Chris Kresser – The Importance of Nutrient Density

Content by: Chris Kresser

Watch the full interview below or listen to the full episode on your iPhone HERE.


This week, I’m excited to welcome Chris Kresser back to the podcast. Chris is a leader in functional medicine and ancestral health, a New York Times bestselling author and the creator of one of the world’s most respected natural health websites. In this episode, we discuss the importance of nutrient density, including deficiencies, accurate ways to measure, and supplementation. Over to Chris…

Audio Version

Some questions asked during this episode:

  • Is nutrient deficiency common these days if following a ‘healthy diet’?
  • What is the most accurate method to measure our nutrient profile?
  • What are the most common deficiencies?

Get more of Chris Kresser:

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My Formula For a Long & Happy Life – With Paleo & Primal Expert Mark Sisson
Dr Steven Gundry – Understanding & Addressing Low Energy
Dr Christiane Northrup – Unlocking the Key To Vibrant Health

The views expressed on this podcast are the personal views of the host and guest speakers and not the views of Bega Cheese Limited or 180 Nutrition Pty Ltd. In addition, the views expressed should not be taken or relied upon as medical advice. Listeners should speak to their doctor to obtain medical advice.

Disclaimer: The transcript below has not been proofread and some words may be mis-transcribed.

Full Transcript



Hey, this is Stu from 180 Nutrition, and welcome to another episode of the Health Sessions. It’s here that we connect with the world’s best experts in health, wellness, and human performance in an attempt to cut through the confusion around what it actually takes to achieve a long-lasting health. Now I’m sure that’s something that we all strive to have. I certainly do. Before we get into the show today, you might not know that we make products too. That’s right, we’re into whole Food nutrition and have a range of super foods and natural supplements to help support your day. If you are curious, want to find out more, just jump over to our website. That is and take a look. Okay, back to the show.



This week, I’m excited to welcome Chris Kresser back to the podcast. Chris is a leader in functional medicine and ancestral health.


He’s a New York Times bestselling author and the creator of one of the world’s most respected natural health websites. In this episode, we discuss the importance of nutrient density, including deficiencies, accurate ways to measure, and supplementation. Over to Chris.


Hey guys. This is Stu from 180 Nutrition, and I am delighted to welcome back Chris Kresser to the podcast. Chris, how are you?



I’m great, Stu. It’s a pleasure to be back with you.



Oh. Look, I really, I’m really looking forward to this conversation, because you are one of the big players, the heavy hitters in this industry with a voice, I think, that people respect, and you’ve had a whole heap of conversations that have been extremely thought-provoking. But for all of our listeners that may not be familiar with you or your work, and there won’t be many, but I’d love it if you could just tell us a little bit more about yourself, please.



Sure. I’ll give you the very short version. I was in my early 20s, traveling in Indonesia, not too far from you and doing some surfing, and I got really sick with a classic kind of tropical illness. It was actually near death in a little village in [inaudible 00:01:48] for a few days and, fortunately, an Aussie who was staying in that village had some antibiotics that helped bring me back from the brink, and that started what became a 10-plus year journey back to health. Along the way, I discovered functional medicine and a paleo type of diet, both of which were instrumental in my recovery.


As I made progress in my own journey, people began to ask questions. They saw what was happening with me, and they saw how sick I was, and how I was recovering, and they got curious. I shared what I had learned along the way, and at some point a lo in that process, I decided to go back to school to study medicine, functional medicine, in order to translate that experience into something that could help other people. And so about 12, 13 years ago, I started my functional medicine practice, treated thousands of patients since then, and then in 2016 started a training program for other functional medicine doctors to train them in functional medicine, and then launched a health coach program and wrote some books.



A ton of books. A ton of books.



Yeah. Lots of other stuff along the way, but that’s the condensed version. It’s my passion to just be of service and help people to live their best life, to feel and perform their best, and live their best life. That’s really what it’s all about for me.



Absolutely right. No, that’s fantastic. And as I mentioned, there won’t be many people listening to this that won’t have heard of you, but anybody that hasn’t, just pop your name into a Google search bar, and you will see a wealth of information covering pretty much everything. I love your methodical way of unpacking roadblocks, for want of a better word, in the nutritional space and the health space. I’ve been podcasting for over a decade, back in the days when gut health was poo-pooed, woo-wooed, and was crackery, and now, of course, is super important.


But this question still arises, and we were just talking about this off-air, how can we eat for optimal health? Which diet is the best diet? Whether it be Mediterranean, whether it be paleo, whether it be vegan or carnival, there’s still that religion there. People don’t know where or what to eat. But I think this conversation’s going to be kind of interesting, because we’re going to be talking about nutrient density, and I think that’s really the most important thing. Irrespective of the type of diet you’re eating, you’re either getting the nutrients or you’re not, and I think for anybody that’s listening to this that perhaps doesn’t know a whole heap about that term, I’d love it if you could just tell us a little bit then about the importance of nutrient density.



