A few years ago I meticulously tracked my food intake for a month. When you’ve adopted a lifestyle that is against the norm you at least want to be sure it’s not detrimental to your life. Since my general food intake is the same on a week to week basis I didn’t need to track more than one week, but I wanted to be sure of myself. No harm in spending an extra 10 minutes/day for a few extra weeks to gain piece of mind.
What I found:
- I was definitely getting enough calories. Some days it was around 2,000, some days around 2,500. It averaged out to about 2,200. If you’ve met me you’ve probably noticed or even commented that I’m skinny. My weight is normal, not underweight, not overweight. (This whole “you’re too skinny!” thing says a lot about our society.) I’ve weighed the same for years. Without dieting. Without checking my weight more than once/year. (I’ve never owned a scale.)
- I was getting all my RDA (now DRI) of most nutrients except B-12 which is difficult to find in plant based foods that aren’t supplemented. I began drinking fortified soy milk, but eventually phased soy milk out of my diet and began taking sublingual B-12. (Sublingual simply means you put it under your tongue and let it sit there for 30-60 seconds before swallowing. It’s absorbed more quickly into your bloodstream.)
- I got lots of fiber, which is more important than people realize. Simplified, fiber is the indigestible portion of your food that keeps your GI tract in tact (tongue twister) and disease free. Most people do not get nearly enough fiber, because most people don’t eat many veggies/fruits/beans. Tangent: even though iceberg lettuce isn’t a nutritional superstar it does have fiber and, therefore, it doesn’t suck. Iceberg lettuce gets a lot of negative press, and it’s true other leafy greens are better, but iceberg is acceptable.
- I felt awesome. Still do. :)
Since that meticulous tracking a few years ago my diet has not changed very much so I never felt the need to track again.
When somebody would ask me “Are you getting all the proper nutrition?” my answer was, of course, yes. (Interestingly, I’m sure not a single person who ever asks me this is healthy or tracks their own nutrition.) When somebody would ask “Do you take supplements?” my answer would always be “No, they’re not necessary, except B-12.” Pardon my ignorance.
The Blind Leading The Blind
Maybe you noticed what I slipped in there, maybe you didn’t. The RDA is Recommended Dietary (some say Daily) Allowance, but now they’re using something called DRI (Dietary Reference Intakes). This is set, in my case, by the USDA, part of the US government. The same government I already don’t trust one bit for any aspect of my health. They are so blind they can’t even read braille. Why trust their nutritional recommendations? The best answer I can come up with is laziness.
After reading 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss, and then (more importantly) Transcend by Ray Kurzweil (genius inventor/scientist) and Dr. Terry Grossman (Ray’s MD cohort) I took another hard look at my diet and what I am or am not getting.
The first thing I learned, more than food intake, is that the amount of nutrients in any food is an inexact science. Not because it can’t be measured, but because we don’t know exactly how it will react with our own individual bodies. If you and I both eat a Fuji apple of equal weight the nutritional benefit to you might be greater than to me, or vice versa. The apples may very well be of equal nutrition, but my body may not absorb the nutrients the same way your body does.
The second thing I learned is that the RDA is the minimum. Since when is the minimum Ridiculously Extraordinary? The minimum is for less-than-average less-than-stellar folks. Call it ego or whatever else you’d like, but that’s not me dammit! I’d like to believe that’s not you either. Let’s shoot for optimum not minimum.
(Tangent: This holds true for other aspects of my life. Minimalism itself is not about the minimum number of things, but the optimum number of things necessary for my life. No more and no less than I need. Maybe I should change the name to Optimalism?)
Blood Doesn’t Lie
That leads us to a bit of a dead end, right? I mean, if you can’t know how your body is reacting to the food you’re eating, how are you supposed to know whether you’re getting the benefits you should be getting. And how are you supposed to know how much you should or should not be supplementing?
The answer: blood tests. Our blood holds the answers to most of these important questions and our blood doesn’t lie. If someone asked you “Do you eat healthy?” I’d venture to guess that you would say “yes!” even if you’re 40 pounds overweight and can’t run 100 meters without breaking into a dripping sweat. But if you ask your blood your blood will tell you the truth. Which is kind of scary for those of us who may lie to ourselves about our health. I’ve officially put myself back into this “lying to myself” category. Not because I think I’m being unhealthy, but because I don’t have the data to prove what’s going on in my body (yet).
There are a few problems with blood tests:
- They’re probably not covered by your insurance. A normal blood test is probably covered, but the blood tests you actually need to get a clear picture of your health probably are not.
- You’ll probably have to fight with your doctor to get the blood tests you want. Most Doctors are just as blind as you and I. Which is a problem. They don’t think independently. They think what they’re told based on what they memorized at school and by whatever pharmaceutical company is paying them off with free trips to the Bahamas.
- You will have to get them regularly instead of just once if you want to consistently monitor what is going on with your body.
My plan of action: Figure out which blood tests are most essential (this is a whole article unto itself, and after I get mine done I may post a new article) and make an appointment to get them done in 2 months. (I’ll be on the move too much in the next 2 months to get all of this taken care of right now.)
Are Supplements Evil?
The third thing I learned is that supplements aren’t just a means to create expensive urine. :) No matter your diet you’re probably not getting enough of quite a few vitamins/minerals. Personally, I’ve always known I wasn’t getting enough B-12 because I wasn’t getting any, which is why I began supplementing with B-12. That said, just because you eat meat doesn’t mean you are getting enough B-12 (or other nutrients) since I guarantee the majority of the meat you eat is not of high quality. (You can lie to yourself if you’d like, but it’s not worth it when your health is involved.)
I’ve now begun taking a multi-vitamin as well as additional Vitamin D and Vitamin C. Most of us don’t get enough Vitamin D, no matter what our diets. Until I get the results from my blood tests I’m not going to mess with this formula since it’s safe. Taking too much of certain vitamins/minerals won’t cause problems, but taking too much of others will cause big problems. Causing big health problems defeats the purpose of wanting to living forever.
Supplementation is another reason regular blood tests are important. You need to know where you’re deficient and which supplements are helping or hurting.
Is Optimal Nutrition Possible On A Vegan Diet?
Yes. But what’s important for you is that the smartest people in the world advocate a mostly plant based diet even if you do eat meat. Even then, all meat is not created equal. And just so we’re clear, the bun on your hamburger, the ice cream for dessert, and the eggs in your breakfast does not count as plant-based.
The Bloody Wrapup
And I mean that in an English slang sort of way, not in a blood as a life-force sort of way.
Essential reading: Transcend by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman.
Bonus not-essential reading: 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss.
Blind Follower: Someone who follows public opinion (or even just one person) without questioning anything.
Smart Follower: Someone who follows public opinion (or even just one person), but questions and verifies.
Also, eat more whole plant-based foods.
Questions for you:
1) Have you ever taken a scientific approach to what you’re putting in your body? It’s OK if you haven’t, but if you have I’d love to know what you’ve done.
2) Where else in our lives besides our health do we regularly let the blind lead us? Why?