Nutrition, Supplement, and Drug "Facts" Explained

TAGS: facts, JM Blakley, dietary science, myths, food, FDA, drugs, science, supplements, diet, Nutrition


Not all myths are bad... just most of them!

This is a giant can of worms. And it is another major constituent of recovery that everyone admits is crucially essential yet knows very little about. There is no possible way for me to do a modicum of justice to the topic in any formal way, but I have decided to throw you a bone. What I can do is to shine some light on some things that are often taken as gospel that might just warrant further mulling over. No aspect of physical culture is more rife with myth, misunderstanding, falsehoods, and fantasy than is the field of nutrition.

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There is a very good reason that there exists so much confusion to this day when it comes down to what to eat. That simple reason is money. There are vast numbers of people who have a vested interest in perpetuating any ideas that sell more of their product. Whether that is good for you or really, really, terribly bad for you has never stopped them.

A good example is cigarettes. There was a very active and insidious effort to keep the truth under wraps about tobacco and nicotine. Big companies did pretty much anything they could to keep the sales of cigarettes as high as they could. They even killed people. This I mean literally. People died because companies insisted on lying for no other reason than money. Just regular, everyday, normal money. That was the reason they facilitated some human beings' deaths. For money.

They did the normal things like advertising and marketing, but they did all sorts of other things, too. They falsified documents, test results, and scientific research. They stifled competing findings. They threatened doctors, nurses, researchers, salesmen, you name them — no one was off-limits, even the families of these people.

It was so bad that I find it hard to know what is true about it and what isn’t. If there wasn’t a “come to Jesus moment” when these bastards had to go to trial, it would be hard for me to believe any of it. Even with the trials, it was hard to believe that nobody went to prison! Remember people were dying! Lots of people!

My point is that the tobacco industry is not the exception. They just got caught. I was duped by the Lipid Hypothesis when I was in school. The vegetable oil industry did much the same in the ‘70s concerning saturated and unsaturated fats. All of a sudden money could be made extracting oils from plants, so animal fats were demonized. It boggles how we all fell for this because the general health of people prior to the advent of vegetable oils taking over was certainly considered superior to those years (up to today, even following).

Although there are conflating reasons for general health to be sure, the villain was made clear to us, and just as readily, the hero: Down with animal fat! Vegetable oils to the rescue! I say this to point out my own folly and ability to be deceived. None of us are exempt. Science is our best choice for facts, but if we can’t trust science then, who can we trust?

Well, I have an answer for that. We have to trust ourselves and rely more on common sense. We cannot do our own research on everything out there on every subject. We have to do some trusting at some point. Even though I have been duped by the Lipid Hypothesis, I was not duped by science. No, it was bad scientists and greed that led me astray. And in every case, they did it for money.

Science works, and it remains our best hope. We must not turn tail because some unscrupulous people have misused their position and influence. Pick up and brush off, friends. You don’t swear off women because of a nasty divorce. Marriage, maybe… but beautiful women... hardly!

The solution? We must be more vigilant and picky. We must be more careful. The more important the subject is, the more skeptical we should become. If you have a shellfish allergy that makes you sneeze a bit, you don’t have to interrogate the waiter like in a dragnet episode. But if you are susceptible to anaphylactic shock, you will be much more interested in the answers to your questions about food prep in the kitchen, the restaurant in general, the entire menu, and perhaps the chef, etc., etc. The more it matters, the less you can just take someone’s word for it.

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I’m saying that for things that matter to you, you put in the time and energy to make sure. As sure as you can make yourself. There are no guarantees and no 100 percent bets. But if you really give a damn, you do the best you can. In the end, you must satisfy yourself. But here is a sad thing about human nature. We often stop our investigation and suspend doubt as soon as we get the answer we wanted in the first place, even when we have done no semblance of a thorough inquiry.