Absolutely. It’s a great frame to talk about this, because when you talk about what’s the best diet, and when you ask that question, there’s so many different ways to answer the question. Are you asking from nutritional perspective, from an environmental perspective? Moral and ethical question? There’s so many different ways to think about it, but I think nutrient density is the way we should be thinking about it as a starting place, because the human body needs two categories of nutrients, macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients refer to the three main substances that are required in large amounts that everybody’s familiar with: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Of course, there’s been lots of debate about that over the years: low fat, high fat, low protein, all of that.


But what often gets left out is the importance of micronutrients, which are vitamins, minerals, and other compounds that are required by the body in smaller micro amounts for normal physiological function, and we need both, of course. We need macronutrients in adequate quantities, but we really, really need micronutrients to function well. Dr. Bruce Ames, who’s a renowned microbiologist at UC Berkeley, has done pioneering research in this field, has identified at least 40 micronutrients that we need for normal metabolic function. His argument, which I agree with, is that we need to maximize our intake of those nutrients, and that should always be the primary goal of our diet, because when you get suboptimal levels of any of those nutrients, that can contribute to the development of chronic disease and shorten our lifespan.


Now, I want to be clear here that I’m not talking just about full-blown clinical deficiencies that would lead to diseases like scurvy, rickets, or pellagra. Those do exist still in the developing world, but in most places in the developed world, we’ve managed to get past that. What we’re talking about here is, some people call it nutrient inadequacy, some people call it suboptimal intake of nutrients. It’s a level of deficiency that stops short of life-threatening, but can still have massive, massive impacts on our health and wellbeing. It is life-threatening in the sense that it can shorten our lifespan. You know, what would’ve been our healthy, normal lifespan if we were getting optimal levels of these nutrients. So I think it’s a really good starting place for any discussion about what the best diet is.



And in terms of nutrient deficiency, how common, then, do you think it is in the Western world if we are following what the powers that be site as a healthy diet, which again is a loaded question?



It’s shockingly common, actually. Most people do kind of think of nutrient deficiency as something that only affects the developing world. But the fact is, and there have been numerous studies published on this, including a recent one by [inaudible 00:08:07] colleagues just this last spring, that show that there are widespread deficiencies of vitamins and minerals even in the developed world, and the Linus Pauling Institute at the, I think, Oregon State University or University of Oregon, I can’t recall for sure, has also been a leader in this field. Many people will, of course, know that Linus Pauling, himself, was a Nobel laureate, and he did a lot of early research on vitamin C and the role of other micronutrients in health, and wellbeing.


They’ve sort of continued that research. Most of these statistics I’m about to give you are from the US, but they almost certainly apply to the UK, Australia, and other developed countries. 100% don’t get enough potassium, 94% don’t get enough Vitamin D, 92% don’t get enough magnesium, 89% don’t get enough. Vitamin E, and I could go on, but you already get the point, right? We’re not talking about small numbers of people who are affected by this. We’re talking about the vast majority of the population that are dealing with, not just one, but several deficiencies of key nutrients.



So would a typical blood test be the best place to get a snapshot of what’s happening inside our bodies where deficiencies are concerned.



I really wish that I could answer yes to that question, because it would make my job a lot simpler, as a clinician and many other clinicians’ jobs a lot simpler, but the challenge, Stu, is that each nutrient needs to be assessed according to the role that it plays in the body, where it’s stored in the body, and the function. So let me give you a few examples of nutrients that are very difficult to assess with current laboratory testing.


Calcium is a great example here, because calcium needs to be maintained in such a narrow range in our blood, because if it goes too high, we can die. If it goes too low, we can die, that the body will do anything to maintain calcium in that range, including removing calcium from the bones when we don’t eat enough of it. So this is why not eating enough calcium leads to osteopenia and osteoporosis, because the body, in its effort to maintain that very narrow range of calcium in the blood, just starts taking it out of the bone if we don’t eat enough of it. You can see the problem. If we measure calcium in the blood, it’s going to be normal unless you’re on the way to the hospital.


You’re not going to see abnormal calcium, generally, in an outpatient setting. And so measure calcium in the serum, it says normal, that does not tell you anything about your actual calcium status and whether you’re eating enough calcium, so that’s one example. Selenium is another notorious one where it’s not very accurate to measure in the blood. In research studies, they tend to measure hair or even toenail clippings, nail clippings, because that’s a better measure of long-term slime status. Iodine is the same. You can do a 24-hour urine iodine test, but that will generally just tell you what your intake has been like over that past 24 hours. If you want to assess longer term iodine status, then you have to measure it in the hair.



Oh, boy.



It’s a big problems, Stu, because I would love to be able, as a clinician, to order one single test that would give me all of the nutrients that I want to assess. You can’t do that. You have to cobble it together with blood work, hair analysis, sometimes urine, sometimes a buccal swab where you use a Q-tip or a similar type of thing to get an intracellular sample, so it’s really, really confusing.



