I want to walk you guys through two fantastic lectures I heard at the Weston A. Price annual conference this weekend in Atlanta.  Despite the acrimony from the WAPF towards the Paleo/Primal community that I detailed here, I attended some events Friday and Saturday and walked away with a renewed energy on the topic of fat-soluble vitamins.

But before I share my notes with you, I wanted to make sure that we were all on the same page vis-a-vis fat-soluble vitamins, especially because it wasn’t until I really started digging around in the ancestral health world that I had a true appreciation for how they function in food and in the body.

If you had asked me five years ago about fat-soluble vitamins, I could have told you that they were A, D, E and K.  I would have also told you that the reason it mattered to know them was because it is possible to “overdose” on them.  I would have said that because they are stored in the fat and the excess isn’t flushed out like it is with Vitamins B and C, one needs to know the fat-solubles and take care when ingesting them.Butter

This answer would not have made me unique.  Take a peek at this Q&A on MedicineNet where a reader asks about water vs. fat-soluble vitamins and the expert’s reply focuses solely on the fact that the fat-solubles get stored in the body.  There is a quick mention of deficiency if a person’s fat intake is “too low.”

There is, however, no mention of synergy and balance.  And there is also no mention of how one can take in the fat-soluble vitamins.

After delving into the ancestral health world, I have an understanding now that these two omissions are glaring.

When It Comes to Fat-Soluble Vitamins, Synergy is the Word

When it comes to fat-soluble vitamins, synergy is the word and when it comes to the synergy of fat-soluble vitamins, Chris Masterjohn, Ph.D. is the man.  If you are interested in going down this rabbit hole, go visit Masterjohn’s blog, The Daily Lipid.  But for today’s purposes, this is the most fitting summary statement from his “Nutritional Adjuncts to the Fat-Soluble Vitamins” published January 28, 2013:

In order to truly understand the fat-soluble vitamins, however, we must understand that vitamins A, D, and K cooperate synergistically not only with each other, but also with essential minerals like magnesium and zinc, with dietary fat, and with key metabolic factors like carbon dioxide and thyroid hormone.

Chris Masterjohn

Fat-Soluble Vitamins Are Delivered To Your Body In Fat

I am kind of embarrassed to admit this, but this is the part about fat-soluble vitamins that I never really considered before.

The fat-solubles get stored in our fat, yes.  But, they also get stored in the fat of animals. And it is by consuming the fat of those animals that we deliver these vitamins to our bodies.

Yes, there are some precursors to these vitamins which, when consumed, can in part be converted into fat soluble vitamins.  For example, beta-carotene is a Vitamin A “precursor,” which means that some people can convert some amount of beta carotene into Vitamin A.  The percentage that is converted varies.  Wikipedia actually walks us through the factors affecting conversion rather well:

Absorption efficiency is estimated to be between 9–22%. The absorption and conversion of carotenoids may depend on the form that the β-carotene is in (e.g., cooked vs. raw vegetables, or in a supplement), the intake of fats and oils at the same time, and the current stores of vitamin A and β-carotene in the body. Researchers list the following factors that determine the provitamin A activity of carotenoids:[9]

  • Species of carotenoid

  • Molecular linkage

  • Amount in the meal

  • Matrix properties

  • Effectors

  • Nutrient status

  • Genetics

  • Host specificity

  • Interactions between factors

So, as you can see, there is a great deal of variability in how much Vitamin A each individual will convert from beta-carotene containing foods such as carrots and pumpkin.

But – and I am oversimplifying here – when we eat fat from animals, we benefit from the fact that their bodies have already converted precursors into the fat-soluble vitamins.  So, for example, if a cow grazes on grass and takes in more carotenoids, the resulting milk products will be higher in Vitamin A.  Here’s a link to a study from the 1930s that showed how the Vitamin A content of butter varied with the inclusion of dried grass in the cow’s diet.

As I mentioned before, those fat soluble vitamins reside in the fat of the animals.  So, and this is really the crux of today’s post if you remove the fat from your animal products, you also remove fat-soluble vitamins.

So, skim milk?  All that naturally occurring Vitamin A, D, and K2 are GONE.

But never fear, milk drinkers!  Because the government has recognized that by stripping milk of its fat, it has stripped the milk of its crucial vitamins, so it has mandated the addition of (some of) those vitamins back into the milk.  Here’s a little summary:

When left unfortified, low-fat milk, or 1 percent, and fat-free milk, or skim, don’t provide significant amounts of vitamin A. For this reason, producers are required to fortify reduced-, low- and fat-free milk with at least 2,000 international units of vitamin A per quart, or the equivalent of 8,000 international units per gallon.

Just to reiterate:

  • Whole milk contains fat-soluble vitamins, A, D and K2.
  • When we strip milk of its fat, we strip out these vital nutrients.
  • Therefore, by law, milk producers must fortify their milk with Vitamins A and D (there’s no requirement for K2) to make up for this loss.

I’m stopping here because this is enough information for one day.  But, in light of all this, I want you to reflect on the “low-fat / no fat” health food rage we’ve been in for the past few decades.  All of that should provide a great backdrop for the information I share from the WAPF conference when I have a chance to write it up.

I have a sickish little toddler on my hands, so be patient.


Go to Nourishing Joy’s Thank Goodness It’s Monday to find this and other great posts on natural living!

2 Responses to “Chewing the Fat-Soluble Vitamins”

  1. […] You’ve all read my post about fat soluble vitamins, right? […]

  2. […] that I am obsessed with fat-soluble vitamins. I’ve written about them a few times, like here, and here and here. But most of those pieces focus on Vitamins A, D, and K2, to the exclusion of […]

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