It is pathetic how weak and little the evidence needs to be when we want to believe something. It doesn't take much convincing when we want things to be a certain way. Many people will stop looking at the facts if they can. It’s like believing a coin always comes up heads and “testing “ it out. If the first toss is heads, they are done! Proof positive! They won't dare take another gamble on a second flip when they got the result they wanted to believe. Heads it is every time! I checked it once!

Keep this in mind. You ultimately are responsible for what you choose to accept as truth. I’m telling you that if it is really important to you, you have got to do some research and hard thinking. Maybe I should say thorough thinking instead. Because what I'm really talking about is using your common sense, in the end, to evaluate the facts as you know them and decide for yourself if they add up to you or not.

We can't be experts in everything we care about. But we can ask more questions, read up, and think things through. Sure, some true things are antithetical and counterintuitive, but most aren’t. My point is to hone your common sense and apply it often. I really think that's the best any of us can do. When it comes to things you put in your own mouth and swallow, it is the least you can do for yourself.

People who sell shit are not going to make it easy for you. That is why there are so many and so varied an array of crazy (bat-shit crazy) diets out there because somebody wants nutrition to work that way.

Sadly, religions fall into this same set. Think about this: If our bodies are mostly the same (no matter what they told you, we are made out of the same stuff in more or less the same way), then there should be a diet that is prudent for everyone. Much the same way, if there is one God, there should be one prudent way to commune with Her. But what do we see? Lots of competing religions and lots of competing dietary advice. Make no mistake, I think people (as relates to their personalities) are very different emotionally and mentally.

But physically, we differ in about one-tenth of a percent genetically. That’s less between the entire species of humans on the planet than between any randomly chosen group of 12 chimps. I’m saying that physically any 12 chimps (our closest relatives at 99 percent overlap) have more differences between them than everybody — more differences than between you and any other human on this planet (over 7 billion). One set of dietary guidelines should suit us physically.

Ah, but what about mentally? Apparently not! That's where I completely agree that we all differ. And that difference shows up in some strange places, like religions and diets. Note here that both are beliefs more than facts (not science-based nutrition, but rather the diet industry version of nutrition). This is a long way to go to try to show you a point about omnivorism.

Myth 1

Here is the first myth that I will take issue with: For a human to be wildly successful, the diet he eats is almost incomprehensibly important. Well… it is not. Sorry kids, what you eat on any given day (and more absurdly on any given hour in juxtaposition to some special event, like training) is not as important as the people who sell foods and supplements would like you to believe. Blame evolution, not me. I'm just the messenger. But it shouldn't really rock your world if you take a minute to think this through.

The reason that what you eat day today is of a much lower consequence than you currently adhere to is the simple fact of omnivorism. You see, in nature, there are classes of consumers. Herbivores only consume plants and vegetation and plant products like fruit. Carnivores only consume animals (meats and organs). But omnivores eat everything, both plants and animals and even some non-foods (pica). The fact to reconcile with is that humans are omnivorous. We can eat bugs, fish, birds, mammals, plants, seeds, nuts, worms, and even other humans and thrive. The word that I want you to dwell on from the last sentence is thrive.

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The wonderful truth about human resilience and evolution is that we are adapted to be able to live anywhere on the planet because we can eat and thrive on whatever food is there geographically. Humans have proven this to be the case by being the only higher evolved species to inhabit every environment in the world, from dry deserts, to rainforests, to the freezing cold Arctic Circle. If we live by the sea, we eat fish and shellfish. If we live in the arctic, we eat seals and whale blubber. If we live in the forest, we eat plants and bugs and berries. Our physiology has evolved to be able to not only sustain us to survive on just about any food that is edible but to thrive and prosper doing so.

You and I don't see this in the modern white man’s world. You can look in your kitchen and estimate how far away everything in there has come from where it was produced.

As an intellectual experiment, before you go in and look at things you have in your fridge and pantry, take a guess at the average distance the stuff you plan on eating in the near future has traveled to be a guest at your table and to feed your life. Do this or the truth will be easier for you to miss. Really do it, just guess.

