I have had so many great questions from you all on my posts, Are you really eating a nutrient dense diet? and The Diet that Cures Cavities. It is hard to know which issues to address first. I decided to tackle the synergy of nutrients topic today. But before I go there I wanted to make two points. First, I don’t want to give the impression that I am a “know-it-all”. I am approaching this topic humbly because I know that not only is there so much more that we all can learn, I also know that I am still grabbling and weeding through just a small portion of the mountains of information out there on nutrition. Secondly, the reason that I am so excited about talking about this is because now that I am starting to feel better from my treatment for anemia, I am ready to do better in how I feed my family. I am not writing these in the vein of “everyone feel guilty because I am the perfect mom and feed my family nutrient dense food at every meal”. I am simply inviting you to join me in doing better, and making plans for that end. And I hope some of the resources we are working on behind the scene help you do that! I am so glad that my PDF of nutrient dense foods was helpful to so many of you. I can’t wait to share more.
Meanwhile, to get to the topic of the synergy of nutrients, Dr. Price was a firm believer that foods worked in a synergy together. One quote from his book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, “I have referred to the importance of high-vitamin butter for providing the fat-soluble activators to make possible the utilization of the minerals in foods”. In his lab results of the 14 healthy people groups, he noticed that there were a lot of the “activators”, as he called them. These included vitamin A, D and the “X” factor (which does not involve any singing, but is what we now know to be vitamin K2). Back home he came across people who ate mineral rich diets (like a diet full of calcium-rich milk), but seemed to not be absorbing those minerals. He believed that their diet was unbalanced in nutrients and it needed the co-factors from other foods for the body to properly absorb the minerals in the diet.
He was a firm believer in the use of cod liver oil. When unprocessed, like the Green Pastures fermented brand, it is a potent source of natural vitamin A and D. Yet, he felt that cod liver oil was not enough to make your diet rich enough in certain activators or nutrients, but that it needed to be one part of a nutrient dense diet. He also felt that it should be consumed in fairly low amounts, with other sorts of nutrient dense foods rounding out the diet and complementing the cod liver oil.
This rings true to me. I think about when I was in high school and was put on a couple of supplements. They were so basic and singular. Weak bones? You were given plain calcium. Low energy, Vitamin B12. Now, there seems to be more and more awareness that those nutrients can be useless unless some balancing co-factors are also in the diet or provided through the supplement. Now we see calcium supplements that have a variety of co-factors included, such as magnesium, vitamin K and D, and Boron.
Dr. Price believed that it was short-sighted to simply supplement a few nutrients that we knew were important because he took the practical viewpoint that there was so much more going on with our food and our bodies then we knew. I think that history has proven him right. We know so much about the body now – much more then in Dr. Price’s time – but we know so little at the same time. He was concerned that simply introducing nutrients via a supplement were inadequate to make up for a poor diet. “Clearly it is not possible to undertake to provide an adequate nutrition simply by reinforcing the diet with a few synthetic products which are known to represent certain of these nutritional factors”.
I think that science now recognizes this thought. I was lucky enough to notice a recent article on the Wise Traditions Journal, Beyond Good and Evil, that talked about just a few of these important synergies that happen between different nutrients. This article takes the stand that food (or nutrients) isn’t as simple as good and evil (such as meat = bad, vegetables = good). But rather a diet rich in a balance of these foods is vital for providing a healthy body. In this more scientifically backed article, we find that there is good reason to eat nourishing bone broths, eggs, livers, and meats, vegetables and whole grains together. The nutrients in this wide variety of foods provide needed individual vitamins and minerals that help them all work together in a good synergy for a healthy body. For example, the article points out that a diet full of lean protein could be harmful to the body unless it is balanced out by the needed nutrients from a wide variety of other foods.
Research that simply focuses on one item, like lean meats, and it’s effect on the body are going to be limited because what you are eating with that lean meat can make a huge difference in how your body processes it. The article goes on to explain how diets unbalanced with high vitamin A (in comparison to vitamin D) amounts can lead bone loss, while if you reverse it and have a diet (or supplement) with a lot of vitamin D without other vitamins (such as vitamin A) to balance it out, it can lead to stones in the kidney and bladder, and calcification of the blood vessels and aortal valves. In other words, getting a lot of certain “good” nutrients without the balance of other needed nutrients can equal bad health. The article also addresses the vast importance of magnesium in our diets, and how we need it vitally. The article ends with this thought:
“The human body is a biological system characterized by astounding complexity. Nutrients often cooperate with one another to produce vibrant health. Quite often when one or more nutrients are missing, others may appear to contribute to disease. Methionine from muscle meats may appear to contribute to disease, for example, when the B vitamins, choline, and glycine found in bones, skin, organ meats, egg yolks, legumes, and leafy greens are absent. Vitamins A and D may each appear to contribute to disease when the other is absent. In the absence of other nutrients such as magnesium, some nutrients such as vitamin D and calcium may simply fail to function at all. The complex biology that makes the human body tick may operate very differently in the context of a diet rich in magnesium than in the context of a diet poor in magnesium.
Nutrient-dense, traditionally balanced diets, however, provide all of these nutrients together so that they synergize with one another to nourish our bodies to health and protect them from harm. Rather than seeking dietary villains from among our most ancient traditional foods to blame for our most recent modern diseases, we should elaborate our understanding of how the many components within successful traditional diets work together to promote radiant and vibrant health.”
Read the article for the full picture on this important issue.
But the point is this. We can’t just supplement our way to good health, but we also can’t just eat a “clean diet” and expect to be well nourished. What we need is a diet rich in the wide variety of nutrients our bodies need to create healthy inner nourishment. We are learning more and more how that works, yet I am sure that there are co-factors in our food that lay undiscovered still. The article works to prove that the diet that Dr. Price used was an excellent source of the many variables needed for a healthy, body nourishing diet.
Two answer a couple of questions. My idea from looking at Dr. Price’s writing again recently was that I have often failed to get a wide variety of these foods together in the same meal. Does that mean that we have to get that large of a meal that Dr. Price had feed to malnourished in one meal or else it won’t do any good? No. However, he was a firm believer that getting those minerals and nutrients together in a meal was important. One mistake I can make is giving out cod liver oil to everyone right before bed, while Dr. Price felt it was best given with a meal, as the nutrients in that (and butter oil) were co-factors to the minerals in the meal.
In other words, if you look at the diet he gave of 1 pint of stew, 2 cups of milk, fruit, cod liver oil, butter oil and butter, whole grains, and juice, you might not need to get all of that quantity down at one time, but it may be true that getting all of those nutritional factors into one meal is important. For example, I can easily eat the 2 cups of stew at a meal, but I only have one cup of milk with the meal, and have the other cup later or earlier. The fruit dessert is sometime replaced with vegetables or eaten a little later. That’s how I am feeling about it now, at least. But I’d love to hear your thoughts on it!
In closing, the point is this: Food works in a synergy together, something that many native groups of people seemed to understand without knowing the “science” behind it. Dr. Price was ahead of his time in understanding that not simple isolated nutrients were going to be solution to prevent malnourishment, but rather a full, well-balanced diet of nutrient dense foods.