Oh, boy. And DEXA scan, would you need to throw one of those in to see what’s happening with your bones and your muscle mass and et cetera?



That’s right. That will give you a better idea of what’s actually happening in the bone. It’s not necessarily nutrient related. So what we end up doing, in a lot of cases, that we do assess the nutrients that we can assess, and in other cases we do very detailed diet survey, where someone records what they eat, we can plug that into an algorithm, a software program, and it will spit out what their intake of nutrients has been in an estimated way. But the reality is that most people, as I just shared with the statistics, are generally not getting enough of the nutrients that they need. And that’s the assumption that I’ve just learned to make, as a clinician, over time.



And so I’m guessing then that the best approach wouldn’t be to go into the supermarket and purchase the wonder white bread with added B vitamins and folate, and grab your magic charms, or whatever they’re called, in the cereal aisle, with fortified vitamins and minerals.



Definitely not.



No, so synthetics versus whole food. What’s your standpoint on that? Because again, back into the supermarket, most supermarkets have an entire wall of vitamins and minerals, and each come in their very cleverly marketed packaging to tell you that you need that particular product, whether it be for energy, sleep, vitality, immunity, all of the above, but I know that that can be a bit troublesome in and of itself because you might decide, “Oh. I’m going to go for this high zinc, and maybe I’ll get this. I’m going to need copper for that, and I’ll take this magnesium,” but because we’re kind of cherry-picking, I think, is it right that we could run into issues by doing so, perhaps depleting some stores and having too much of others?



Absolutely. That’s not unusual, and so there are a few issues that you highlighted there. One is just nutrient balance and nutrient synergy, so making sure that nutrients exist in a balanced and natural relationship with one another. So you’re not taking way too much zinc relative to the amount of copper, because they actually support each other in numerous ways. When you have too much zinc and not enough copper, or too much copper and not enough zinc, which is maybe more common, then problems can arise. Same thing with the fat soluble vitamins, vitamins A, D, E, and K2, vitamin A and K2 actually protect against toxicity of vitamin D. So I’ve seen patients who’ve been over supplementing with vitamin D, which they got the memo, they got the message that most people are low on vitamin D.


But unfortunately their doctor maybe prescribed 20,000 IU to be taken short term. Maybe they misunderstood or forgot, and just kept taking it over the long term. Well, if their vitamins A and K2 were also at a healthy level, they would be protected mostly against the toxicity of vitamin D, but if their A and K2 or low, then vitamin D toxicity becomes more likely at those much higher doses. So there’s lots of examples there of nutrient synergy and balance, and how they work together. The other issue that you brought up was the form of the nutrient. Is it synthetic? What variation of the nutrient are you taking? Folic acid is a good example, so this is a nutrient. It’s vitamin B9, and or research from decades ago showed that pregnant women who didn’t get enough folate, natural folates in their diet, were at higher risk of neural tube defects.


And so then there was a big push to four to five foods with folic acid to get women who were trying to conceive on folic acid supplements, but the problem with that is that folic acid is a synthetic form of the vitamin that, for some people, not everybody, but for some people who have certain genetic polymorphisms, they don’t metabolize that synthetic folic acid very well, and that can lead to un-metabolized folic acid in the bloodstream, which in some studies has been linked with higher rates of cancer. So we need to be thinking about the balance of nutrients in food and also the form of nutrient that we get. The safest approach, as a starting point, and I’ll come back to saying why it’s only a starting point for most people, is to get nutrients from food, because that’s how human beings have gotten nutrients for our entire evolutionary history.



Well, I always will reference my grandparents, because they lived until their 90s. They didn’t have the tech that we have now. They didn’t go to the gym. They led a simple life. I mean, essentially for those guys, it was meat and vegetables. I understand that back in the day, there’s probably more nutrients in the soil, and they didn’t have some of the stresses we have, although they had different stresses, living through the war and things like that, but they lived until their 90s and they were pretty robust. We don’t seem to be doing that now, and we have all of the technology imaginable at our fingertips with super computers in our pockets, yet we’re still confused. And so where would we start? And then you said, “Get your nutrients from whole food.” Well, great. What sort of diet should I eat? Because I’m confused there as well.



Yeah. I feel like all of that was a good lead up and prelude to the question that you originally asked, which is, “Which diet is best?” And we had to set the stage and explain how you can even know the answer to that question, and the-how is we need to choose the diet that is most likely to deliver the maximum level of all of the nutrients that we need. When you think about it from that perspective, I’ll start from 30,000 foot view, and then we can drill down a little bit. It’s pretty clear to me, from the research, that the best diet is one that has some combination of both plant and animal foods. I’ve already just fired a shot across the bow there, because I’ve made two groups of people very mad by saying that.


