount decided by the supplement manufacturer? Yes, the body might expel excess, but ...always? We know that disease occurs when the body is overburdened by the task of elimination.
WHY A SUPPLEMENT MIGHT APPEAR TO WORK
Firstly of course - could be the 'placebo effect'. Perhaps we're feeling a bit 'down', physically and/or psychologically (most likely for some reason unconnected with diet), we're persuaded by a supplement manufacturer's claims, we spend £70 (and sure want to feel that's justified!), we feel excited at taking something that's a buzz word on the raw food forums, we start taking it, we feel a bit better (which could be due to all sorts of reasons), we attribute those good feelings to the supplement, we focus on those good feelings, which in turn create other good feelings, and...we're sold!
We may see a cessation of certain 'symptoms'. Acne is one example of a body's trying to clean up by eliminating toxins via the skin. If we then ingest an excess of certain nutrients via a supplement, the body may then have to divert energies from house-cleaning to eliminating the excess, so...for a while the acne might appear to clear up! So, sadly, the supplement works like a pharmaceutical drug - suppressing symptoms, but doing nothing to address the underlying cause.
We may even experience euphoria - a 'high' from a supplement. Some believe that substances that have been extracted from their naturally occurring form, or contain nutrients in too high a dose for our bodies, are actually toxic, and that when the body senses toxic matter it will certainly move to an 'all systems go' state, but as preparation for elimination, which results in a stimulant effect. A stimulant effect is the calling card of many poisons - caffeine, nicotine etc. And of course we can then get used to this stimulating effect and miss it when it isn't there, resulting in a sink to a lower level of well-being that accompanies any drug withdrawal.
So - many people are quick to link good feelings to the supplement, whether these are actually due to something else in their lives, or whether they're due to the body's efforts to eliminate. Sooner or later they'll have some 'down' days again. Will they link these 'down' days to the supplement as well? As that would be fair, wouldn't it? Well, no they don't and one reason is that it's somewhat uncomfortable to entertain the thought that we parted with a lot of money for nothing. If they're 'sold on supplements', they may decide they need a higher dose. But, more likely, they'll wonder if they've got some other kind of 'deficiency' and go back to the site selling them for another 'wondercure'.Some people say that when they take certain supplements they feel less hungry afterwards. They interpret this as a good thing and the supplement manufacturers tell us that this is because their powders are so 'nutrient-dense'. But the 'Natural Hygiene' view is that the body will shut down appetite when it has some serious work to do, ie eliminate a toxic invader. Again, this is why cigarettes and coffee can depress appetite and why, when we are unwell, and the body is involved in eliminative processes (eg via sneezing, sweating etc) we do not feel like food.
GREEN POWDERS, WHITE POWDERS, POTIONS, 'NUTRIENT-DENSE'
Here's Frederic Patenaude, well-known raw foodist who's 'not backward in coming forward', on green powders, as he says it so well!
'This might make me a few enemies, but I believe that 99% of supplements and 'superfoods' on the market are an absolute waste of money. It seems like every time you turn your head, someone is offering the latest and greatest 'beauty enhancing' or 'breakthrough' superfood or supplement. But what if I told you something shocking yet so simple to understand: there's no 'food' that arrives in a bottle, having been made in a factory and sold in powdered form, that will ever compare in terms of 'super-nutrition' to fresh fruit and vegetables. But still, almost every day I get an e-mail that says, 'What do you think of ____?' (fill in the blank with whatever supplement or superfood is now being promoted as the latest 'amazing' product).
Almost every supplement company has a variation of the 'green powder' which is basically a powder made with dried grass, dried grass juices or dried vegetables and possibly algae. This powder is supposed to make your body more alkaline and give you nutrition you can't find elsewhere...A powder of vegetables or algae can never compare in nutritional value to fresh vegetables, even if those vegetables are not organic. The real superfoods are dark green vegetables such as spinach, romaine lettuce, black kale, parsley, celery, arugula, and so on. With the use of 'green smoothies' made with fresh green veg and fruit, anyone can obtain superior nutrition in a few minutes a day...green smoothies and fresh raw greens literally put these green powders to shame.'
(I'm sorry to say that when Fred talks of making enemies, this is unfortunately often the case if one speaks out against supplements. Prominent people who've questioned the claims made by supplement promoters have been attacked, and ostracised by others in the raw food 'community'. As a lesser-known raw fooder, I've found that I and others on the raw food forums have been told that we should open our minds, and, of course... the piece de resistance - the implication that we are deficient - oh, that again - but in...lurve... So, can I just say to anyone who is upset by my presenting the arguments against ... I don't give a (ripe, juicy, whole, fresh,) fig. (Love and Light XXX).
Some raw fooders rave about MSM - in fact, some even say it gives them a high! But it's not without controversy, and I've seen a forum poster cite it as the direct cause of his mother's health problems.
MSM is sulphur, in the form of a white, crystalline powder. Do we need sulphur? Yes - it helps build collagen (used to bind connective tissue) and maintain healthy joints.
Are raw foodists likely to be deficient in sulphur? The product details supplied by one online supplier include this: 'MSM is destroyed by cooking.' OK - not a problem for raw foodists then. We also read that MSM is deficient in foods grown 'in greenhouses or through irrigation'. My googling reveals that sulphur is present in the following foods (amongst others): avocado, blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cherries, coconut, garlic, grapes, grains, nuts, seeds, onions, pulses, pak choi, parsley, red peppers, tomatoes, and green leafy veg generally (eg kale, lettuce, watercress). Well, I suppose some of these may be grown in greenhouses or through irrigation, but can't see that in general there will be a problem. (And if you have any patch of land, it's very easy to grow lettuces).
