Tip: You're Overfed But Undernourished

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies in America are astonishingly high, with over 90% of us lacking in at least one mineral.

My tipping point was Vitamin Water. That's when I concluded that America was "over-vitaminized." But I should have expected it. Corporations had already "fortified" everything else, so why should I have been surprised that they did it to water, too?

But I may have reacted prematurely. Year after year, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) shows that America, while being corpulently overfed, is ridiculously undernourished. Thirty-one percent are at risk for at least one vitamin deficiency or anemia. Significant percentages are at risk of anemia or deficiency of two, three, or more vitamins.

In fact, the NHANES people concluded that "a low proportion of the U.S. population has an adequate diet." Apparently, putting vitamins or nutrients in chewing gum, chocolate milk, Rice Krispie bars, and yes, water, isn't a fix.

The NHANES people do widespread physical examinations and interviews to determine America's dietary status. Granted, any time you do an interview or use a questionnaire, you're going to get some implausible results. For instance, NHANES has often found that normal weight people eat more sugar than obese people.

You have to take info like that with a grain of sugar-glazed and deep-fried salt, though, because fat people are notorious for lying on questionnaires. They don't want you to know that the reason for their obesity might be related to poor food choices. Instead, they want you to think they were all slim-hipped Swedish boys and girls until they sassed a wizard who retaliated by putting a fat curse on them.

Regardless, the NHANES usually reveals what appears to be largely reliable info, and for the most part, it's a little scary:

  • 32% of Americans don't get enough B6.
  • 4% don't get enough vitamin E.
  • 3% don't get enough folate.
  • 95% don't get enough vitamin D.
  • 61% don't get enough magnesium (including 90% of teens).

And that's just a sampling of a long list of deficiencies.

Granted, these deficiencies are all based on government-determined RDAs (Recommended Dietary Allowances) or EARs (Estimated Average Requirements), so they don't take into consideration things like activity levels, chronic health problems, or how certain nutrients require the presence of others to be effective. In other words, the deficiencies could be much worse or more prevalent than their surveys indicated.

Likewise, certain nutrients don't have RDAs at all, which has probably led to a lack of awareness that's responsible for "deficiency rates" of 93%, 95%, and 97% for choline, fiber, and potassium, respectively.

There are several potential reasons for this dearth of vitamins:

  • Soil quality has gradually diminished due to modern farming methods.
  • Food allergies abound.
  • Heavy metal exposure limits the absorption and utilization of a number of nutrients.
  • Add to all that the siren call of incredibly delicious but nutrient poor foods that we preferentially select over healthy foods.

Particularly troubling are the statistics concerning magnesium. Given that a lot of the mineral is lost through sweat and that active individuals in general need more of it, can you think of a certain population near and dear to you that might need more magnesium? Yeah, I thought so.

Never mind that the mineral plays a role in over 300 biochemical reactions, not to mention keeping testosterone levels high, magnesium intake is also inversely related to arterial calcification. Adequate levels of magnesium keep calcium dissolved in the blood so that it can't "turn to rock" in your veins and arteries (or your kidneys, either, thus helping to prevent kidney stones).

If heart disease is America's number one killer, is it far-fetched to think that our chronically low magnesium intake is responsible for a good part of it?


There are several things you can do, though, to ensure adequate, or at least better, nutrient intake, many of which are common sense:

  • Eat organ meats whenever possible, as described in The Zombie Diet.
  • Eat nutrient dense whole foods and avoid those that come in a box or brightly colored packaging.
  • Get 15 minutes of sun twice a week (for vitamin D).
  • Consume organic vegetables and fruits when possible (as they're somewhat more likely to be more nutrient dense).
  • Take a magnesium supplement like ZMA® every day (given that its link to heart health is so compelling).
  • If you can't do any of the above things with any regularity, consider taking a multi-vitamin to cover your bases. (This is a last-choice recommendation).

The NHANES survey also revealed a surprisingly high incidence of anemia or iron deficiency in general. While most men shouldn't take iron supplements without a physician's consent (for fear of hemochromatosis), women, particularly those of reproductive age, might want to consider augmenting their iron intake.

One decidedly effective but old-fashioned way to do this is to buy an iron skillet from the Lodge company in Tennessee to prepare foods. Depending on what you make, the iron leeches into your food. For instance, cooking pasta sauce in an iron pan delivers about 5.77 mg of iron, compared to the 0.69 mg. you get when you cook it in a non-iron pan (the RDA for adult women is between 17 and 18.9 mg. per day).

  1. Bird JK et al. Risk of Deficiency in Multiple Concurrent Micronutrients in Children and Adults in the United States. Nutrients. 2017 Jun 24;9(7):655. PubMed.