So the people who believe in an exclusively plant-based diet approach don’t like to hear that, and people who believe in an exclusively animal-based approach, now the carnivore community doesn’t like to hear that as well. There are a few ways of looking at this. So one is, you write a list of all the nutrients that we need. Then, you figure out which foods all of those nutrients are found in, and that leads to a natural conclusion of animal and plant foods, because there are certain foods, animal foods are very rich in essential vitamins and minerals. These are vitamin things like vitamin B12, iron, zinc, preformed vitamin A or retinol, creatine, torines, vitamin K2, vitamin D, DHA, and EPA, which are the long chain omega-3 fats. It’s indisputable that those nutrients are better represented in animal foods. Nobody can argue against that.


That’s an objective fact that you can find in any textbook. You can look at scientific research. You can find that very easily. On the other hand, nutrients like vitamin C, carotinoids like lycopene, beta-carotene, lutein, and xanthin, dipropenyl sulfides from onions and garlic, the allium class of vegetables, polyphenols, flavonoids like quercetin, flavonoidds, anthocyanins, dipropenyl lignins, plant steriles and stanols, isothiocyanates and indole. So these are all very long complicated words, but the point here is that, oh, and fiber, all of these nutrients, which have now been recognized as being very important for longevity and wellbeing, preventing cancer, et cetera, are preferentially, in some cases only found in plant foods, and in some cases they’re preferentially found in plant foods. Adrenal glands contain some vitamin C, for example.


So if you’re trying to maximize your intake of all of these different types of nutrients, which I believe should be the goal of diet, then it’s essentially, by definition, the best diet will be some combination of plant and animal foods. Now, from there, we can take a step down and say, “Well, what combination? Are you saying 10% animal foods and 90% of plant foods, or the other way around?” Well, the truth is, when you look at traditional cultures that have been studied around the world, there’s a pretty big variation of examples there. There are the traditional Inuit and the Maasai in Africa who get most of their calories from animal foods at most times of the year. There are certain times of year where they might eat more plants than other times of the year, but the vast majority of their calories are coming from animal foods.


On the other hand, you have cultures like the [inaudible 00:22:53] in Papua New Guinea, and the [inaudible 00:22:56] in the South Pacific, who got a fairly substantial amount of calories from plant foods, simply be because those were what were readily available. Sweet potatoes is in the case of the [inaudible 00:23:09], and then tropical fruits and vegetables, roots and tubers like tarot in the case of the people living in the South Pacific, but they all ate at least some animal foods. Then, the Masai and the Inuit would trade for plant foods or eat them when they were available seasonally, like in the summertime in the case of the Inuit. So I actually think there’s quite a range that’s possible for people, depending on things like their preferences, just what they enjoy and like to eat, or their goals.


If you’re training for the next CrossFit world competition, you probably are going to need to eat a lot of protein and animal foods in order to support that level of activity and training, whereas if you’re someone who’s just targeting general health and wellbeing and, for whatever reason, you don’t love animal foods, I think if you eat and you’re willing to eat organ meats and shellfish, for example, which are the most nutrient dense of the animal foods, you could assemble a very nutrient dense diet just eating a few servings a week of shellfish and organ meats, and then eating mostly plant foods for the rest of the time, so there’s pretty wide latitude there within that mix.



Do you have an opinion on, and again, this is a real sticking point on perhaps the carnivore and vegan communities, do you have an opinion on defense chemicals coming from plants? Because I know that that’s the big topic of conversation for the carnivores. It’s like, “Well, you’ve got everything under the sun with salicylates, oxalates, lectins, and folates, and coming from plants, so it’s not going to work from me you if you wanted to access those anyway.



Yeah. I mean, my response is, so what? There’s the concept of hormesis and hormetic response, so hormetic response response, for those listeners who aren’t familiar with that term, it means a positive adaptation to a stressor, and the simplest example of this that everybody will be familiar with is exercise, or let’s make it even more specific and say weightlifting. You go to the gym and you do some squats or any other kind of exercise, and you do them almost to failure, what’s happening there is your muscles are literally tearing and breaking down. You’re purposely breaking down and tearing your muscles. Why would you do that? Because the body will have a hormetic or positive adaptation, and it will rebuild those muscles so that they’re stronger the next time, so that you’d be better able to meet that challenge the next time you do it.


That’s actually an evolutionary mechanism, right? If you think about our distant ancestors on the Savannah, if they met a challenge that was life-threatening and they couldn’t meet it, and they did survive, then from an evolutionary perspective, it would be wise for the body to try to adapt in a way so that they could meet that challenge the next time, so that’s how exercise and weightlifting work. They’re actually causing some harm, if you will, on a short-term basis, that will then triggers a whole series of positive adaptations in the body. This is also how things like fasting and intermittent fasting work. You’re triggering a whole series of adaptations in the body by doing something that, on the surface, looks kind of crazy, right? You’re not eating. You’re skipping meals. You’re doing something that, if you continued to do that or you did it at a larger scale, would actually kill you, right?