Mike Benton: 'Almost all diets contain adequate amounts of this mineral.' VitaminsDiary.com: 'A diet sufficient in protein is generally considered to be adequate in sulphur.'
I can't see that there is any reason to think that the average raw foodist isn't getting all the sulphur their bodies need in their food. Surely the raw foodist supplementing with MSM would likely be taking sulphur in excess of the body's requirements, and of course in an isolated form. And sulphur is a substance (along with phosphorus, chlorine, sulfur and silicon) which, when metabolised, forms acids in the body. So is it really sensible to take sulphur in isolation from the (alkalising) foods it is found in naturally?
The only ingredient in E3 Live is a blue-green algae (or, more accurately, a bacteria) called alphanizomem flos-aquae. Before being marketed as a 'health supplement' it was known as 'pond scum' or 'slime'. It grows all over the world.
I've seen much impressive scientific-sounding material from those promoting this, and even raw food gurus make all sorts of health claims for it. Yet, I've not yet heard of any one that has been substantiated by a clinical trial. They also list all the amazing things the pond-scum contains - 'every mineral known to man', antioxidants etc. But, as my friend Roger pointed out, a cow-pat may well contain all sorts of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants etc that are also found in the human body, but that doesn't mean we should be eating it.If you think that the slime in a lake was designed for human beings to eat, or that for some reason a raw food diet will be inadequate without the ingestion of this, then your idea of a natural diet is different from mine. Again, I wouldn't be surprised to see the body considerably stimulated in an effort to get rid of it.
This term is used frequently by those selling supplements (and also by those selling dehydrated powdered forms of whole foods). The marketing often includes the words 'contains all eight essential amino-acids'.
Just a reminder that many more mundane foods contain 'all eight essential amino-acids' as well. Here's a clue to one: it's long, it's yellow...
Usually supplement marketing will contain long lists of figures relating to various nutrients. A thought on those...the 'superfood' powders are of course fresh, whole foods that have had water removed.If we take a fresh, whole plant food with x% protein, x% vitamins in it, by weight, and then remove all the water, and measure the percentages again by weight, because the food weighs far less when dehydrated, all the nutrient percentages will shoot up!
And of course even if the manufacturers look at grams of nutrients rather than percentages, what they'll be then doing is looking at grams per, eg 100g, of the powder. Well, if we compare 100g of the powder with 100g of the fresh, the powder will of course contain many more of the plant food than the fresh, again, because dehydrated food weighs less. So, actual grams of nutrients per 100g will be higher as well.
So you could take any fresh fruit or vegetable, dehydrate it, and, hey presto - 'superfood'!Now IF we were to ingest the same weight of powder as we would of the fresh whole food it's made from, then we might benefit from this nutrient concentration. But we don't. Typically, we might be directed to have a spoonful or two. And we'd normally rehydrate this in water - perhaps in a smoothie. So that would bring us pretty much back to where we'd be if we'd eaten the fresh whole food instead! And how much better it would have been to have fresh, whole plant food (at a fraction of the price) rather than have it dehydrated, ground, stored, packed and shipped.I wonder what the price of these foods (often from South America) is over there? Even taking into account transportation, storage costs etc, I'm going to guess that these are high-profit items. Could be that they're quite common-place to the locals and that they'd be quite surprised (amused?) to hear of us paying £15 a bag, and not even fresh...
I know raw foodists who swear by this. Here's an alternative view.
The spur for writing this article came after seeing someone challenge a raw foodist who advocated no supplements as making a 'blanket statement'. I've tried to show that, behind the 'blanket statement' is a rationale, ie we do have a reason or two for saying what we do.
I did say in the intro that I'd 'never say never' re supplementation, but do believe there is ample evidence to suggest that supplementing is certainly unnecessary for the majority of raw foodists, probably unnecessary for any raw foodist, and that it could even be harmful in some circumstances.
If you're considering spending upwards of £50 on a supplement, ask yourself why. Before you saw the marketing blurb, before you saw the excited testimonies of raw fooders, did you actually feel any symptoms of deficiency? Did you feel that your raw food diet was lacking? Indeed, were you even on a raw food diet? (high-raw diets are excellent - light years healthier than the average cooked diet, but until the diet is 100% raw, raw food has not had a truly fair test). Before you heard about the supplement, were you ill? And if so, are you sure your food was to blame? There are all sorts of things that affect our physical and psychological well-being other than food. Were all these things right? Sleep, fresh air, sunshine, exercise, relationships, occupation? Any conflicts, stresses?
Check out the ingredients list. Use Wikipedia to find out what each thing actually is. If it's a chemical, google it together with 'food sources' and see if it's something that isn't contained in whole, fresh, raw foods you can buy at a fraction of the price. And if it's not found in whole, fresh, raw foods ask yourself whether it should really be going into your body.
Consider the arguments of those 'anti' supplements I've outlined above. Consider whether listening to the desires of your body for certain foods throughout the day, the week, the seasons, might be a more reliable indicator of what vitamins and minerals your body requires than extracts and mixes put together by supplement manufacturers.
Ask yourself whether a diet full of raw foods (ie for the first time in your life you are eating foods with nutrients intact) will be 'lacking' in some way.
Dr Doug Graham: 'All the vitamins, minerals and nutrients any body needs are amply supplied through the variety of fruits, vegetables and leafy greens found in a healthful diet...The raw food kitchen need not include jars, bottles, boxes, cans, bags, capsules, powders, remedies, potions, pills, or tinctures of any kind'.