Author Claims Vitamins Offer Poor Insurance

VitaminDonutsArticle in the New York Times this morning:

Vitamins Hide the Low Quality of Our Food, Catherine Price

Price says the reason Americans don’t experience vitamin deficiencies, or perhaps not as acutely as other countries, is not that our food is so naturally awash in vitamins, but that it’s so fortified:

Most of the vitamins in our diets are synthetic additions, whether they’re in obviously fortified products like breakfast cereals, or hiding in plain sight. Milk, for example, has been fortified with vitamin D for so long that it’s become a major dietary source of the vitamin without most of us realizing that it’s an artificial addition.

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who think milk is a good natural source of vitaminD.

Price defends that fortification:

It’s nearly impossible to create foods that can sit for months in a supermarket that are also naturally vitamin-rich.

While pointing out the risks:

Natural foods contain potentially protective substances such as phytochemicals and polyunsaturated fat that also are affected by processing, but that are not usually replaced. If these turn out to be as important as many researchers suspect, then our exclusive focus on vitamins could mean we’re protecting ourselves against the wrong dangers. It’s as if we’re taking out earthquake insurance policies in an area more at risk for floods.

And gave this example:

A 2011 study* on broccoli, for example, found that giving subjects fresh broccoli florets led them to absorb and metabolize seven times more of the anticancer compounds known as glucosinolates, present in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, than when glucosinolates were given in straight capsule form.

She concludes:

The allure of vitamins has hijacked our common sense.

Vitamin pills have a place. You can’t just tell someone they should eat fresh, minimally processed, organic, locally grown, vitamin-rich food without ensuring they have the means.

Still … There is an allure to vitamins, to pills in general. We turn to them when something goes wrong, or to prevent that something going wrong. We turn to them to help us sleep, to ease our aching muscles and joints, to calm our stormy emotions, to prop up our wanting diets. Do these pills deliver? Are we willfully blind to their risks?

* Bioavailability and inter-conversion of sulforaphane and erucin in human subjects consuming broccoli sprouts or broccoli supplement in a cross-over study design, Pharmacological Research, November 2011

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