THE HARD STUFF

My high school chemistry teacher, “Vitamin Annie” Johnson, blamed her hunchback condition on poor nutrition while she was young. Though she taught us the fundamentals of chemistry, she taught us a lot about vitamins and minerals (which were not part of the course). Since we were high school kids, most of us did not take her admonitions to heart.

Forty-four years later, as I began my struggles to overcome type 2 diabetes, a physician loaned me a cassette tape on nutrition, entitled “Dead Doctors Don’t Lie”. This humorous and informative presentation suggested I could reverse my diabetic condition by adding chromium and vanadium to my diet. In his lecture, Dr. Joel Wallach blitzed through about 30 other undesirable medical conditions, which required me to re-wind the tape on lots of occasions so I could make notes of what he said. He concluded by suggesting that American foods are deficient in both vitamins and minerals, which causes a host of medical problems.

Dead Doctors Don't lie

Wallach worked as a veterinary pathologist at the St. Louis zoo for many years, and from the autopsies he conducted, he discovered that many of the animals died from mineral deficiency. He soon discovered these minerals affected the life span of homo sapiens. He learned those who lived longest were located in parts of the world where the water content was rich in minerals: the Himalayas, Okinawa, and mountainous parts of Africa and Asia.

As a vet, he understood that adding minerals to the diets of large animals, such as cattle, kept them healthy and gave them longer lives; they also produced better, healthier products for human consumption.

To produce healthy cattle, they were given mineral laden salt licks. This technique and others, are also used by Virginia farmer Joel Salatin; his farming techniques are described in Michael Pollan’s excellent book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Salatin’s produce (vegetables, animal, eggs) is probably as nutrient dense and healthy (and tasty) as you will find anywhere in the USA.

Omnivore's Dilemma

Thus, Wallach did not invent the wheel on nutrition for farm critters – Salatin has practiced “healthy” farming for years.

Mineral supplementation has produced surprising results. For example, obesity in the human population, at least in the US, could be curbed (if not cured) if we have an adequate intake of minerals: we will not be hungry between meals. Wallach believes minerals are the solution to obesity.

So where do we get minerals? From the ground (eating dirt will not taste good, but the dirt contains minerals you are not receiving from Rice Krispy’s). When you eat a baked potato, you will receive potassium. Similarly, you receive calcium from milk, phosphorous from fish, etc.

So, what’s the big deal? I have milk with my cereal, I eat fish and chips on occasion, I have beef once or twice a week.

The problem is this: the soils used to grow fruits and vegetables, and wheat for cattle and corn for swine, coupled with the additives given cod and salmon raised in fish farms, are deficient in nutrients. Our top soils don’t possess the nutrients they had 100 years ago, and farmers continue to tamper with fertilizers (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, pH balancers), which has worked against the soil’s ability to manufacture its proper mineral content.

Soil Mineral Depletion

The potatoes at the super market may look great, but if they are grown in soil which has been stripped of minerals, you will not benefit from eating them. For the average consumer, most fruits and vegetables have little nutritional value.

Tepid soils also affect livestock, because cattle eat wheat and grass (and corn cereal mix). If they eat grasses deficient in minerals, we don’t benefit from the wonderful taste of the steaks we cook. Even if we buy organically grown foods and eat only pasture fed beef, we are not guaranteed the mineral content is sufficient to keep us healthy.

Dr. Wallach’s solution is this: supplement your diets by drinking colloidal liquids, which are rich in minerals. His product line (which are liquids, loaded with minerals gleaned from high altitude rivers and springs) are sold under the “Youngevity” label (http://youngevishop.com). I believe these product lines are pricey, so I personally buy liquid minerals from Swanson’s (http://www.swansonvitamins.com). I have also bought liquid minerals from iHerb (http://www.iherb.com). Both of these online stores offer vitamins and minerals at reduced prices.

Now we segue to the hard stuff: what we ought to know about vitamins and minerals. Let’s begin with minerals.

I will not delve into organic chemistry and biochemistry, but let me simply list the major minerals and the trace minerals:

Major minerals: calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, sodium, chloride, and magnesium.

Minor minerals (trace minerals): iron, zinc, copper, manganese, iodine, and selenium.

In theory, you should not have to supplement your diet by taking extra minerals. But if you have read the blog up to this point, you realize that what you buy at the grocery stores will not do the trick.

