Some people following the Wheat Belly lifestyle have asked this question: “If I eat real, whole foods rich in nutrients, why do I need nutritional supplements?”
It’s a valid question. After all, after the phytates of grains are removed that previously prevented the absorption of magnesium, iron, zinc, and calcium, and healing of the gastrointestinal tract ensues with removal of the bowel toxins intrinsic to grains, nutritional status improves in most people. You can even track this by, for instance, measuring ferritin levels (that reflect iron stores in the body) and watching them climb over the months after rejecting all wheat and grains.
But there remain several important reasons why I believe that everyone needs to include the Wheat Belly collection of nutritional supplements. Among the reasons:
- Iodine–Foods will contain iodine only if they were sourced from the ocean or if they were grown in coastal soil. Most of the time, there is no way to know how much iodine your food contains. Iodine is also volatile, evaporating within days to weeks, often containing little to none by the time it reaches your kitchen table. This is not improved by avoiding wheat or grains, nor by choosing higher-quality foods, such as organic sources. So iodine deficiency remains among the most common deficiencies that persist with wheat/grain elimination. You could solve it by sharing (as primitive cultures did) the thyroid gland of animals you consume, but this is an impractical and unsavory solution to most modern people. Lastly, modern life means being exposed to halogenated chemicals containing fluorine, bromine, or chlorine. Iodine helps reduce the toxicity of such halogenated industrial chemicals (since iodine is likewise a halogen).
- Omega-3 fatty acids–Most of us fail to eat sufficient fatty fish to obtain enough EPA and DHA to raise RBC omega-3 blood levels to the fully protective range of 10% or greater and to blunt the after-meal (postprandial) rise in triglycerides and other digestive by-products that cause heart disease and stroke. This can only be obtained by eating fatty fish, taking fish oil capsules (never krill or flax/chia which do not provide sufficient EPA and DHA), or consuming the brains of land animals. Like consuming the thyroid gland, most modern people don’t like the idea of consuming animal brains. So fish oil capsules are our easy solution.
- Vitamin D–It is nearly impossible to obtain sufficient quantities of vitamin D from food, even if you eat plenty of mushrooms and liver. We are meant to obtain vitamin D via skin exposure to sun. Modern lives for many of us, however, mean wearing clothes outdoors, working indoors, and living in climates in which the intensity of the sun is insufficient for much of the year. Throw on top of this our diminishing ability to activate vitamin D as we age, particularly over age 40, and it means that your vitamin D sufficiency is much more assured through simple, inexpensive supplementation.
- Magnesium–While magnesium absorption does indeed improve after wheat/grain phytates are removed, modern food remains deficient in magnesium due to modern farming methods. Also, because most of us filter our water (or rely on municipalities that filter it for us), our drinking water contains virtually zero magnesium compared to the magnesium-rich water of, say, a running stream or river. Most people therefore remain magnesium deficient because of poor intake despite removal of grain phytates.
- Probiotics–Virtually everyone begins their Wheat Belly lifestyle with some degree of dysbiosis, or unhealthy distortions of bowel flora. If you have irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, for instance, you are guaranteed to have substantial dysbiosis. Modern people, even healthy slender people, compared to primitive people unexposed to grains, sugars, antibiotics, glyphosate and other herbicides, etc. have dramatically different bowel flora. We work to “seed” our intestinal tract with what we believe are desirable species shown to exert beneficial effects, such as Lactobacillus plantarum, with a high-potency probiotic containing many species. Doing so is anti-inflammatory and exerts beneficial metabolic and intestinal effects.
- Prebiotic fibers–Sustaining the growth of desired bowel flora species and suppressing the dominance of undesirable species (such as many clostridia species) means feeding your microbes. But they “eat” differently than we do; they consume fibers that are largely indigestible to us, or so-called “prebiotic fibers.” I hate to admit it, but consuming wheat and grains, while massively disruptive over numerous aspects of health, did provide a few benefits. Among them: the 3-4 grams of prebiotic fibers per day from the arabinoxylan and amylose in grains. (They explain, for instance, why there is an apparent health benefit of whole grains containing prebiotic fibers over white flour products.) Eliminating wheat and grains can thereby reduce your intake of prebiotic fibers by this quantity. We compensate by including rich non-grain sources of prebiotic fibers, while also increasing our total intake to further improve bowel flora and health.
- Iron, zinc–These are optional, as not everyone needs them as iron and zinc absorption improves over time. But some people begin with such serious levels of deficiency, e.g., iron deficiency anemia with fatigue or skin rashes and impaired immunity of low zinc levels, that supplementation for at least the first few months can be considered to accelerate recovery. (This is discussed further in the Wheat Belly Total Health book.)
What we are not doing is treating the deficiencies that develop with wheat/grain elimination, aside from the drop in prebiotic fiber intake. We do not have to increase our cellulose intake, nor our B vitamin intake. But, if total health is among your goals, we take these simple steps to treat the most common deficiencies, no matter how terrific your food choices.