Now write that number (in miles) down. If you have a backyard garden, good for you! You can count your tomatoes as one mile in your estimation.

What did you guess? The truth is that no matter which study you choose as definitive, it is a long way! Just six miles short of 1,500 miles on average. Your potato may have come from Idaho, but how far away is New Zealand where that kiwi came from? Average those together. Got a few bananas on hand? They didn’t come from this country! Even your steak was most likely from a country like Argentina or a similar place.

The fact that your local grocer has assembled all of these wonderful items for you just around the corner is what blinds you to the geography of food production. This is why you have trouble seeing my point about omnivorism.

But thinking one step further, it proves my point: The fact that you have food from literally around the whole world shows the immense variety with which you partake, and from a biological stance, can partake of to advantage. Food from all over the world is good for you! Omnivore.

What is difficult to see is that if you were reduced by some twist of fate to eat only what can be obtained locally. you would be just fine. If I transplanted you to Japan in the mountains, you would be fine. Alaska? Yes, just fine. A tropical island? Yeah. Fine.

Remember all of those novels based on real people doing just fine after being shipwrecked? You might not like it, but there is plenty to eat because you are not a fucking panda bear! You have a diet that consists of more than one item! Koalas are in for hard times should the eucalyptus tree not survive global temperature rising.

But you can just eat something else! I don't like fish. But if I were stranded for years on the Atlantic Ocean in a lifeboat (true story, it happened to a guy) I would eat them! Being stranded in a lifeboat is extreme and thriving is not on the playlist. But in this case surviving is acceptable, don't you think?

With the entire world of food around us, it is easy to think that this is normal. Well, sweetpea, it is certainly not! Most of humanity doesn’t share this opportunity whatsoever. But they do quite well. They eat what they find, grow, scavenge, or create. Locally. Yes, you have the world’s farms right down at the Walmart, but you don’t need that. Oh, God, it is to your advantage! But all those choices and options are not required. You would do very well with far less.

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Supplement facts, Closeup of a bottle of vitamins

lecic ©

As a side note here, I must tell you that when you have it available, a diet that is rich in variety is amazingly healthy. My advice is to eat a variety of foods. But they have fooled you into thinking that you must eat everything and everything.

There are only six nutrients in human nutrition. They are:

  1.     Protein
  2.     Fat
  3.     Carbohydrates
  4.     Water
  5.     Vitamins
  6.     Minerals

That is the entire list. There is nothing else to eat. Everything you consume is some combination of those six nutrients. I would be remiss if I didn't advocate variety.

But the six options are a far cry from what you seem to face in a modern grocery store. That is not for your benefit or health; it is to make money at your expense. Remember I said you can get complete nutrition from a local farm: meat, eggs, veggies, and fruit. They can grow it all right in your neighborhood. More accurately, we could, if you and I had not forgotten how!

The point you must come to is that as an omnivore, you can eat just about anything and do well. You don't have to thank me. Thank your ancestors who went through the survival of the fittest. They endowed us all with this capacity. You can go days without meat or protein. You’ll just get some in a short while. The days you missed won’t kill you!

To hear some lifters talk about protein you would think they meant to say water! Water is the only nutrient that is on this short of a leash. Water you can’t screw around with. But all of the other nutrients are pretty much labile. That means if you don’t get enough for one day (or month) and you get some within a reasonable time frame, you will be just fine. No need to panic. The amazing variety we enjoy just makes this built-in safety net not so necessary.

Myths 2 and 3 

The second myth is that there are special foods or a special combination of foods that you must eat. If anyone claims that there are, I will bet you right at this moment that they also are in possession of such foods or knowledge that you may have at a very low, low, special fee! In other words, they make the claim then offer you the solution at a price.

It doesn’t matter that much what you eat. As long as you eventually get around to the six nutrients in a reasonable time, you’ll be OK. This means you can relax a bit about it all, omnivore.

