Harm In Excess: When “Healthy” Foods & Supplements Cause Disease
For decades we’ve seen how dietary dogma can lead us down the wrong nutritional path and possibly even set the stage for chronic disease…
- We were told to give up the yolks and eat egg whites only – at the cost of losing vital lipid-soluble vitamins A and E, and cancer-fighting choline.
- We were told to choose “lean” meats like skinless chicken breast and “low-fat” pork chops – at the expense of nourishing fats and youth-promoting collagen, found primarily in the skin and bone-in cuts.
- And of course, recent trends toward “plant-based” and vegan diets that trade nutrient-dense animal foods… for anti-nutrient rich plant foods.
Today, you’ll discover how consuming so-called “healthy” nutrients and foods in excess can cause painful symptoms and even disease. We’ll discuss why switching from dairy products to plant-based “milks” could cause painful consequences. And why eating in accord with Mother Nature is still your best bet to enjoy a health span that matches your life span!
The Consequences of Taking Nutrients Out of Their Evolutionary Context
Often, when we isolate nutrients, there can be unintended (and surprising!) health consequences.
The CARET study is one of the earliest and most profound examples. In this trial, researchers gave isolated beta-carotene to smokers in an attempt to reduce their risk of lung cancer. But the scientists – and the subjects of the study – were in for a big surprise!
Instead of reducing the risk for cancer, over the six-year follow-up period the female smokers who received the isolated nutrients were 35 to 40 percent more likely to develop lung cancer or to die of any cause than were women who did not receive the supplements.
We’ve long known that beta-carotene in its natural form can help protect against cancer. However, isolating this nutrient from the complex of carotenoids found in beta-carotene-rich foods caused a paradoxical reaction.
Similar results were seen in a large trial published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. In this case, the researchers found no benefit – and potential detriment – to taking certain isolated vitamin and mineral supplements and especially taking these supplements in excess, compared to the amounts found in foods.
In the study, selenium supplements were associated with skin cancer. Men who took vitamin E had an elevated risk for prostate cancer. And folic acid (in excess) increased the risk for colon cancer.
The lead researcher, Dr. Tim Byers, Director for Cancer Prevention at the University of Colorado Cancer Center cautions consumers that there may be “harm in excess”.
Almond Milk, Green Juices & Bok Choy: Plant-Based Cases for “Harm in Excess”
In a previous article, I shed light on how “healthy” green juices – made with “superfoods” like spinach and kale – can cause kidney stones due to high levels of oxalates. A study, published in The American Journal of Kidney Disease, reported a case of a woman, “who developed acute kidney injury that progressed to end-stage renal disease” as a direct result of following a “Green Smoothie Cleanse.”
Similarly, The New England Journal of Medicine recently pointed to the case of a woman who put herself into a hypothyroid coma by eating raw bok choy daily for several months (even though she previously had no previous history of thyroid disease). Bok choy, and other cruciferous vegetables, are goitrogens and can be harmful to those with a thyroid condition.
And almond milk – a wildly popular beverage category that continues to grow in popularity – may pose similar problems. In fact, the Journal of Pediatrics reports cases of children with painful urination (dysuria), bacteria in the urine (pyuria), and blood in their urine (hematuria), due to elevated levels of oxalates in their systems. The symptoms occurred when the children began consuming almond milk, instead of cow’s milk. When the children discontinued the almond milk and optimized hydration levels, the symptoms resolved.
As you can see with all of these examples, more is not always better.
Pick Mother Nature’s Perfect Packaging
By taking nutrients out of their evolutionary context, we can turn a cancer-fighter… into a cancer-causer.
Similarly, by bio-concentrating plant foods – as we do when we turn almonds into almond milk or condense pounds of veggies into juice – we also concentrate their anti-nutrients, potentially increasing the risk that these compounds carry.
But Mother Nature has a simple solution!
By choosing to eat nutrient-dense whole foods, in the reasonable amounts similar to those our ancestors consumed, we can alleviate much of the “harm in excess” risk. At the same time, we fortify our bodies with evolutionarily appropriate amounts – and forms – of the nutrients required for optimal health.
Here are a few ideas for creating “multivitamin meals” that provide your body with ample sources of nutrients in their proper forms (with limited amounts of anti-nutrients):
- Sautéed wild shrimp with garlic-butter sauce and arugula salad (Rich in selenium, vitamin A and glucosinolates)
- Greek grass-fed lamb burgers with fresh oregano and Paleo tzatziki sauce (Rich in zinc, vitamin A, vitamin B12, selenium)
- Grass-fed beef ribeye, sautéed broccoli and macadamia romesco sauce (Rich in selenium, zinc, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin C, niacin, riboflavin)
- Sautéed chicken livers with apples and onions (Rich in choline, vitamin A, vitamin B12, folate, niacin, vitamin B6)