Tuesday
May152012

Vitamins from Food

The quick answer:  as illustrated above, whole foods are the best source of vitamins, but you have to think out of the box to get to that conclusion.

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Thinking Out Of The Box

It’s a grim subject, but I had to smile at the ad that led with, “Think out of the box.”  I’ll get back to the cause of my smile in a moment, but if you read this blog, you’re definitely an out-of-the-box thinker.  In fact, over breakfast I was recounting a N. Y. Times article as the beautiful wife patiently listened.  I was intrigued by the title: “A Mathematical Challenge to Obesity.” 

An applied mathematician reported on his analysis of our national weight gain and type 2 diabetes problem.  From 1975 to 2005 the average American gained 20 lbs. and weight-related diabetes soared.  The math guy blames this on excess food supply.    

Being an out of the box thinker, I advise the beautiful wife, “He’s got it wrong.  It’s not about the amount of food—it’s about the nature of the food.  We’re eating nutrient-depleted, mildly-addictive factory food rather than natural food.  Natural food fills you up; factory food stimulates appetite."

The beautiful wife sighs, then smiles, but says nothing.  I know what she’s thinking:  Is it really possible all these high-paid experts are wrong and my very own husband—absent-minded, rumpled, and writing for free—has it right? 

Raising six kids was a piece of cake; this is her real burden:  She’s a believing person but has chosen to spend her life with a guy who questions everything.  Take vitamin and supplement pills for example.  Actually, don’t take them, unless prescribed by a doctor who has studied nutrition.

That’s my out-of-the-box position and the subject of this post.  Which leads us back to the opening line and the ad that made me smile.  The think out-of-the-box ad was promoting a service for the end result of what we've discussed so far . . . cremation. 

Dust to Dust

If you took a chemistry class, it’s likely the periodic table of the elements was posted on the wall.   The table was a clever idea.  The earth is made up of just 92 natural elements and the table organizes them into 18 families.  As a struggling student, I spent a lot of time staring at this chart.  It came back to me the other day and I asked two questions:  Does food contain all 92 elements?  Do all the 92 elements have a role in our health?  These are simple questions but the answer could be profound.

Take oxygen:  It’s the most abundant element on earth as well as in our bodies—the average body has about 95 pounds in various forms.  Gold, understandably is less common—you’ve got around .00002 lbs of gold inside your body.  It’s as rare in the body as on earth, but is essential to joint health, transmission of electrical signals, and perhaps fertility.  Male semen contains trace amounts of gold.  Decorum demands I resist the impulse to make a joke.  It’s hard.

Of the minerals, calcium and phosphorous are most abundant in the body.  We hear a lot about eating too much sodium but more important is the balance of sodium to potassium in our food.  Basically, factory food has too much sodium—because salt is the cheapest flavor—but natural food has a healthy ratio. 

Think about the elements in vitamins: Vitamin B-12, aptly named cobalamine, contains cobalt, so this mineral has a critical health function.  Vitamin B-12 is found only in animal products so this is a problem for vegans.  Because the body contains a several-year reserve, deficiency is not immediate but it’s hard to diagnose so is a real threat to health.

Which brings me back to the original questions, asking whether food contains all 92 elements and whether all 92 are important to our health.  Basically this is an incredibly complex question that Science, despite billions spent on research, has just begun to explore and will not answer in our lifetimes.  It’s unknowable—but this doesn’t restrain your humble author.

Here’s an answer with a scriptural underpinning:  My belief in the Creation story, symbolically presented in Genesis, tells me all 92 elements have a purpose and are all important to our health in the proportions delivered by Nature, as in whole foods. 

Natural Vitamins

In last week’s post we advised eating orange fruits and vegetables daily and told how vitamin A is formed in the body from over 50 different carotenoids found in food.  Though not yet proven, it’s possible that each of these carotenoids plays a needed function in the body.  They may play multiple functions as the body processes them through the various stages.  It’s complicated. 

Still, knowing as little as we do, unless your doctor prescribes otherwise, the safest course is to get our vitamins from the natural ingredients, the pre-forms found in food, rather than from factory-made synthetic forms sold in pills.  It’s that simple.  Unless you have a unique medical condition, the best source of vitamins, and minerals, is to eat a variety of natural foods. 

For more, check last year’s post on this subject:  Best Source of Vitamins?  Or read the N. Y. Times article, “The News Keeps Getting Worse for Vitamins.”  In the next post we’ll take a different look, reviewing the essential micronutrients.  Essential means you have to eat them; your body can’t produce the nutrient.  Examples are the 13 vitamins, the 9 essential protein amino acids, and the omega-3 and omega-6 fats.


Need a reminder? Download our Healthy Change reminder card. Print and fold, then place in your kitchen or on your bathroom mirror to help you remember the Healthy Change of the week.

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Reader Comments (10)

Haha! The gold comment cracked me up. I was going to say something about it, but then I read the next couple of sentences. :)

This is one of my favorite posts so far. I'm not sure why. It was intriguing. I love the thought of all elements working together and being important to my physical body, as well as the earth. Cool.

