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The Expedition: Downsides of "Natural" Foods, Dirty Supplements, Wild Numbers, Annoyances, and More.

A dive into this month's most important ideas.

The Expedition: Downsides of "Natural" Foods, Dirty Supplements, Wild Numbers, Annoyances, and More.


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Today’s post: The Expedition

This monthly series is a journey into thoughts, opinions, ideas, observations, studies, facts, figures, etc. Good ones, bad ones, insightful ones, dumb ones, and ones you can use to live better.

It’s a roundup of all the worthwhile stuff I’ve encountered in the last month. It’s a bit of an island of misfit toys. But, hey, the greatest journeys are winding.

This month, we’re covering:

  • A timely documentary I re-watched—I think it’s the best documentary ever made.
  • Fascinating numbers on:
    • How far Walmart workers walk during a shift.
    • The number of steps that protects against the world’s top killer.
    • How gold medal-winning olympians balance intense and relaxed training.
    • The power of one additional hour of sleep.
    • Data on being vegetarian.
    • How to easily improve your recovery.
  • A study on the three dirtiest supplements, and how I think about supplements—a hotly debated topic.
  • The benefits of basic foods and problems with “natural” foods.
  • A useful tool for book lovers.
  • A spectacular, long, cutting quote about taxes.
  • An important parting question and a grievance-laden rant from me.

A documentary I (re)watched: O.J.: Made In America

I think this is the best documentary film ever made. It’s long: Five 1.5-hour episodes.

The film won Best Documentary at the 2016 Oscars. It explores race and celebrity in America through the life of O.J. Simpson, who died last week (hence my re-watching).

I used to assign this film in a History of Journalism course I taught at the university where I was a professor. The point was to get students to think about racial and societal issues, the power of celebrity and narrative, and how news coverage affects those issues.

You can watch it for free if you have an account on Hulu, ESPN+, or Sling. Or you can purchase it on Amazon Prime.

By The Numbers


The number of miles a day Walmart managers walk while managing the store. (Based on extrapolating 20,000 steps to miles. In general, 2,000 step is equal to one mile).



Steps a day that protected people against heart disease. The data is from about 6,000 FitBit users.

I’ll write more on this later …



Number of days each month the gold medal-winning German track cycling team trained at their most intense speeds leading up to the Olympics.


Number of days each month the German team trained by riding long distances at low intensities.

The lesson: If you want to get fast, you should spend much more time going slow.


Percent decrease in your odds of experiencing high stress levels for every additional hour of sleep you get.



Percent drop in the number of Americans who say they’re vegetarian since 2018. In 2018, 6% of the population identified as vegetarian. Now the figure is just under 5%.


Times more likely low-income people are to be vegetarian compared to middle- and upper-income Americans.


Times more likely women are to be vegetarian compared to men.


Times more likely people who identify as politically liberal are to be vegetarian compared to those who identify as politically moderate or conservative.

Source for all these plant-based figures.


Grams of creatine helped people recover from exercise fatigue and muscle damage faster.

If you use creatine, purchase a brand that’s NSF-certified. That ensures the product contains what it says. I like Momentous.


Speaking of that …

The three dirtiest supplements—and how I think about supplements

More than half of adults take dietary supplements. It’s a $35 billion industry.

But—surprise!—not all of these supplements contain what the label says.

Poison control receives thousands of calls a year related to supplements (1,000x more complaints than the FDA!). At least 2,000 people are hospitalized each year. A study in JAMA noted:

From 2007 through 2016, 776 adulterated dietary supplements were identified by the FDA and 146 different dietary supplement companies were implicated.

The biggest offenders were supplements marketed for:

  • Sexual enhancement: 45.5%
    Color me shocked that gas station sex pills with names like “Super Panther 7K” and “Rhino 69 Power 500K” aren’t on the up-and-up.
  • Weight loss: 40.9%
    Note: Any over-the-counter fat loss product that actually works is … actually meth!
  • Building muscle: 11.9%
    A tell: If the bottle at your local GNC features an image of a man who has pumped himself full of steroids, the product within the bottle is also pumped with steroids.

But those categories are all somewhat obvious.

The larger debate is whether taking any supplement is “worth it.”

My take: We know supplementation works, or else governments worldwide wouldn’t fortify foods. We’ve saved millions of lives and improved the health of even more people by adding vitamins and minerals to commonly consumed food. More on that here.

The question is whether additional supplementation is good. I think it depends on who you are and why you’re taking it.

Will taking something you have enough of help you? Maybe not. Will taking something you don’t have enough of help you? Probably.

Here’s the 2% Guide to Vitamins and Minerals and a post on why you probably don’t get enough vitamins and minerals.

Here’s what I take daily: