This is a guest blog post by Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN
I was recently sent a copy of a new book, Naked Calories: How Micronutrients Can Maximize Weight Loss, Prevent Disease and Enhance Your Life. Here is my interview with the coauthors Mira and Jayson Calton, and additional commentary from a spokesperson of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Elisa Zied: What inspired you to write Naked Calories?
Mira: After being diagnosed with advanced osteoporosis at the age of thirty, I knew that I had to find out what had caused my bones to become so frail at such an early age. My condition became so debilitating that I had to quit work, sell my company and leave Manhattan to move to Florida where my sister could take of me. I was lucky enough, in my search for a natural remedy, to meet Jayson Calton, PhD—not only did we reverse my disease in only 2 years, but we fell in love as our passion to find a cure became a passion for each other.
Prior to this happening to me I never would have imagined how common micronutrient deficiency is. In fact, according to the USDA, more than 90 percent (nearly all) of Americans are deficient in achieving adequate amounts of their essential micronutrients from food alone. For example, only 7.6 percent of the population has an adequate intake of potassium. Additionally, only 13 percent are ingesting adequate levels of vitamin E. The data also states that more than seven out of ten Americans are deficient in achieving adequate intakes of calcium, and only approximately five out of ten are adequate in vitamin A, vitamin C, and magnesium. [z1]
After reversing my condition, we felt obligated to let people know that these chronic lifestyle conditions that are negatively affecting so many peoples lives, such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer and even obesity, can be prevented or reversed through becoming sufficient in our essential micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids (EFAs) and accessory micronutrients). We wrote Naked Calories to share what we had discovered with the world and provide the reader with a realistic and sustainable 3-step plan to create micronutrient sufficiency and ultimately optimal health.
EZ: What exactly are ‘Naked Calories’?
Jayson: Food has two primary components. First, there are calories, which are comprised of MACROnutrients such as protein, carbohydrates and fats—and secondly they contain MICROnutrients, which are vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids (EFAs) and other accessory micronutrients. Naked Calories are created when the MICROnutrients are somehow stripped away from the calories. This happens for a variety of different reasons:
- food processing,
- factory farming, and
- cooking methods.
This can leaves us with nutritionally impaired food, which we call “Naked Calories.”
EZ: Can you explain your “rich food, poor food” philosophy?
Mira: Our Rich Food, Poor Food philosophy advocates eating an abundance of micronutrient rich foods and avoiding micronutrient poor foods in order to achieve optimal health through micronutrient sufficiency. Think of it as a new-and-improved method of food swapping. Rather than choosing foods based on their fat, sodium or calorie content, we focus on the essential vitamins, minerals and EFAs in the food, and replace micronutrient-poor foods with micronutrient-rich food. Rich foods are natural, unprocessed, or minimally processed, high in micronutrient content, and help you increase your micronutrient sufficiency level. Poor foods are often highly processed and are low or void of micronutrients. These foods are full of naked calories and provide inadequate amounts of essential micronutrients to maintain health. Some poor foods, like sugar, can even rob our bodies of certain micronutrients, increasing the likelihood of micronutrient deficiency.
Our goal is to spread the message that processed, micronutrient-poor foods, filled with naked calories, are detrimental for everyone—no matter what dietary philosophy you may follow. Whether you are a vegan, vegetarian, low fat, Mediterranean, Paleo or low-carbohydrate dieter, following our rich food, poor food philosophy will help to maximize weight loss, prevent disease, and achieve optimal health.
EZ: Do you absolutely, positively believe every single person needs to take supplements? Why or why not?
Mira: We would love to tell you that a balanced diet of food alone will provide you with 100 percent of the RDI for your essential micronutrients and save you from the dire consequences of micronutrient deficiency. However, not one study has ever shown this to be true in a realistic and sustainable way. We want to be clear in stating that we believe food should always come first as the best way to get our essential micronutrients. However, in Naked Calories[z2] [z3] [z4] we reveal that study after study conclude that diets comprised of food alone do not provide micronutrient sufficiency. Even researchers from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics[z5] were unable to create a diet that was palatable within a reasonable calorie level using the foods available to people today that would supply the minimum level of essential vitamins and minerals needed to avoid deficiency diseases. Even at a calorie level of between 2200 – 2400 calories only 11 percent of the menus met the RDA for zinc. Half of the menus did not meet the RDA for vitamin B6 and one-third did not meet the RDA for iron. While we would never tell anyone that they have to supplement, for those who feel they may be falling short in their essential micronutrients we highly recommend supplementation as an insurance policy to fill in gaps and achieve micronutrient sufficiency.