I don't take vitamins, per se, but I do take something called Juice Plus. Basically it's fruits and vegetables, dehydrated and in capsule form. Doctors don't like that I don't take a prenatal vitamin when I'm pregnant, but I feel good about taking Juice Plus. Basically amping up my nutrient intake, covering me for what I lack in the day. (I don't use it as an excuse not to eat well, though - I still eat healthy, and then also take the Juice Plus)

May 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRik

As a mother I want what is best for my children. We have a family history of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. I don't want my children to worry about their future. I believe that by following the WoW, they will receive the blessings promised. I was reading a parenting magazine today, and was shocked that one article told parents that a way to get their children to eat more vegetables was to add sugar to the water you are cooking the vegetables in, or to serve the vegetables with ranch dressing. This same magazine had a article about our first lady and the importance of a garden, with whole foods. And then we wonder why are nation is plagued with disease. Thank you for this website!

May 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

What about prenatal vitamins? I don't take ever take vitamins but everyone tells me I have to take a multivitamin while pregnant or there is a much higher risk for birth defects. I also have low iron levels despite what I eat, so I'm supposed to take that supplement as well. I eat a very healthy diet with lots of green leaves and veggies, but I still worry. Are there certain foods I could be eating more to compensate for what my body needs while pregnant? I know you're not a doctor, and you don't know everything I am eating, but I'm just curious your thoughts. Do you think I should just take a prenatal pill?

May 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrooke

When I was pregnant last year, a friend introduced me to a simple butternut squash soup recipe, and I seriously craved it and couldn't get it out of my mind until I made it again. I ended up eating almost the whole batch in one afternoon. Yum. Anyway, funny story, I decided to google and see if there would be a reason why "the baby" wanted all that Vitamin A. I discovered, to my horror, an article about how too much vitamin A causes birth defects. I had just consumed 4 times the RDA! I was seriously in a panic until I read to the end of the article, which went on to say that beta carotene, which is the natural form found in foods, does NOT cause birth defects. PHEW! That little experience made me a big believer in getting vitamins the old fashioned way!

I discovered your blog a couple days ago and have been reading the archives. Thank you for all the work you put into researching each topic. Your approach to nutrition seems very wise to me.

May 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterShayla

Hi Brooke

I wish we could refer you to someone who had the answer to your birth defect question, but to my knowledge that person doesn't exist. We had a post last year, "Can Birth Defects Be Prevented?" that addressed the neural tube defect-folic acid issue and readers made thoughtful comments. You can read it here: (http://www.wordofwisdomliving.com/home/can-we-reduce-birth-defects.html)

I think everyone agrees that good nutrition for prospective moms is essential. A key benefit would be for young moms to be well educated in nutrition—we try to help but our society must do much better at nutrition education and reform. Because birth defects are such a tragic problem, it's difficult to organize the studies that might give more definitive answers. For now, find the best doctor you can and give thoughtful attention to his or her recommendations. And eat a variety of whole foods. Best to you.

May 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterskip hellewell

When my sister was pregnant and then when I was pregnant with my first two babies both of our dr.'s told us the same thing... the vitamins are for the mother to "replenish" what the baby takes... so pretty much the baby will take what ever it needs from the mother and the vitamins were just to give back to the mom. We both asked about it because we get very ill pregnant and not only couldn't we keep down food but the vitamins were pretty much never able to stay down. but a very interesting thing happened when I was pregnant with my third child. I had been making a change in how our family ate and we were eating more whole foods and much less processed things when I was pregnant with her... I wasn't sick at all! Yes I was nauseous but I didn't throw up once.... this was a huge deal for me because with the first two I was sick 16-20 times a day and had to go on anti-nausia pills they give to people going through chemo. I know that our food changes were the biggest reason for this!

May 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMameelynn

I'm also interested in the prenatal vitamin discussion... I'm nursing and still taking prenatals upon recommendation of the doctor. Reading these comments made me wonder, though, what happened in all the prior centuries that didn't have prenatal vitamins. Were there more birth defects? It seems like billions of healthy people have come and gone from the earth and their mothers never took prenatal vitamins. Perhaps it's pushed so much now because our society has moved away from a whole foods diet and doctors just assume everyone needs the supplements?

May 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKatie

I can also attest to a healthier diet causing much less nausea during pregnancy. As for the vitamins...I was never good at taking them, because they gave me nausea where food didn't. My dr. said they were most important during the first trimester. I actually did crave beans (a good source of folate!) during that time. After the first trimester was over, I pretty much quit taking them. I think the birth defects happen more in mothers who are more likely not to take vitamins because they do a lot of other unhealthy things, like smoke or drink.

May 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSacha

I love this advice! I've been severely iron deficient my whole life since I was a teenager. Until I started following the advice of this blog last year. Had bloodwork done in Jan and I'm no longer deficient! No supplements or pills, just food! <3

May 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRill

All that are naturals are good. And as always prevention is better than cure... Healthy diets are of great help to be fit and away from sickness. thanks for this one...

June 12, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjuliemarg

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