We do a lot of talking about what’s in our food. We talk about calories. We talk about protein and carbs and fat. We talk about additives and preservatives, artificial colors and flavors. We talk a lot about added sugar and high fructose corn syrup. We talk about GMOS and pesticide residues. What we don’t talk so much about is what’s not in our food. And we should.
The food we eat today is a different thing than the food we ate 50 years ago. And I don’t mean just the hyper-processed junk that passes for food for so many of us. I’m talking about the real food — the fruits and vegetables, the meat and dairy, the grains. What we’re eating today is fundamentally different than what our grandparents or even our parents ate. It is, in a word, not nearly as nutritious as it used to be.
Multiple studies have documented this disturbing fact. One of the most notable came from the University of Texas back in 2004, and it found frightening declines in the levels of some key nutrients including calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin, and vitamin C along with protein. It only looked at 13 nutrients, but other studies have shown that such declines probably occur across the board.
Consider this: you would have to eat eight modern-day oranges to get the amount of vitamin C in just one 1950-era orange. In real-world terms this means that most of us today are probably deficient in multiple vitamins and minerals. And as much as Big Pharma would like to deny it, nutritional deficiencies may be a driving factor behind some of our most problematic health issues.
Supplementing with this mineral can shrink your waist
The Western world — and the U.S. in particular — eats a diet that is very heavy in refined grains. These are some of the most nutrient-poor foods out there. Researchers at the University of Beirut, in Lebanon, speculated that the lack of nutrients, particularly phosphorus, in so many grain-based diet staples might be one of the causes behind our soaring rate of obesity. (Previous studies have linked phosphorus deficiency to weight gain.) To test the theory, they supplemented the diets of overweight volunteers with 375 mg of phosphorus at each main meal.
The results were striking. Study participants who received phosphorus stopped gaining weight. In fact, they lost some weight.
The placebo group gained weight.
The phosphorus group saw their BMI decrease and their waists shrink significantly. They also reported feeling fuller faster. They snacked less. They ate less food overall. They even stated that food actually tasted better to them. The study ran for 12 weeks, and when it ended the control group had gained over a pound on average. The supplement group, however, had lost about half a pound — without changing their eating habits or their exercise levels. Even more importantly, they’d lost nearly 4 centimeters around their waists.
This suggests that when it comes to the question of obesity, science may be overlooking the obvious. Instead of just looking at what’s in our food and how much we’re eating, we also need to look at what’s not in our food.
Our bodies are missing vital nutrients. Is that why we’re eating more?
There’s no doubt that the average, sedentary person eats more calories each day than they need. This issue is the elephant in the room each time we talk about weight and weight loss. It’s a simple fact — most of us, even those who try to eat healthy, eat way too much. The question is: why? Why do we eat more than we need? Is it poor judgement of portion size? Boredom? Habit? An inability to gauge how many calories are in each serving?
I suggest that it’s more than that. Maybe we’re eating more because we need twice — or in the case of oranges, eight times — as much food to get the nutrients we need. If we’re not getting the nutrition we need from our diets, our bodies will prompt us to eat more in an attempt to fill in the gaps. When we do get the nutrients we need, we eat less. The Beirut study certainly suggests this may be true.
The reliance on nutrient-poor grains has hurt our health in innumerable ways. And the demonization of animal products has been equally harmful. Meat and dairy are sources of concentrated doses of many vital nutrients, and cutting them from our diets has left a large gap to be filled. Refined grains are low-quality calories that offer minimal nutrition. When combined with the across-the-board decrease in nutrient levels in modern food, is it any wonder that our bodies are desperate for real nutrition?
Phosphorus helps your body use other nutrients
Phosphorus is important for strong bones and teeth, and low phosphorus levels may lead to osteoporosis. It’s vital to tissue growth and repair. And it helps your body balance and use other nutrients including vitamin D, iodine, and zinc.
Good sources of phosphorus include:
Dairy products. 8 ounces of yogurt has a whopping 385 mg of phosphorus, and a cup of milk has 247.
Fish. A 3-oz serving of halibut or salmon has about 250 mg, and most other fish are also high in phosphorus.
Meat — especially beef and turkey. A 3-oz serving of either of these has about 200 mg, while chicken has slightly less. Phosphorus from meat is the most readily absorbed by your body.
Phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium go hand in hand. The more calcium you take in, the more phosphorus you need. And even if you’re getting enough phosphorus, if your magnesium levels are too low your body may not be able to use it. Dairy products — especially yogurt — are good sources of calcium, as are leafy greens like spinach. Not surprisingly, they’re also good sources of magnesium.
The Beirut study was compelling. It suggests that adequate phosphorus levels may be an important component in maintaining a healthy weight and in particular in avoiding belly fat. You don’t need to take a phosphorus supplement, however, to get enough of this mineral in your diet. Making whole-food animal products and leafy greens part of your diet should ensure adequate levels.