History can give context to understanding as to why a concept came into being. The concept that I am looking at today is the Recommended Daily Allowance [RDA]. This is a nutritional standard that was first developed by a committee of the US National Academy of Sciences at the beginning of World War II to investigate issues of nutrition that might “affect national defense”. During WW I, the ration standards for British solders was found not to be completely adequate to maintain health so in the years after the war, nutrition research became an active area of scientific inquiry and the official codification of uncovered ‘facts’.
Over the years these standards have been revised many times and now the most encompassing version in the U.S. is referred as Dietary Reference Intake [DRI]. According to the Wikipedia article linked above, the DRI is for the general public as well as professionals. The applications are:
- Composition of diets for schools, prisons, hospitals or nursing homes
- Industries developing new food stuffs
- Healthcare policy makers and public health officials
Notice that it is really oriented to institutions not individuals.
Twenty years ago the now familiar food Nutrition Facts label started to appear on all packaged food. This was seen as a consumer victory in the battle to know what was in manufactured food. Things like sodium, sugar, trans- and saturated fats could not be hidden lurking to undermine the health of an unsuspecting eater. Now, if one chose to read the label, all was revealed to inquiring minds. It is ironic that obesity and metabolic diseases which have a known strong connection to eating habits have skyrocketed since that time.
The standards for each and every recognized macro- and micro-nutrient determined to be worth knowing about, have now been given sanction by academic/governmental committees that have determined what ‘97.5% of healthy individuals’ need on a daily basis. This means that 25 people in 1000 that are not covered by those recommendations. Not enough to worry about, I suppose.
Obviously there are several flaws to this concept of sufficiency. All the nutrients mentioned are needed for health and there are without a doubt at least a few more. It is curious that needing them daily in a certain amount has never been proven. Various feeding trails have taken this fixed daily intake approach as a method suitable for study. The amounts of nutrients chosen to be tested are based on conjecture and statistical averages. Practically speaking, testing for all variations of all known nutrients would require an astronomically huge number of studies even if one used a very simplified paradigm. That would still not include synergisms of nutrients or various food types or the conditions of existence for different types of individuals.
Also there is generally no accounting for the form of the nutrient. Do you think that the chemical copper sulfate added to a highly processed boxed cereal is going to be as well assimilated and useful to the body as the same amount of copper found in an organic matrix such as beef liver or mussels? How about thiamine [vitamin B1] or any other common nutrient? Added chemicals are not the same as those bound in food but food labeling and many scientists pretend they are. It seems that it is not convenient to consider nutrients more deeply.
There are many distortions regarding nutrition. One of the most obvious regarding special interests is that the current RDA says that added sugar should not be more than 25% (!) of calories. A modest diet of 2400 calories per day could allow as much as 30 teaspoons of white sugar [150 grams (30 x 5 gm) x 4 calories/gm = 600 calories] and fall within the guideline. It is known that the food manufacturers strongly advocated for this figure after the originally proposed recommendations wanted to limit added sugars to not more than 5%. The question needing to be asked is whether these guidelines are to protect manufacturers’ profits or to insure the nutrition of people. Now researchers are uncovering new levels of impact:
“We were surprised to realize that changes in our metabolism caused by dietary sugar impact on our cancer risk. We are now investigating what other dietary components may influence our cancer risk. Changing diet is one of easiest prevention strategies that can potentially save a lot of suffering and money.” – http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130201100149.htm
Looked at more deeply, the purpose of something such as official nutrition standards is not really about health at all. It is about removing legal liability from those that choose to manufacture food to the lowest quality level that can be deemed sufficient. Something touted as a natural food or of premium quality might be a hair’s breadth higher in food value. Check out the labels on those healthy snack bars or fancy frozen entrees! If the government says it is ‘okay’ then a manufacturer is off the hook. Many industries including the food industry have learned from the mistakes of tobacco companies. Commercials featuring doctor-like actors did not protect them but the use of government-certified labeling that has the semblance of endorsement can create a veil of protection.
What do you really need?
Humans need real food not something that is simply called food by those more interesting in making money than providing a healthful product. Here’s a clue: Chemicals are not food. Think synthetic vitamins, minerals, flavors and other additives. Industrially-altered substances that were once food are not food either. Think white bromated wheat flour, white sugar made from sugar beets, corn syrup made from enzyme-treated corn mash or clarified vegetable oils that have been subjected to chemicals and heat. The body is hard pressed to process these sorts of things let alone build and maintain strong bodies in thousands of ways (not just 12 ways as with the once famous Wonder Bread).
Nowadays, many people find the idea of eating more fruits and vegetable appealing and are eating them more than ever before. While this is more beneficial than eating junk food, you can only derive so much benefit from eating vegetation. Minerals, vitamins and various phyto-nutrients are definitely healthful. The modest amounts of carbohydrate generally found in them are certainly better than carbs found in refined or manufactured sources. Of course, one has the faith that contaminants are kept to a minimum during their production in the field or orchard even if they are certified to be organically produced.
Interesting, there is no human need to ingest carbohydrates. The sugars glucose, fructose or sucrose (or others) or the numerous forms of polysaccharides commonly called starches are not a necessity in the diet. A healthy body can handle a modest amount of carbs in the diet. For some, though, more than a tiny amount is problematic due to chronic dysregulation of blood sugar
Protein and fats are the missing ingredients. They are essential not only in bulk amount but in the details of their components. There are a number of fatty acids found in various different foods in the form of fat. Some of them are critically essential for building structure in all cells and especially nerves and brain. Mono-unsaturated and saturated fats are used more for energy extraction. The poly-unsaturated fats (Omega-6 and Omega-3) in small amounts are structural parts of cells and for cellular signaling (eicosanoids).
Proteins in humans are compounded from 21 different amino acids. There are many thousands of unique proteins found in food as well as in our bodies. Each has its own ratio and sequence of different amino acids each in its own unique architecture. The digestive tract does, more or less, breakdown food protein into amino acids before assimilating them into the blood. To construct the body’s proteins we need a wide array of more or less all the amino acids to make, repair or replace proteins in the body. Essential amino acids cannot be created in the body. Even the so-called non-essential amino acids often cannot be manufactured sufficiently to fulfill all body requirements. This is not an option for health.
After accounting for water, we are made primarily of proteins and function by their energetic actions. Understanding the complexity regarding how this happens is still being uncovered. But we do know that tissues need to be renewed on an ongoing basis. If renewal does not happen on a timely basis then that is what is called aging.
Standards such as the RDA do not benefit people. It is an institutional concept that does little to shape what an individual chooses to eat. Is anybody tracking how much Vitamin A or iron they are getting in a day or sodium they are avoiding? This attempt to focus attention on individual nutrients that supposedly exist in a product is blatant mental manipulation. A concoction of chemicals and fractionated food stuffs are now seen as being on a level playing field with whole food. Manufacturers and retailers win and you lose.