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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals

Possible Concentrations of an Essential Element in the Diet

Why won’t the Nutrition Elite Treat us like Animals?

By Michael McBurney

When it comes to writing stories about nutrition, facts seem secondary (or even further down the list). Maybe controversy sells. Maybe rich people not only eat more expensive foods but they buy more books and magazines.

The food and supplement industry are not evil. Advances in agriculture and technology are feeding the world. Yesterday at the Arkansas Nutrition Conference sponsored by The Poultry Federation, I learned the efficiency of raising chickens (broilers), measured by feed conversion (adjusted to a 2300g bird), has improved by 15% over the past 14 years.  Selective breeding and improvements in poultry husbandry are continuing to improve production efficiency. The result  will be healthier chickens and cheaper meat and eggs.  Similar improvements are found across all agricultural sectors, including crops.

Food choices are cultural. When advising people to eat local fresh foods, we have to consider the impact in places like New York City, Shanghai, Mumbai, and Washington, DC. What proportion of the population (increasingly urban) can actually eat fresh, locally grown, organic foods 365 days of the year? Is it realistic, or sustainable, to feed everyone from the back of a farm vehicle at a local market? Who but the richest could afford these foods?

Dr Joanne Slavin, Professor at the University of Minnesota deftly addresses the contradiction between the views of  the ‘nutrition elite’ and food supply realities in Cereals Foods World.

Rather than celebrate the success of the US food supply system – the safest, most inexpensive food supply in the world – the nutrition elite continue to degrade it. All the talk is focused on “food deserts”, sustainability, and farmers’ markets. Although these are all important, they are not top-of-mind topics for the typical US consumer who is trying to get by on less money amid rising health care, food, and housing costs.

Food supply and availability do not equate to individual choices and healthier diets. While many believe a vegetarian diet is healthier, it is associated with a higher incidence of cancer, allergy and mental health disorders as well as lower BMI. Dietary pattern isn’t the driver of health. Study after study finds people avoiding enriched and fortified foods are at greater risk of vitamin and mineral deficiency.

Multivitamin supplements contribute to nutrient intakes and help fill nutrient gaps. Multivitamin use is most often part of a healthy lifestyle, including reduced risk of mortality among individuals with cancer.

As Dr David Allison said in his 2014 Atwater lecture, nutrition advice needs to be guided by science not food beliefs.  Nutrient insufficiency causes disease and dysfunction. Nutrition science is not advanced by a simple comparison of placebo versus multivitamin. Randomized controlled trials involving multivitamins need to be designed and executed appropriately. Nutritional guidance should not be based on reductionist summaries of placebo vs treatment multivitamin interventions without consideration of nutritional status.

Yesterday’s speakers at the Arkansas Nutrition Conference reminded me that nutritionists don’t feed domestic animals diets containing ‘just enough’ nutrients to prevent deficiency. No, nutritionists recommend nutrient intakes to support optimal growth and health in chickens, cows, pigs and other domestic species.

In human nutrition, nutrient requirements are primarily set ‘just high enough to prevent deficiency or to maintain function’. Why aren’t human recommendations more like those for animals?

Main Citation

Slavin J. The nutrition elite. 2014 Cereal Foods World doi: 10.1094/CFW-59-4-0212

Other Citations

Burkert NT, Muckenhuber J, Grobschadl F, Rasky E, Freidl W. Nutrition and health: The association between eating behavior and various health parameters: A matched sample study. 2014 PLoS ONE doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0088278

Fulgoni VL, Keast DR, Bailey RL, Johanna Dwyer. Foods, fortificants, and supplements: Where do Americans get their nutrients? 2011 J Nutr doi:10.3945/jn.111.142257

Weaver CM, Dwyer J, Fulgoni III VL, King JC, Leveille GA, MacDonald RS, Ordovas J, Schnakenber D. Processed foods: contributions to nutrition. 2014 AJCN doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.089284

Kwan ML, Greenlee H, Lee VS, Castillo A, Gunderson EP, Habel LA, Kushi LH, Sweeney C, Tam EK, Caan BJ. Multivitamin use and breast cancer outcomes in women with early-state breast cancer: the Life after Cancer Epidemiology study. 2011 Breast Cancer Res Treatment doi: 10.1007/s10549-011-1557-4

Wallace TC, McBurney M, Fulgoni VL. Multivitamin/mineral supplement contribution to micronutrient intakes in the United States, 2007-2010. 2014 J Am Coll Nutr doi: 10.1080/07315724.2013.846806

Dickinson A, MacKay D. Health habits and other characteristics of dietary supplement users: a review. 2014 Nutr J 13:14

Heaney RP. The nutrient problem. 2012 Nutr Rev doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2011.00469.x