What this also means is that you can take a deep breath and stop wasting your money on special foods and supplements. They aren't necessary, and they won’t even help any. Again, I won't argue this. Science has argued for me. If you are low on Vitamin B12 (and some athletes are), then a shot or two can help quite a bit. But if you have normal levels of Vitamin B12, then taking extra to try to be extra healthy doesn't work.

You don't respond by getting any healthier than normal. You just go back to normal. You piss out the extra Vitamin B12. You can buy considerable amounts and piss it all away before you actually get too much of it. In fact, it is so rare to not be able to piss away all the excess you care to purchase and waste that when I was in school they taught us that you could take all you wanted and the body would just get rid of all of it no problem.

Well, they didn't count on the extremism of the bodybuilding culture, now, did they? It seems that the insanity of the American extremist is only overshadowed by normal bodybuilding extremist practice, where extreme is only the starting point. Turns out if bodybuilders think that extra B12 can help them get bigger, they will take so much that they have sometimes hospitalized themselves. But I'm sure that comes as no surprise to you.

I’m optioning you to cut it out. Not take less — don't take any. Unless, of course, your blood work comes back and indicates you are low. If you have normal amounts, you won't help things by overdoing it. You probably won't hurt yourself (probably), but I don't know how fanatical you are. So don't count on that.

The truth is that you don't need or want the shit they tell you to buy. So let me recap the last ideas for you. You are an omnivore and there are no special foods. You don't need extra vitamins or supplements. To simplify... just eat normal foods, not supplements.

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My dietary advice is to eat food. Radical, perhaps. But it’s science — as solid as it gets.

If my position on supplements is still fuzzy to you...

As a cautionary tale, allow me to underline the foolishness of buying supplements. First, they are a complete waste of money. But if that were not sufficient for the less intelligent (don't get it) or more financially well off (don’t care, got money to burn) among you, let me worry you a little!

I will say this once, no caps and no italics because it is stand-alone important: The supplement industry is wholly and totally unregulated.

This means there is absolutely no one checking up on them or their products. They can claim to put anything in there in any amount, but the label does not have to match what they actually put inside. I can understand if you have trouble processing that concept. It doesn't seem possible. They can say they have 45 grams of whey protein in the can but it can legally be nothing but talc. They can say they have added Vitamin C or a proprietary blend of stimulants, and it is legal for them to leave it out. What I’m telling you is that the label can say anything at all and the contents can, by no breach of law, be nothing even resembling that. If you can't believe it, check the laws made up by Senator Orrin Hatch. I understand why you don’t want to live in that kind of America... I’m just telling you, you do! No matter what you believe is actually in your supplement container, Senator Hatch has fashioned the law to allow them to put absolutely anything in there instead.

The point is that even if supplements did do what you wished they did, there is no one watching (by law) to make sure what you get what you paid for. The FDA has people dying from tainted tomatoes and lettuce all the time. They really are not concerned with what the bodybuilding and workout community is doing to rip each other off. As long as nobody is getting sick or killed (which has yet to occur), they wouldn't worry about supplements even if the law didn’t protect the companies.

Now, from this moment forward if you continue to buy supplements, you have fallen back into the Dark Ages and you just as well could make a burnt offering sacrifice to the gods for muscle development. At least there is no standing law that allows the gods to cheat you directly.

The supplement companies make more money by not buying expensive additives and just filling the cans with talcum powder. Ask any heroin dealer if the shit they get goes out cut or uncut. Ask if they think it comes to them without being cut. That's just good business! Do you have the kind of trust in big companies to not pull the same exact business move? I don't because they just don't care about you.

The saddest thing is that since the supplement has no effects anyway, you can't tell if it is the real product or nothing at all. Because the normal effect is nothing, a fake product will still appear as nothing! The irrational belief that your supplement is working for you will not be tarnished in any way should the manufacturers put in a fake powder. You will never know! Any and all perceived effect has been a placebo. If you don't know what the placebo and nocebo effects are and how they work on the human mind and body, then you have some reading to do. Testimonials and promises aside, if there were a chemical that really had such a tremendous physiological effect, do you really think it would still be on the market as nothing more than a supplement sold in health food stores? No! It would be sold as a drug by the pharmaceutical companies, you idiot! Have you not learned anything yet? It’s all about money! Money, money, money!