Fasting or intermittent fasting is great for a short period of time, but if you fast for too long, I think we all know what that’s called. That’s called starving and then dying, so what’s crazy to me is that the carnivore community is not acknowledging this concept. This is a very well known and well established concept, that things that we do in small amounts, that could be toxic or even kill us in large amounts, can still be beneficial. Even the concept or the term antioxidant. We’ve heard of this with resveratrol, red wine, blueberries, et cetera. That’s actually a misnomer of a term. The term should be pro-oxidant because that’s what those compounds do, is they induce a small amount of oxidative stress in the body.


As you said, those defense chemicals or compounds that are in plants to protect them, because plants, unlike animals, cannot fight or run away, so they had to develop and evolve these compounds in order to protect them from predators. So these prooxidant compounds that you find in resveratrol, blueberries, et cetera, in small doses, they trigger that same positive hormetic response that, in the case of antioxidant, it upregulates our own body’s antioxidant defense system. Consuming the small amounts of prooxidant actually triggers an antioxidant response in our body. The antioxidant response is not coming from the food.


It’s actually coming from our own bodies triggered by those foods that we eat, and I think that’s what’s happening with a lot of different plant foods. That’s the main response. The other response, I would say, is we’ve been eating plants for a very, very long time, even before we were human. Then, if you trace back to our earliest hominid ancestors, and then before that, going back into the ape and chimpanzee lineage, plant foods were the major source of food. So if these were toxic and harmful, why would that behavior have been preserved for hundreds of thousands of generations? It doesn’t make any sense.



No, it doesn’t. I love listening to your perspective, because social media has opened up this gateway for people to have a voice, and that voice typically comes from an individual solving a personal solution, having an epiphany on this solution, and spreading it as, “This is the way forward for everyone.” When in the vegan camp, it’s like, “Well, you know what? I fixed myself, and I felt better when I eliminated animal foods,” and on the kind of war camp, “I removed all of the plants out of my diet, and I’ve never felt so good.” And that’s when the social media communities start to erupt and grow, and it becomes a religion in and of itself, but as you said, it’s so subjective.






And we haven’t even spoken about gut health, because how might you know if your body is actually absorbing those nutrients in the first place, irrespective?



That is another big issue for sure, is just the own internal ecosystem. There’s so much to say about that, but there’s many studies now that have shown that the microbiome, the balance of bacteria, fungi, yeast, and viruses in our gut, all of that has a profound impact on nutrient absorption. Then, you have pathologies that can happen, like SIBO or Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, where you get overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, which is normally where we digest and absorb food. It’s normal to have some bacteria there, but you don’t want a lot, because if you have a lot of bacteria in your small intestine, guess what?


The bacteria like the same nutrients that we do. And so they get to them first, and we just get the leftovers, basically. And so there are a lot of people who are dealing with SIBO, a very common condition that I treat in my practice, and so that is a major factor. That’s actually one of the reasons that I say we’re already at a disadvantage now in the modern world, when you have soil depletion, which has changed the amount of nutrients that are available in food, even since our parents and grandparents. You mentioned your grandparents, Stu. Well, one of the most shocking statistics I read in one study was that we’d have to eat eight oranges today to get the same level of nutrition that our grandparents got from a single orange.



Wow. Okay.



That’s two generations. Two generations. And so there’s been all of these changes to soil quality and nutrient levels in food as a result of the changes to soil, toxins in the food supply that reduce our absorption of foods or nutrients in foods. Chronic disease has been shown to affect nutrient absorption in two different ways. First, it increases our demand for nutrients, and second, it decreases our absorption for nutrients. There’s so many factors that are working against us, so we have to work even harder to just get that basic level of nutrition.


That means eating nutrients in their most bioavailable form, the form that’s easiest to absorb, and making sure that we’re going above what the RDA suggests. The RDA, which is the recommended dietary allowance, is not the amount that was determined to give us optimal health. It was the amount that was determined to prevent disease. I think we’re all shooting for more than that. Speaking personally, I want to live a long, healthy life and feel as good as I possibly can. I don’t want to just avoid disease. My goal, my sights are set a little bit higher than that.



Yeah, absolutely. I think none of us want to sit in that average range of whatever it may be, cholesterol, energy, or bloods, because I think, as an average, society’s in a pretty dire shape. It certainly be great to excel, so then in order to try and maximize the nutrient density from Whole Foods, would supplementation still be a strategy, given what we know about synthetics?



Yeah. This is something that I’ve changed my mind on over the years, Stu. When I was perhaps a bit earlier in my career, and I still consider myself to be idealistic, but maybe more idealistic at that point, I was almost quite militant about the idea that we should be able to meet all of our nutrient needs from foods. I still believe that, if you lean on that word should, in a perfect world, we should be able to meet all of our nutrient needs from food. Our ancestors certainly did, and that’s the way that I think is preferable, for the reasons we talked about.


