Monday, July 14, 2008

Eat Your Vegetables, Not Your Vitamins

I am a staunch believer that all the nutrients our bodies need to function well exist in real food. Unfortunately, our food supply has been so adulterated and depleted that these core elements to the sustainment of our health are no longer a given.

Enter the vitamin industry, which attempts to artificially replace the nutrients in our food that were artificially taken out by its corporate cousins. Here is what the vitamin and supplement makers want us to believe, using a fictitious fruit—the “madeupberry”—as an example.

After much research, Acme Vitamin’s scientists have found that one nutrient in the madeupberry protects against arthritis. There are, say, 75 distinct chemical compounds and minerals in the madeupberry, but the arthritis-fighting antioxidant has been identified, isolated and put into pill form for our use.

Sounds simple, right? Not so fast. It has been scientifically proven (in real-life examples) that the anti-arthritis compound, standing alone, has no benefits. Only when it works in concert with one or more of the madeupberry’s other 74 compounds do its arthritis-fighting properties emerge. This synergistic relationship among molecules is the foundation of traditional (non-Western) medicine.

The food industry’s latest play is to add nutrients directly to foods, which leaves us with misshapen combinations. For example, Tropicana sells five types of 100% Pure Premium Orange Juice that have added chemical compounds and nutrients.

One is called “Antioxidant Advantage,” which has an ingredient list of “100% pure premium orange juice, ascorbic acid (vitamin C)*, vitamin E acetate (vitamin E)* and sodium selenite (selenium)*. * Ingredient not found in regular orange juice.” (Tropicana’s words, not mine.)

Wait, isn’t the antioxidant selenium one of the major minerals found in grass-fed butter? (See my previous post.) Why is Tropicana force-feeding us a nutrient that we can simply obtain from butter? Thinking logically, in what form will the selenium have a more salubrious effect—as a naturally-occurring component of the butter or as an additive to the orange juice?

A second orange juice is termed “Healthy Heart.” Its ingredient list reads: “100% pure premium orange juice and MEG-3®* (fish oil and fish gelatin) (contains tilapia, sardine and anchovy).” Does anyone else think this is slightly disconcerting? How many people who buy Healthy Heart juice know that it contains fish by-products?

Curious about the fish, I phoned Tropicana. The tilapia, sardine and anchovy are, thankfully, not from fish farms in China. They are wild, caught off the coast of South Africa. Or at least that is what Roberto, the customer service representative, told me. He also stated that Tropicana (owned by PepsiCo) is a “credible company.”

So was Enron.


Voyager said...

Great article, thanks!

Matt B. said...

Hi -- Just found you via your comment on Kristof's article this week. Food, Inc. won't be shown in my area (Harrisburg, PA) until next month, but I'm planning on attending opening night.

Regarding you think D and fish oil are worth a caveat?

Chef Rob said...


Thanks for reading the blog.

Have you read this article? It further discusses the issue and touches on your specific question.

In general, my opinion (I am not a doctor or dietitian) is in line with the following (from the linked article):

"Scientists suspect that the benefits of a healthful diet come from eating the whole fruit or vegetable, not just the individual vitamins found in it. “There may not be a single component of broccoli or green leafy vegetables that is responsible for the health benefits,” Dr. Gann said. “Why are we taking a reductionist approach and plucking out one or two chemicals given in isolation?”