By Molly Patrick
Dec 9, 2014,
You know how you can know something without ever really thinking that much about it or really making the connection?
Like, you know Angelina Jolie is hot, but you don’t ponder why exactly, you just know that looking at her is really easy. The reason you like to look at her is because her face is super symmetrical, but unless you’re really into facial symmetry, the connection would likely not be made.
So we might inherently know something, but until we have that surge of electrical energy in the brain, leading up to our Ah-Ha moments, we don’t get it lock, stock and barrel.
I grew up not eating meat and consuming little dairy. My mom never gave me vitamins or supplements and I hardly ever got sick.
Growing up, I knew that eating lots of colorful veggies, whole grains, beans and legumes was healthy (not popular, but healthy), and I was 15 when I connected the dots between what someone eats and how healthy they are (or not).
My first job was at The Silver City Food Co-op, the same small health food store where my mom worked. One day I was stocking the rice milk, or maybe it was the coconut date rolls – it was some hippie shit whatever I was stocking. My mom was talking with a customer and I overheard the customer ask my mom what vitamins she took because the customer wanted her glow.
My mom has always been super beautiful with the most amazing skin, so people would often inquire about her beautifying secrets. For some reason her answer that day made my electrons go wild.
I don’t take any vitamin supplements. I get everything I need from my food.
That one short answer had a huge impact on my life. The connection between the food that we choose to put in our body throughout the day and how we feel and how we look, hit me like a sack of bulgur. The light bulb shattered in my head and I’ve been intrigued ever since.
From that moment I started to notice people walking right by the organic oranges and organic leafy greens, only to plant themselves directly in front of the bottles of vitamin C and Vitamin K.
“…I get everything I need from my food.” It played through my head over and over and then I thought about what my mom ate. It was the same stuff she always fed me.
Sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, tempeh, brown rice, mushrooms, veggie soups, tofu, big salads, sprouts, avocados, almonds, lentils, beans…
“I get everything I need from my food.”
This was the beginning of my fascination with food and what the body is capable of when given the right fuel.
Taking single nutrients in the form of pills instead of getting those nutrients directly from food is kind of like buying super cute new yoga clothes and calling yourself a yogini without ever stepping foot on a yoga mat.
We all know that in order to get the full benefits of yoga, we need to haul our ass to class and get up close and personal with our down dogs. As crappy as those dogs can be sometimes.
Is the yoga analogy not working for you? Try this one on for size.
Taking single nutrients in the form of a pill and declaring yourself healthy is like going to a sex shop, picking out some vibrators and changing your Facebook status from “Single” to “In a Relationship”.
I’m all for orgasms, but orgasms alone do not qualify as the complex, wonderful, annoying, deep, emotional, connected, cozy, intimate crescendo that makes up a relationship with another human being.
Are you pickin’ up what I’m throwing down?
Focusing on one single nutrient that would ordinarily come from food and synthesizing it into a pill doesn’t have the same effect as if you were to eat the food containing that nutrient.
Nutrition is extremely complex and all of the nutrients that make up food haven’t even been discovered or identified yet. And it’s this complexity and variety of nutrients in food that makes vitamin supplements fall completely short and ineffective.
You see, plant food has thousands upon thousands of nutrients and it’s the way in which they all work together that gives us long term protection from chronic illness and disease.
You can’t expect that taking a few different vitamin pills each day will do the same job that thousands of nutrients do together. There might be some very short term benefits that come from taking certain supplements, but let’s not get it twisted, this is not a solution to achieve long term health. In fact, there might even be severe damage from taking certain supplements.
Check this out while I rewind the soundtrack.
We’re going back to the 80’s when jellies were in, The New Kids on the Block were hot, we rewound our movies on VHS, Molly Ringwald validated my name and supplements were all the rage.
There was one nutrient in particular that got a lot of attention in the early 80’s.
Beta carotene is a powerful antioxidant. It’s a precursor to vitamin A and it’s only found in plants.
Diets high in beta carotene have been found to reduce the risk of chronic disease, including lung cancer. Back in the day, people thought that it was specifically the beta carotene in plant based diets that made them so effective against lung cancer.
Naturally, vitamin manufacturers picked up on this and started huge marketing efforts towards promoting beta carotene supplements.