That’s the way that humans are designed to absorb nutrients, and you don’t have to worry as much about the balance of nutrients, because nutrients, naturally in food, tend to be balanced. So like oysters for example, they’re really high in zinc, but guess what? They also have copper, and so that’s a nice natural balance that you get there. But the reality is what I came to accept over the years. It was a struggle, but after treating thousands of patients and seeing that I could basically count on one hand the number of people that I saw over that period who didn’t have at least one, if not multiple, nutrient deficiencies, and my patients were not typical, following standard American diet.


They’re people who were already doing a lot of the right things and eating a healthy diet, and they were still nutrient deficient. Then, learning more about changes to soil quality, the growing toxic burden, medications, and how they affect nutrient absorption, and all of these other factors, I just don’t think that it is possible anymore for us to meet all of our nutrient needs through food alone. I think it is absolutely critical as a starting place, and if we think of it like a pyramid, I would put food is that foundation at the bottom of the pyramid, and supplements should only be added as the word implies, as a supplement to a foundation, a nutrient dense diet, but when you add the right supplements on top of that foundation, that’s when the magic can happen.



Okay. So tell us, then, from your perspective, the right supplements, because I know that we’ve mentioned before about the wall of supplements in the supermarket, and then of course we’ve got the internet that offers us everything under the sun. We can go to practitioner level, and again, there are so many different grades from practitioner level. Some I would imagine are just repackaged vitamins and minerals that you might see on the shelves in the supermarkets. Others are more synergistic and perhaps more personalized. We’ve got lots of these now personalized vitamin and mineral recommendations where you type in your short questionnaire, and it tells you what you need. But again, I often think, “Well, then it’s just giving you a personalized selection of poor quality, synthetic supplements,” so how do we navigate this minefield of crap in order to try and do the right thing, from a supplement perspective?



Yeah. It’s tricky. I really empathize with consumers, because you almost need a medical degree to figure this out. There’s so many misleading claims, misinformation, lots of marketing mumbo jumbo, and it’s not benign that some of this stuff can do harm if you take too much or you take the wrong form. Most doctors, I think they mean well, but I don’t know that people really understand this. But most doctors do not receive extensive training in nutrition. They take one course, and it’s really outdated information in that course, and they’re not trained in the most recent nutritional advances, supplementation, different forms of nutrients, and all the stuff that we’ve been talking about. If you have access to a dietician or nutritionist, they obviously will have more training in that area and can be helpful, but most primary care doctors or specialists, for that matter, don’t really have the education and training to be able to guide their patients in this area.


Again, we can answer this from a number of perspectives, but I’ll start with the higher level of view to begin with, which is if we follow the principle that it’s best to get nutrients from food as much as possible, then it follows that it’s best to take supplements that are closest to food as much as possible. For example, one of our supplements with my brand, Adapt Naturals, is Bio-Avail Organ. That’s a blend of five organs from grass-fed cows from New Zealand. The way that it’s made is the organs are frozen, and then they’re freeze-dried, and then desiccated, which means just turned into a powder, and then that powder is put into a capsule. So it’s almost equivalent to eating the organs. Nothing synthetic is added. You’re basically eating freeze-dried organs from grass-fed cattle.


The reason we did that, I referred earlier to the study that found that four or five of the top most nutrient dense foods out of 10 are organs, liver, spleen, kidney and heart. And so again, it’s staying as close to food as you can with naturally occurring, bio-identical or bio-available ingredients should always be one of the core principles when you’re looking for supplements. The problem is we have Costco over here or big sort of Walmart type of places, or even GNC, supplement, or vitamin stores, almost all of those products are going to be mostly synthetic ingredients. Why? Because they’re cheap. They’re cheap, and the profit margins are higher. And so most people, unfortunately, will see that, and they see the name of the nutrient and they see the dose, and they think it’s equivalent to taking another supplement that has more food-based or bioavailable nutrients, and they’re not equivalent at all.



Yeah, interesting. And your thoughts on synthetic versions of vitamins, and we’ll pitch it against, let’s say, the organ supplement, because I know that vitamin A is a big one, B vitamins and vitamin A are super strong in the organs, and oftentimes people will say, “Well, yeah, but there’s too much vitamin A, or there’s too much vitamin B,” but I know that the synthetic vitamin A is kind of different to vitamin A from a food source, right?



It is. And that goes back to nutrient synergy as well, Stu. The toxicity threshold of vitamin A is raised dramatically when you have enough vitamin D and K2. In other words, if you’re deficient in vitamin A and K2, it’s much easier to develop vitamin A toxicity. If you are taking adequate amounts of vitamin D or K2, or getting adequate amounts through sunshine or your diet, it’s really difficult to overdose on vitamin A. You would have to eat insane amounts of liver. I can’t remember the exact amount, but something like nine ounces of liver every single day in order to get to that level. I can tell you that I’ve met very few people over the years, they’re eating that amount of liver every day or taking that amount of liver capsules.


