Thursday, December 2, 2010

NT in a Nutshell Part 7: Vitamins

Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet DictocratsIt’s been a while since we left off our discussion on Nourishing Traditions. In previous posts we have covered Fats, Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Milk & Milk Products. Today we will discuss the importance of vitamins and their sources in our diets. This information is condensed from pages 36-39 of Nourishing Traditions, and is not intended as medical advice, but as an introduction to healthy eating practices.

The word “vitamin” was coined in the early 20th century as chemists discovered the “vital minerals” that the human body requires for good health, such as “fat soluble vitamin D and water-soluble B vitamins [which are] necessary to prevent diseases like rickets, beriberi and pellagra; and…vitamin C, a factor present in many fresh foods, [prevents] scurvy” (page 36) – although vitamins are not technically minerals, which we will discuss in an upcoming post. Vitamins are carbon-based chemicals essential to body function; minerals, however, are inorganic chemical compounds (meaning they are not carbon-based).

At first, scientists believed that eventually all the vitamin needs of the body could be met by ingesting the individual, chemical compounds that we call vitamins in pill form. However, time and further research has shown that this is not the case, as most vitamins exist in multiple forms and in differing ratios, particularly the B vitamin complex (which contains about 17 different compounds) and approximately 12 different forms of vitamin D.

In nature, all these compounds are found synergistically with the trace minerals and enzymes needed for the body to effectively use the vitamins as our bodies need them. These vitamin/mineral/enzyme relationships are so complex (not to mention that scientists still don’t completely understand them) that it is quite impossible to supply the nutritional requirements of the human body with vitamin supplements in pill form. In fact, some vitamin supplements could actually prove detrimental to good health if the body is not also supplied with the associated minerals and enzymes that the body needs to utilize the vitamin.
As a result, it is best that vitamins be obtained from whole foods, preferably vegetables grown organically and from free-ranged, organic meats. The authors contend that the use of nitrogen-based (commercial) fertilizers leads to the depletion of vitamins and minerals available in the soil, causing a significant decline in the availability of vitamins and minerals in our foods.

However, it is my personal opinion that the real culprits here are a lack of crop rotation on commercial farms and a rather exclusive reliance on commercial fertilizers alone. I don’t think that commercial fertilizers should be demonized outright; after all, a plant that needs nitrogen, phosphorus or potassium doesn’t know or care if those nutrients come from natural or commercial fertilizers, as long as it can obtain what it needs from the soil it is in. However, it is necessary to add natural, organic (meaning carbon-based) material back to the soil to keep it healthy, in the form of compost and/or manure. It is this practice which is absent in most commercial farms. {In our garden, we supplement our raised beds each spring before we plant with 13-13-13 fertilizer. Also, my soil tends to be magnesium deficient, so I also supplement with Epsom salts before planting. These are tilled into our raised beds along with our homemade compost. I also use a liquid fertilizer once or twice in the growing season, either high in potassium or phosphorus, as the plants need at the time to support either growth or fruit production.}

The authors continue with a few words about the affects of processing on the vitamin content of foods. The best ways to preserve vitamin content is to freeze or dry foods, with canning being the least effective as some vitamins can be destroyed by the extended exposure to high heat. If cooking, “steaming and waterless methods of cooking preserve vitamins better than rapid boiling, and vegetables cooked in an acidic liquid [with a little lemon juice, vinegar or whey] preserve vitamins better than those cooked in an alkaline method [except for corn, which is more nutritious as hominy]…Some methods of food preservation and processing actually make nutrients more available – these include simmering bones in acidic liquid to make broth, culturing of dairy products, sprouting and traditional methods of pickling, fermenting and leavening.” (pages 36-37)

As we near the completion of our discussion, I feel that this information from page 37 is very important:
“The Diet Dictocrats have set minimum daily requirements for a few key vitamins and minerals, but many investigators feel that these standards are far too low. These critics contend that minimum daily requirements are sufficient to prevent acute deficiencies but not enough to support optimum health, especially as individual requirements for specific vitamins and minerals vary widely. In fact, a typical profile of nutrient requirements is one in which the individual has average needs with respect to most vitamins and minerals but requirements far in excess of average for a few specific nutrients. Consumption of sugar, refined flour and hydrogenated fats, and of alcohol, tobacco and many drugs, depletes the body of nutrients, resulting in higher vitamin and mineral requirements for users. Stress of any sort causes the body to use up available nutrients at a faster-than-normal rate.”

The authors complete their presentation on vitamins with a brief overview of several key vitamins, including dietary sources, ways the body uses each, and dangers associated with overconsumption of the vitamin (or of particular forms of it, such as B1) or under-consumption of the vitamin (or of particular forms of it). This information is too specific to cover all of it here. However, if you would like to research this further but just can’t wait until you can get a copy of the book, check out the articles available online at The Weston A. Price Foundation.

Next time we will learn about the importance of minerals in our diets. Have a blessed day today!

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