They thought that if beta carotene-rich diets reduced the risk of lung cancer, then surely synthesized beta carotene in pill form would do the same, right?
Not so much as it turns out.
There was a study organized in Finland in the mid 80’s to see if the hypotheses of the association with beta carotene supplements and a decrease risk of lung cancer was in fact supported.
It was an observational study and 29,000 male smokers were followed for 8 years, starting in 1985. Some of these men were given beta carotene supplements and some were not.
The results were pretty shocking and in 1994 they were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The group of men who consumed beta carotene supplements to reduce the risk of lung cancer actually had an 18% increase of lung cancer compared to the group not taking the supplement. These results actually led to the halt of similar studies that were taking place in the United States at the time the study was published. The risk for unnecessary lung cancer was too great.
This Finnish study brought an end to the major marketing efforts of beta carotene supplements.
This study is just one example of how when taken out of context, single synthesized nutrients in pill form do not act the same way in the body as nutrient dense food. They can, in fact, cause more harm than good.
Plant foods that are high in beta carotene are sweet potatoes, carrots, leafy greens, butternut squash, red and yellow peppers and broccoli to name a few. Make sure to add some of these foods to your next grocery shopping list!
Now, there are two vitamins that I must briefly review before I wrap up.
This is the story of vitamin D and vitamin B12.
These are the two supplements that are often recommended to people who follow a plant based diet because they’re most commonly found in animal based foods.
Let’s start with vitamin D.
Vitamin D is not really a vitamin at all. A vitamin is a nutrient that must be consumed because our body does not make it. As it turns out, our body can make vitamin D. All we need is some sunshine each day and our body will produce all the D we need.
So if you can get out in the sunshine and expose your arms and legs for about 10-15 minutes each day, you’ll be set in the D department. If you live in lets say, England or somewhere else where sunshine doesn’t happen on the daily, then taking a vitamin D supplement will help with your D levels.
Now let’s see what’s happening with B12.
B12 isn’t actually made by plants or animals. It’s made by microorganisms that are in animals or in microorganism-rich soil. In animals, the microorganisms that produce B12 are in the intestinal tract, in the large intestines.
Plants containing B12 would have to be grown in high quality organic microorganism-rich soil.
Today’s soil typically isn’t great, so if you follow a plant based diet, taking a B12 supplement is recommended. You can find it in pill form or you can eat foods that have been enriched with B12, like Red Star nutritional yeast.
Either way, you don’t need much, and taking a B12 supplement has no side effects or long term health related issues. You need about 2,000 micrograms (MCG) per week. How much you get per day isn’t as important because the body stores B12 and releases it as needed. If you take 500 MCG 4 times a week, you’ll be golden.
Let’s close this sucker down and bring it home.
At the end of the day, there’s no need to spend extra money stocking your cabinets with supplements.
If you spend a little time in the sunshine each day, eat a variety of whole plant foods, and add some nooch (nutritional yeast) to your food from time to time, you’ll get all the fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that you need to protect your beautiful body from chronic illness and disease.
Combine this with a regular yoga practice and plenty of orgasms and you’re pretty much golden.
And hey, we all have to buy groceries and eat anyway. We may as well buy food that will protect our overall long term health and call it a day.
Today’s recipe is super easy to make and has lots of beta carotene, especially if you serve it over some baby spinach or leafy greens. Make it, share it and enjoy.
- 1 cup dry quinoa 180g
- 1/4 cup red onion 30g, diced
- 1 red or yellow pepper chopped
- 1 can of black beans 15oz. / make sure you strain and rinse them
- 1 cup red cabbage 95g, chopped
- 1/4 cup cilantro 4g, chopped
- 1/4 cup tahini 50g
- 1/4 cup water 60ml
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
- Cook the quinoa by placing the quinoa and 2 cups of water (470ml) in a pan, and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer until the water is absorbed, about 10-15 minutes.
- While the quinoa is cooking, you can make the dressing by adding all of the dressing ingredients to your blender, and blending until creamy and smooth.
- When the quinoa is cooked, place in a large mixing bowl and add the red onion, pepper, black beans, red cabbage and cilantro.
- Pour the dressing over the salad and stir until everything is combined.
- Serve cold or at room temperature.
I hope you have a lovely week, filled with balance, moderation and lots of love.