So that’s what the natural form, the retinol, the active form of vitamin A that you will find in organ meats and shellfish. What you were referring to is beta-keratine, which is a precursor to retinol, and you can take too much vitamin keratin. There are people who, in theory, beta-keratine gets converted into retinol or the active form of vitamin A, but that conversion is pretty poor. It’s on the level of 10 to 20%, in most cases is an average. In some cases, people can’t make that conversion at all.


If you’ve ever seen someone who did like a carrot juice fast, and then their palms were orange, that’s a person who can’t convert beta-keratine into retinol. And so they get a buildup of the keratins in the body, and actually they can look like they have jaundice almost, and that person can eat carrots, bell peppers, and all of that all day long, but they will develop a retinol deficiency if they’re not eating preformed retinol vitamin A, which is only found in animal products, so this is just another example of why I say a combination of plant and animal foods are typically better.



Yeah, no. That makes perfect sense. Like you said, nature has it right again and again, and I remember back to the grandparents, my grandparents used to eat liver. They used to cook me liver and onions, and it was delicious. But I don’t do that really anymore, because I think it’s just the trappings of modern society. It’s not pleasant to prepare and purchase, and muscle meat seems more attractive, even though I know that, from a nutrient perspective, all the good stuff is in the liver, right? That’s where it is.



Yeah. The liver, and then even the other organs. Spleen is the highest source of iron that we know of in the diet, even higher than clams, which are higher than liver from an ounce-to-ounce perspective. I’ve had patients with severe iron deficiency and anemia over the years that were getting iron infusions, so they were actually getting IV iron that didn’t move the needle. Then, when I put them on a spleen supplement, because most of them wouldn’t eat spleen, which I understand. It’s not that appetizing. It was actually the spleen supplement that brought them back to from that severe iron deficiency, anemia, more even than synthetic iron supplements or even iron infusions.



Is that due to heme iron versus regular iron, and then also perhaps the synergy of other vitamins that are required to create healthy blood cells?



Yeah. Heme iron is far more bioavailable than ferrous forms of iron. Ferrous forms of iron are plant forms of iron, and many studies have shown that heme forms of iron are much more bioavailable and easy to absorb than ferrous forms of iron. They’re also better tolerated, so a lot of people have found, probably who are listening to this, have taken iron supplements and developed abdominal pain, gas, bloating, or constipation, that only tends to happen with ferrous form of iron supplements. It does not tend to happen with heme iron supplements.


There are a few heme iron supplements that you can take on the market, but I would say that I’ve had even better results with just spleen and liver, because I suspect it’s exactly for the reason that you mentioned, is nutrient synergy. Spleen and iron have other nutrients that can help with iron absorption, and the body just recognizes that as a food-based form of iron that it’s very familiar with and knows what to do, in other words.



No. It’s like you mentioned, it all starts with real food. Out outside of the organs, and you mentioned that you have a range called Adapt, and organ was one of them. What are the other go-tos, the heavy hitters that you might want to take in conjunction with the organ?



Yeah. We have a multivitamin, which is primarily food-based bioidentical and naturally occurring forms of nutrients. So I used the folic acid example earlier for vitamin B9. We don’t have folic acid. We have folate, natural folate, which is the same form that you would find in foods that contain vitamin B9. Same thing with B12. Most cheaper supplements, cheaper forms, use Cyanocobalamin, which is a synthetic form of B12 that’s not well-absorbed by some people. We use Methylcobalamin, which is the more active form that you would tend to find in foods that contain B12, and you can go on down the line. So it has all the essential vitamins and minerals in their most bioavailable food-based forms.


Then, it has also phytonutrients, because I’d said multiple times in the podcast that we need both essential vitamins and minerals and phytonutrients. In a multivitamin, a lot of multis just contain the essential vitamins and minerals, but they don’t have the phytonutrients. So we have wild blueberry blend, quercetin, broccoli seed extract, bioflavonoids, resveratrol, lutein, lycopene, all of these different phytonutrients that have been shown to be beneficial, so there’s the multi. I’m a huge believer in mushrooms, and we’re not, in this case, talking about psilocybin and psychedelic mushrooms, although I actually think that I’m a big believer in the therapeutic potential of those.


I’m really excited about the studies that are being done in that category now, but here we’re talking about edible mushrooms, like shiitake, maitake, reishi, chaga lion’s main, Turkey tale. These have been used in traditional forms of medicine for thousands and thousands of years. In fact, the earliest medical texts that was ever discovered in China, which is thought to be about 5,000 years old, contains references to these mushrooms being used in a therapeutic way for people dealing with health problems, and now modern research has validated their usefulness, everything from lowering cholesterol to improving cognitive function and reducing the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s, to improving metabolic function, to addressing depression and anxiety.


It is really amazing. They’re also great sources of nutrients, essential vitamins, and minerals. So going back to that core principle of trying to use food or food, mushrooms are an interesting case because they’re fungi, but they’re also a food, that’s one of the reasons that we included a mushroom product, because it’s a natural bioavailable form, a way to get nutrients, and a way to address common problems without having to worry about synthetic ingredients, interactions, and all of those sorts of things. Then, we have a magnesium product because most people are falling 200 to 300 milligrams per day short of magnesium.