By the way, you’re welcome! I have no idea how much money I have saved you, but it probably wasn't zero. Remember I said this: Top athletes never use supplements, only drugs. If you are so big on putting shit into your body made in a lab and put into pills in huge unnatural quantities, save up for some drugs. If you think you have a reasonable explanation of why these two things are not the same, you don't want to have that discussion with me. I will destroy you with logic and reason. You have no hope because it is a crime against logic to believe so.

Before you think you have a leg to stand on, I'll let you ponder some facts. First, the body only recognizes chemistry and chemicals. The words “drug” and “food” mean nothing to the body because it only sees chemicals. Foods, as well as drugs, are just chemicals after all. There is a reason that the Food and Drug Administration (emphasis on the "and Drug") is a body that concerns itself with blood pressure medicine and broccoli.

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Get it yet? Food and medicine are the same to the body in that they are chemicals and the body is mostly concerned with their molecular shape. They are made up of mostly organic compounds consisting largely of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. The body knows its shape and atomic makeup. Not the names we have given them.

Second, if you are about to offer some lame explanation between man-made and natural you can forfeit right away. Let me be clear. There is no difference. If you can't see that humankind is natural and part of nature, then you miss the reality. You cannot reasonably separate man from nature any more easily than excluding mice or beavers. We are all natural. Trying to separate ourselves from the natural world is a disguised effort to elevate ourselves above it. This is folly.

If a man builds a house you call it man-made, not natural. But if a bird builds a nest or a beaver builds a dam or a spider builds a web, you call them natural. Why then if a human builds a home, is it no longer natural? Is the bird’s nest natural... or would you rather call it bird-made? The beaver’s dam beaver-made? Why single out man and what he builds to be outside of nature? A beaver builds a house from wood. Natural. A bird builds a nest from wood. Natural. Man builds a house from wood. Is it natural or man-made? Natural! I can assure you that man is not outside of nature.

This may take you a few go-arounds to see and accept. But if man makes a toxic chemical by the means he has then, it is no different than a snake making a toxic chemical by the means it has, which is to say... natural. My point is that any attempt to argue on the grounds that some chemicals are natural and some not is absurd and must be thrown out of the discussion. You'll have to do better than that.

I'll stop there, but please do continue on your own thought threads. Further exploration will only strengthen my point, and that point is that when you simplify things, you see clearly. Seeing the world of foods and drugs and supplements and plastics and metals and on and on can and is useful to help us deal with things by categorization. But it can only be understood abstractly.

Drug is just a word. It is not a molecule. The mind deals in words and language, but the body deals in molecules no matter what you've named them. Calling alcohol a drug does not change its effect on the body any more than calling it hard apple cider. The body responds to the chemistry, not the name we have given it. When you see this simple biological view of nutrition, you see clearly.

Non-Proprietary Medicine Prescription Bottle and Spilled Pills Isolated on a White Background.

feverpitched  ©

So, to bring this home, it is a fool's errand to try to explain why taking supplements is different from taking drugs for the reasons of enhancing growth. In both cases, you are choosing to ingest copious amounts of a chemical that your own body did not produce with the express reason of growing muscle beyond normal expectations. There is the real kicker right there, isn't it? You want to go beyond normal, beyond natural! It is you who are aiming for the unnatural, my friend! You want an unnatural level of strength and an unnatural level of muscular development. Am I off base here? I think not!

So please spare me your hypocrisy about supplement-taking and drug-taking! To the body and to your own aims, they are synonymous! No different. Either come to grips or shut up. It is perfectly fine to have limits on what you choose to engage in or not. That is fine. But for Christ’s sake, don't fool yourself into thinking you’re on some moral high ground because you don’t take amphetamines but do chug down coffee. You hide your addiction to stimulants to behind because you call it a natural pre-workout and not what the body sees it as, which is another parlance would be known as caffeine, or scientifically and most properly, trimethylxanthine. You are not fooling anyone except yourself and other hypocrites like you. Certainly not me and honest people like me.

