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Still think you can get all your nutrients from food alone?

Written by Tom Nikkola - Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

There are still some people who believe you can get all the vitamins and minerals you need through food alone. A new study, published in The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition on June 10 challenges that notion, especially for those striving to lose weight.1 The new study reviewed the dietary recommendations in four popular diet plans to see how well they provided suggested intakes of important micronutrients. The diets included in the study were:

  • Atkins for Life diet
  • The South Beach Diet
  • The DASH diet (Sponsored by the National Institute of Health)
  • The Best Life Diet

The purpose of the study was not to critique any of the above diets based on their individual philosophies. Instead, it was simply designed to determine if people could achieve the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) of 27 vitamins and minerals. As you can see from the table below, the nutrition plans averaged to provide RDA levels of micronutrients for less than half of the 27 vitamins and minerals. In order to meet RDA levels or higher for ALL 27 nutrients, it required and average of almost 28,000 calories per day of food from the suggested nutrition plans! It is hard to imagine consuming such a ridiculous amount of food to achieve the RDAs. After further review, six micronutrients seemed to be difficult to find in the food supply and deficiencies were common among all of the nutrition plans. They included vitamin B7 (biotin), vitamin D, vitamin E, chromium, iodine and molybdenum. With those six nutrient removed from the calculations, the calorie requirements were recalculated to determine how much would be required to meet RDA levels of the remaining 21 nutrients. An average daily intake of 3475 calories per day was required, which is still well above a maintenance level of energy intake for the average individual. Also of interest was the fact that the NIH-sponsored DASH diet still required 5000 calories per day to achieve RDA levels of the 21 remaining nutrients.

Of course, the six nutrients that were taken out to help reduce the calorie requirements must still be consumed. Where do we get these from? Vitamin D levels could be met from sun exposure, but it is obvious that we are not getting close to enough vitamin D from the sun. Some estimates show that 70-80% of the population is deficient in vitamin D.2 For the rest of the micronutrients that are not met through diet, the only way to get them in seems to be through supplementation.

Diet Plan

Suggested Calorie Level

Number of Nutrients Meeting RDA at Suggested Calorie Level (of 27 Measured)

Calorie Level Required to Meet ALL 27 Micronutrients

Calorie Level Required to Meet 21 Most Common Micronutrients

Atkins for Life


12 (44.4%)



The South Beach Diet


6 (22.2%)





14 (51.9%)



The Best Life Diet


15 (56.6%)



     Average of diets


12 (43.5%)



*Adapted from JISSN article1

Why is it so hard?

There are pros and cons to each of the above nutrition plans, but each of them does have the intent to guide individuals toward higher-quality foods with more vitamins and minerals in them. Even so, they fall short of the RDAs. Vegetables, especially non-starchy vegetables should be a larger component of our food intake. Even when eating more vegetables and fruit, produce provides far less for nutrients than it once did, with the nutrients in farmland soils being depleted by 85% over the past 100 years.3 So, for those who do their best to eat 9-12 vegetable and fruit servings per day, they’ll still likely fall short on vitamins and minerals. The reality, though, is that few people meet those levels of intake. About 10% of the population meets a level of just five servings of vegetables and fruit each day.4

There is also a big difference between the minimal amount RDA levels, and optimal levels. While there is no “perfect” level for each individual, many nutrients should be taken in at levels higher than RDAs call for. This becomes especially important for those who begin exercising or are under other levels of stress, as stress and exercise increase the need and use of many vitamins and minerals. Stress, exercise, and other lifestyle factors can cause us to use up the micronutrients we have, and our food supply isn’t likely to replace what we need by itself.

Shopping for a Multivitamin

Just as you shouldn’t cut corners with the quality of food you eat, you shouldn’t cut corners with your nutritional supplements. One of the fastest ways to instantly increase the nutrient quality of your lifestyle is to start taking a high-quality multivitamin. Cheaper isn’t better though. A high-quality multivitamin should be about a dollar a day (about $1.75 per day for a high-quality multivitamin + omega-3 fatty acids), a small price to pay to ensure optimal levels of nutrients are consumed each day. Look for products that have separate morning and evening formulas as many vitamins support energy production, which is beneficial during the day and many of the minerals play a more supportive role for rest and recovery, which is beneficial at night. Some supplements are fine in tablet form, but vitamins and minerals are best taken in a capsule form, which will break down faster than a tablet and helps prevent the vitamins from being damaged during production of the supplement. Make sure your multivitamin is produced by a reputable company as well. Cheap prices often mean cheap ingredients, but it can also mean low-quality production practices. If the bottle doesn’t show who makes it, ask (Note: We’re proud to say that the Life Time Performance Multivitamins are manufactured by Douglas Labs).


The point of the study above was not to point out just the fact that these nutrition protocols came up short on RDAs. The reality is that just about anyone’s daily nutrition habits will come up short of meeting RDAs with food alone, and quite possibly far short of optimal levels of nutrient intake. There is no doubt that taking a multivitamin is beneficial. Unless an individual is taking medications that could cause negative reactions with multivitamins, the habit of taking your multivitamins and omega-3 fish oil every day could be the easiest, most impactful step you can take in improving your health and reducing the risk of future diseases.

In health,

Tom Nikkola


  1. Calton J. Prevalence of micronutrient deficiency in popular diet plans. JISSN. 2010;7:24
  2. Hyman, M. Vitamin D: Why You Are Probably NOT Getting Enough and How That Makes You Sick. The Huffington Post. May 22, 2010
  3. Marler JB, Wallin J. Human Health, the Nutritional Quality of Harvested Food and Sustainable Farming Systems. The Nutrition Security Institute.
  4. Medical News Today. Only 1 in 10 Get Their 5 A Day! UK Medical News Today online article (

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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