Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Cold Turkey

Beat the flu without multivitamins
by Nick van der Leek

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll have noticed all the commercials on television advertising multivitamins. One brags that it can fit the equivalent of 8 oranges (more or less) into a single tablet – in terms of vitamin C. Oh really?

While it is popularly believed (as a sort of conventional wisdom) that multivitamins work, there is very little evidence to support this. My theory is that it is a kind of wish fulfillment. Sure, we’d like to be healthy, and we’d like to believe tablets will protect us. We’d also like to believe that they are loaded with very special nutrients. But you know, you cannot store vitamin C. It’s a special ingredient, and it is bound to the life of plant tissues. You can’t store it in a fruit juice or a pill. Once you extract the juice from an orange, the vitamin quickly gives up all its goodness. The fresher food is the more nutritious (vitamin rich) it is.

When you read the ingredients on a pack of multivitamins there’s a lot of chemical combinations. I’m not sure how they translate that stuff into vitamins, but I’m sure it makes sense in the fineprint somewhere.
To illustrate my lack of faith in multivitamins, consider this case. You only consume pills. Your diet consists only of multivitamins. Can you ingest fibre, a vital part of our diets that is becoming increasingly absent? Not a chance. Can you store that vital living spirit – it’s the stuff you can taste and sense when you eat anything fresh? Well, there is a contradiction in terms. As soon as you store something, it’s no longer fresh, and no longer alive. If the object of the exercise is to be healthy, then the last thing you need to be consuming is something that is stale – like pills and medicines that live in the cold light of bathrooms day in and day out. No, much better to go out and find yourself fresh fruit and vegetables. I know we’re all pressed for time, but when it comes to health, there aren’t short cuts. Do the basics: eat right, get enough sleep, and exercise. There’s plenty of evidence to support that a balanced diet provides all the essential vitamins and minerals our bodies need.

Given pollution levels, mineral depletion in soils etc, this is no longer as easy as it once was. On the other hand, supermarkets present us with an easy abundance and variety to balance our diets. When buying vegetables, think color. Buy green (broccolis, spinach, peas and peppers), yellow (gem squashes), orange (carrots and pumpkins), reds (tomatoes and peppers) and occasionally go purple (beetroots, black olives etc). Preservatives, though, seem to find their way into everything we eat. The amount of preservatives in a food is a measure of the intention to store it and how little nourishment (and vitamins) it will contain as a result of that period. But by following these 3 guidelines, we can get the most out of what we eat:

1) Eat local produce (especially from your own garden). Imported anything will have lost lots of its nutritional value while sitting in harbors and containers. I ate canned mussels last night, not very nice, and then realized they were Made In China. No wonder. In terms of fruit, eat fruits in season (this once again suggests local is best).
2) Insure that the majority of what’s on your plate is plant matter, and no more than a quarter is meat. Remember, meat tissues trap the toxins that begin to accumulate both in water and in plants. Meat also provides poor quality energy (given the energy required for digestion). Eating more plant matter and less greasy, meaty foods insures that food is high in fibre. Includes olives, nuts, fruits (as opposed to fruit juice) and fibre rich vegetables like potatoes and carrots.
3) When buying vegetables, unless grown in your own garden or very nearby, buy frozen vegetables. Frozen vegetables have their precious freshness preserved for longer, whereas unfrozen vegetables quickly rot and spoil and lose their nutritional value whilst sitting on shelves in busy supermarkets.

The way meals are prepared is also important. Cooking of any kind tends to kill both germs and nutrients. Boiling vegetables should be avoided. Microwave as lightly as possible, with as little water as you can get away with. The best way to cook is with steam. You can use honey or chutney instead of water, and the watery sauce that remains in the pot often makes an excellent sauce.

Multivitamins do work in very specific and limited cases (calcium and vitamin D reduce the risk of bone fractures). Of course if you’re running around in the sun and eating a healthy diet (not drinking too many soft drinks – they damage our bodies ability to maintain calcium) you’ll be fine.
When you think about it, it makes sense. Nature’s first green is gold. It’s all we need

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