And if you have some last-ditch argument about the illegality of drugs and the legality of supplements, I will only remind you that those distinctions have nothing to do with toxicity or danger or chemistry or anything other than political and social caprice. I have only to remind you of this country’s fickle nature about the legality of chemicals.

There was a prohibition of alcohol for a decade, and then there was a repeal of that ban. The chemical nature of alcohol remained the same, but our laws about it bounced around like a rubber ball. Nothing about the ban really had any basis in chemistry, or even morality, for that matter. It was morally fine for centuries, then suddenly it became illegal, and within a short decade, it was magically transformed back into something we decided we could and should live with after all.

If that kind of wavering baseless moral compass is what you want to argue with to explain the “difference” between supplements and drugs, then you be my guest. You will topple faster than a house of cards in a tornado. Let me remind you of some other laws used to condone poor ideas:

  • Women could not legally vote under the constitution until 1920
  • We had legal slavery where one man could legally own another for the majority of our country’s existence
  • Abortions were not legal until recently
  • It was illegal in most states to receive a blowjob

If you still want to use the current state of the fickle and easily changed law as your argument, you should reconsider and come up with something sturdier.

You can choose to take supplements if you have lots of extra cash you just don't seem to be able to get rid of. But they won’t help, and they just might have something in them that hurts you. No one knows because no one cares enough about supplements to even look.

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My comment about taking the money you save on supplements and spending it on drugs was neither an endorsement for drugs nor my advice. It was a practical thought experiment. It was to have you think over WHY you take supplements and why or why not drugs. It was an attempt for you to examine your motives. If one has zero merit and the other has some value, then they don't equivocate. Think about why you do or do not do the things you choose, then, by all means, do what you choose!

Somewhere in this is the circus of nutrition. The clearest way to see things is through chemistry. This simplifies greatly the entire issue. This also helps you cut through the bullshit. Lousy training routines at least help somewhat. But lousy dietary advice can actually hurt. That is why step one of getting you to understand nutrition was to attempt to de-escalate its importance and to free up some brain space to deal with things on a clearer and simpler level. We need to pitch the supplements and the whole industry and get back to the simplicity of the body chemistry. Food and food alone is your answer.

Myths 2 and 3, supplements and drugs attended to. Check. Let’s move on.

I have you jumping through some hoops right now, I’m aware, but it will pay off. You must think through these things on your own and come to a place you can abide. I’m telling you what to mull over, not where to end up. But you will be better off the simpler you see things. Try for that.

I’m well aware that this first installment about nutrition was far from anything you were expecting. You may have been expecting a list of super foods or a Golden Ratio of macronutrients. I’m sorry to disappoint you then.

But ask yourself this: has any of that kind of bullshit ever once helped you in the past? Hmm... Maybe? Probably not.

Hold the line. We will get there. Well, sort of. And it is my hope that when we do, you will be in a position to make food choices for yourself. But that is going to take a hell of a lot more thinking for yourself than the amount needed to look at a menu and buy the items at the store and follow the directions. I don't do that.

If you don't want to think, buy an online diet that might work. But if you want to understand, you are going to have to ride this out with me. This part of recovery is not as hard to master as the others.

But you must be dispossessed of your misconceptions first. Myths must give way to facts; hopes to logic; and blind faith to reason and thinking on your own. You can turn back anytime you wish. But you already know where that road leads, don't you?

In-between now and when you read the next installment about nutrition, do some reading or ask a person who knows what the difference between starch, sugar, and glycogen is. Go as deep as you want but make sure you understand. Do this on your own initiative. Find out. Think of it as homework. If you don't do it, you will fall behind the rest of us! We have a long way to go!

Header image credit: alexskopje ©

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