We have a vitamin E product, because I mentioned 89% of people are deficient in vitamin E, so those are the products that round out the range, and I designed it to really be like a one-stop shop. I wanted to just make it easy for people because so many people are confused by supplementation, and I wanted it to be, just for the vast majority of people, these are going to meet your daily needs. Of course, some people are going to have different requirements and need other things that aren’t represented here, but I wanted to just create a bundle that would work for most people in most situations, and that was my focus here.



Excellent. In terms of timing there, is there a blanket rule for the best time and the best way to take a supplement? Because I know that, let’s say, the organs for instance are high in B vitamins. They might not be the best things to take before you go to bed, similarly to drinking a Red Bull. Would it be best taken in the morning, perhaps with or after food, because of fat soluble nutrients and things like that?



Yeah. It’s a good question. We have dosing recommendations based on that. In some cases, like the tocotrienols, the vitamin E is best to take in the evening, because some of the functions that they regulate are actually occurring more in the fasted state. So you take them with meal, because they’re better absorbed, but then they’re working their magic overnight while you’re sleeping.


Then, there are others that it’s more just a question of taking with food versus without food, and most supplements, as a general rule, are better taken with food because, again, that’s normally how we are used to absorbing nutrients, right? There are some exceptions, for sure. Then, for some people, the mushrooms can be stimulating in a good way usually, but taking them too close to bed, in some cases, can maybe interfere with the ability to fall asleep because they feel like a nice boost in energy and you don’t necessarily want that right before you’re falling asleep?



No. That’s fantastic. And so for anybody then that wants to just delve into the range and find out more, where could we send them for the Adapt range?


(52:44) is the website, and at the time of this recording, they are not available in Australia, but by the time this comes out, Stu, maybe we’ll have to chat about it, they will be. We’re just about to release international shipping in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, UK, and probably a couple of other countries. If when this comes out, it that hasn’t happened, which I think it probably will, there’s a list on the website where you can sign up to be notified when they become available. We’ve worked hard, with some international shipping providers, to get some affordable shipping options, which I’m really happy about, because it can cost a lot to ship stuff.



It can, yeah.



All the way around the world, and I know that a lot of Australian folks in our community, it’s sometimes hard to find high quality supplements Australia.



Yeah, absolutely.



So I’m hopeful that this can help in some small way.



Yeah. Well, hopefully you’ve got a trusted source logo on there, because if they’re coming from you, I think it deserves to be on there, because that-



Oh, thank you.



That’s what we need to know. Thank you so much. We’re kind of coming up on time there, but I think we’ve really covered nutrient density to a T, and hopefully people can understand the importance, and then and where to go if they want to try and dial up their nutrient density in any way, shape, or form. But just before we go, what’s next for you, Chris, in terms of 2023? Obviously, your international shipping of the range is going to be huge. What else have you got in the pipeline?



Yeah. It’s really fun to think about more products that can help people in different ways. For example, we’ll probably be releasing a liquid vitamin D and K2 product, because most people fall short on both of those, and you really need personalized dosing. Some people need lots and lots of vitamin D in order to just maintain a baseline level, and other people need less. In the multi, we put 2000 IU, which is a nice maintenance dose for most people, but if you’re someone who needs 5,000 or even 10,000 IU a day to maintain your level, then the liquid will be a good way to fill that in. And I just continue my research. I love doing podcasts like this. There’s another book possibly in the works.



You’re going to need to call upon your supplements if you’re going to write another book.



That’s right. I like to stay busy, and time with my family, skiing, mountain biking, and enjoying life as much as possible, because that’s what this is all about, right?



That’s it. That’s exactly right. And so for all of our listeners then that want to get more about you personally, because you’ve spoken about your Adapt Naturals in terms of the URL, but where would they go to read your blogs and download your eBooks, et cetera?



Yeah, yeah. Thanks. My main website is, and we have, I think, 13 free eBooks now. You can access the podcast there. There’s, I think, 1,250 articles on the website from the various years, and so there’s lots of free information there, and I’ve always made an effort to make as much available for free as I possibly can, because I think this is vital stuff that people need to know about.



Absolutely right. No, much appreciated. Well, you are one of the most respected people in this area, so it’s been an absolute honor to speak to you. Thank you so much, and I cannot wait to share this with our audience.



Likewise, dude. Thanks for having me on. I always enjoy our conversations.



Thank you, mate. Bye-Bye.



Chris Kresser

This podcast features Chris Kresser, M.S., L.Ac., who is the creator of the ADAPT Practitioner and Health Coach Training Programs. He is one of the most respected clinicians and educators in the fields of Functional Medicine and ancestral health and has trained over 1,300 health professionals around the world in... Read More

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