EZ: In Naked Calories, you argue that micronutrient deficiency relates to chronic conditions such as excessive weight and obesity. Can you explain your assertion?
Jayson: We believe that micronutrient deficiency is the most widespread and dangerous health condition of the 21st century. Our research and the USDA’s published reports have lead us to believe that nearly 9 out of 10 Americans are deficient in their essential micronutrients to some extent. According to Mark Hyman MD, author of The Blood Sugar Solution, “a whopping 92 percent of us are deficient in one or more nutrients at the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) level.”[z6] Mehmet Oz, M.D., chooses these sad statistics in reporting on the prevalence of micronutrient deficiency: “A study of 3 million people revealed that less than 1 percent of the participants got enough essential vitamins from diet alone.” [z7] While some may only have slight deficiencies, millions of others are unknowingly suffering from severe micronutrient deficiencies. The danger with this is that over time these deficiencies can lead to life threatening chronic diseases like high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and cancer.
In Naked Calories we point out the connection between micronutrient deficiency and numerous chronic lifestyle diseases. One condition we focus on is overweight/obesity and ask the question, “Could micronutrient deficiency be the missing link in the fight against overweight/obesity?” Additionally, we share numerous scientific studies that show specific micronutrient deficiencies lead to food cravings, overeating and weight gain. It is our belief that individuals who are overweight may simply be biochemically more in tune with their body’s need for their required essential micronutrients and are trying to achieve micronutrient sufficiency the only way that their bodies know how—by eating more food.
EZ: What are your thoughts about current 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans? Do you support the guidelines or feel the government has missed the boat?
Mira: As far as the current guidelines are concerned, we have a hard time supporting the “anti-fat” approach, as some of the essential micronutrients are naturally found in higher fat foods. Additionally, while we both support people eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, we feel that the quality of the consumed foods needs to be examined more closely. For example, for us, canned apple sauce from pesticide sprayed apples, loaded with sugar and high fructose corn syrup, made from GMO corn does not constitute a smart choice for one of the five servings a day.
More education and attention needs to be paid to the quality of the food choices across the board, and more weight needs to be put behind the foods that are micronutrient rich and are able to deliver high levels of essential vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids, without delivering anti-nutrients such as sugar and high fructose corn syrup or pesticides, antibiotics and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
In the National Diet and Nutrition Survey carried out in Great Britain on behalf of their Food Standards Agency, UK residents were observed to determine if they were taking in enough micronutrients from food alone to maintain basic health. It was determined that every person was at risk for micronutrient deficiency to some degree.
Below is a commentary from Roberta Anding, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:
The authors of Naked Calories remind all of us that WE ARE eating overprocessed foods. As registered dietitians, we advocate a whole foods philosophy. However there are some claims that are difficult to substantiate with science. The claim that nearly all Americans have a micronutrient deficiency is not accurate. Clearly, the most prevalent nutrient deficiency found in the United States is vitamin D and prevalence numbers are ~ 2/3 of Americans have a vitamin D deficiency per NHANES.
A recent report in adults who tend to under consume calories, the elderly, indicates the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency is 84 percent of African Americans and 57% of whites. Additionally, other high-risk populations don’t indicate a prevalence of a nutrient deficiency of 100 percent. In a study of pregnant women who are at risk of iron deficiency, the prevalence was 18 percent.
There are calorie levels which reaching all nutrient adequacy becomes difficult. Intakes of less than 1200 calories per day, even with healthy choices, may place someone at risk of nutrient deficiency. I would agree that there are some “naked calories” to include high sugar and highly processed foods. Certainly some people can end up with nutrient deficiencies if the quality or the quantity of the food is reduced. For example, I have some eating disorder patients who only eat healthy food but end up deficient based on the low level of intake. I have also had patients who will drink large amounts of soda and consume adequate calories that are nutrient poor. But that doesn’t mean that the quality of the food supply is always suspect. Working with physically active men, I have found an increased risk of iron overload, so nutrient toxicity is also a concern
Naked Calories mixes encouragement of a whole foods approach with claims regarding nutrient deficiencies that can’t be backed up with science.