Without kicking the “minerals” can down the road on this topic, let me close by citing the benefits of calcium. This vital mineral helps us grow healthy skeletons (in early life) and helps us minimize bone loss in later life. It may be useful in reducing hypertension, lowering blood pressure, prevent osteoporosis, and may play a role in blood cholesterol, diabetes and some cancers (see Understanding Nutrition by Whitney). In retrospect, I regret that Fran did not take more calcium during her three pregnancies – it might have helped alleviate or avoid the arthritis she is now experiencing.

The problem with calcium is absorption: we only absorb 30% of the calcium we ingest. To avoid muscle (leg) cramps at night (which is symptomatic of low calcium), I use calcium-magnesium liquids at bedtime (2 tablespoons). This has all but cured these cramps (there is a local grocery chain, Natural Grocers, which sells bottles of this liquid).

The benefits of calcium are many, but there are lots of minerals besides this one. I’m not going to mention any other minerals in this blog, except to say, if you are mineral deficient, you may be flirting with disaster. You will have to conduct your own research to learn more about minerals.

Now let’s reference vitamins. Unlike minerals, food packages contain “nutrition facts” per serving, so when you buy a sack of walnuts or a box of candy (or other packaged food), you can read the food label, and learn what its vitamin content serving.

Like minerals, vitamins come from soils, which have been depleted over the course of time, and from sunlight. You should plan on supplementing your diets with vitamins.

If you are a numbers person, then your government (the FDA) has determined the Recommended Dietary Allowance, as depicted in the Dietary Reference Intakes, and this table is the “baseline” for both vitamins and minerals. The table includes the B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, etc.), vitamin C (both of which are water soluble), and the fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K.

Most nutritionists and nutritional doctors (such as Joel Wallach), as well as many MDs and DOs, will tell you the government’s recommendations are inadequate for your needs. There is so much written material on this subject, I will give you a short cut. Read the first 60 pages of Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig, which is a short, readable summary on vitamins, minerals, and biochemistry.

A second resource on minerals is found in the book, Dead Doctors Don’t Lie by Joel Wallach and Ma Lan. Although the book is more about minerals than vitamins, the authors worked hard to compile appendices, which list more minerals than I knew existed. The authors explain what minerals do or don’t do for your well being (your homeostasis). The appendix even contains remedies for several hundred ailments (most cures can be reached through purchase of over the counter mineral supplements and specific foods).

Unless your personal physician is a whiz kid in biochemistry and nutrition, you will have to educate yourself. The purpose of this blog is to coax you to do so.

I may re-visit this subject in the future, because of its importance.

RECIPE

For the past couple of blogs, I have dodged my promise to give a new recipe each month. My talents are in cooking meats, which doesn’t require much a degree from the Culinary Institute of America. Second, I rely on using rubs and high tech devices (blow torches are used to brown and heat meats, whenever the meat has been cooked sous vide). This doesn’t require a lot of skill.

With that background, you will understand why I refer you to websites and apps, which I think are noteworthy. This month, the app (and website) is called Yummly (http://www.yummly.com). It is free, and has a terrific characteristic – if you want a low carb recipe, type in “low carb”, and you will be given dozens of recipes in that arena. If you want gluten free, then type in “gluten free”, and you’ll have a different list, but it will be just as long as the list generated for low carb recipes.

I even typed in “sous vide” and got lots of recipes. Though I thought it a waste of time and energy to cook scrambled eggs sous vide, I followed the recipe on the website, which was different from Douglas Baldwin’s suggestions in his sous vide cookbook. The eggs turned out surprisingly good: 25 minutes, 3 eggs (which I blended in a stick mixer), a slice of butter, at 165°. Midway I pulled the bag out of the water and stirred the eggs, then put them back in the water (I did not vacuum seal the bag, but used the water immersion technique to remove unwanted air).

Fran thought the eggs were watery, but I didn’t. Her cure was to microwave them; mine needed no alteration. The eggs were not as fluffy as those prepared in a skillet, but the sous vide method blended the butter into the texture of the eggs, and the taste was definitely worth the wait for “lost time”.

This was the first recipe we’ve tried using the Yummly app, but this is a worthy cooking aide for those of us whose talents are limited.