Friday, October 14, 2011

Bloomfield's Badass Foods: Food!

Ok kids, I consider the following rant to be a Public Service Announcement; a ranting, snorting, saliva-flecked Public Service Announcement. Please enjoy.

I've noticed recently that the supplement industry has been booming. It has been estimated that this industry is worth $50 billion a year, a figure that was taken from stats before recent growth was taken into account. In other words, this industry is worth big bucks - and this, in a time where people complain that it is often too expensive to eat healthily. But what are we getting for that absurd figure? What are vegetarians and vegans, who traditionally spend a lot of money on vitamin and mineral supplements, getting for their cash?

Well, in the eyes of this sceptic, a few things of differing value.

First, and most cynically, I believe we're receiving a very expensive placebo.

People often don't know enough about a mineral of vitamin beyond a general awareness that it is "good" or "makes your skin better". In my experience, vegetarians and vegans tend to be a little more clued up on the benefits of these supplements, but can still get lost in the haze of information that surrounds them. We know that Vitamin D is a useful thing to have, but how do we know when we are getting an ample supply of it? Relying on the information of someone trying to shill you a product is usually not a great idea in any marketplace, especially one like this where customer knowledge often not as in depth as it needs to be.

Secondly, still with my cynical hat on, how are we sure of the quality of the supplements presented to us? Just because a supplement says that it is made up of pure iron or magnesium or whatever it happens to be that you "need" doesn't mean it can deliver it efficiently. The quality of the original materials might be poor, the manufacturing process could have damaged it, and the packaging may not be sufficiently secure or may even leach into the contents (as is the case with lots of clear plastis in sunlight and heat especially). Ultimately, you don't want to spend $30 on a plastic barrel of Omega 3 capsules only for the oil to have been extracted from unhealthy, unnaturally farmed fish (especially if you're not pescetarian!) and for the contents to be half carcinogenic plastics!

Thirdly, I notice that lots of vegetarians and vegans tend to have a much more varied diet than the majority of us carnivores. They tend to eat more fruits and vegetables and a far wider array of products than your standard meatosaurus. It seems strange to me, then, that people who have this awesome dietary variety would need to supplement that at all.

My point, for fear of it getting lost amongst all this ire, is this: Just because someone tells you you need a Vitamin C pill, it doesn't mean that you actually need it.

The good thing about food is that it can provide almost all of our essential vitamins and minerals, even if we have restricted diets - that's why we have evolved to eat the stuff, after all. If it was all about taste and pleasure, we might have evolved to survive on beer. It's been tested, and we can't.

Food is a bounteous wonderland of goodness, and often foods contain more amazing vitamins and minerals than you might think.

If you think you need more Vitamin C in your diet, have a few good quality chili peppers with every other meal, and add herbs like parsley and thyme to winter dishes. Yes, Vitamin C is not just in oranges! Save yourself a trip to Holland & Barrett or Shoppers Drug Mart and try to get everything you need from your diet, or as much as realistically possible.

I honestly really, really want people to look at their foods and the goodness they can get from them, and realise that supplements should be a last resort; something that you turn to ONLY if you can't get what you need successfully from your diet. It might take a little more effort to cook more adventurously, and with better quality ingredients, but if you tally up how much money you spent in your drug cabinet and spend that on good food instead, I'm sure you'll agree that it's a much better investment.

I know these are dark financial times for people (I'm talking about the 1 million unemployed under 24s in the UK, and the others around the world) but thinking that a supplement is going to change your life is simply misguided. It's a much better idea to purchase quality, organic foods that are more easily absorbed into your body than a concentrated, isolated supplement.

Your body is designed to get the most benefit out of an accumulation of varied foods ingested at a similar time, the most efficient way. If you take a pill or powder, your body might waste up to 80% of the contents just trying to break it down and use it properly. Foods work best together, not in isolation, so give your gut a break and make yourself something with mad variety and lots of ingredients!

The bottom line is this: your body wants foods, not pills.

Below I've compiled a list of the things that vegetarians and vegans are most likely to have deficiencies in, and some natural, nutritional ways that they can get more of each one into their body. Don't buy into the hype that says if you don't eat meat or animal products you need supplements. What you need is a varied diet, rich in whole foods - and a love for eating that food!

I hope you've enjoyed this post, and please feel free to pose any questions you might have. I'm here to help, friends!


Some things vegetarians may be low in:

Vitamin B12
Probably the most obvious vitamin to put on this list, B12 can be a real problem. Deficiency symptoms include but are not limited to: irritability, inability to focus, depression with suicidal tendencies (yikes!), anemia, irreversible nerve damage and low energy levels. That's quite the doom-laden list!

B12 comes from animal sources mainly, but don't despair; it can only be obtained by eating tempeh, miso and sea vegetables, although not in huge quantities. Fortified food and drink products such as almond milk and Marmite can be a great option. Of course, if you're in dire need, you can turn to B12 supplements, but let's pretend I didn't say that so I don't feel like a massive hypocrite.

Vitamin D
This is needed to absorb calcium, and deficiency may cause bone or dental health problems as well as rickets (soft bones!), asthma and muscular spasms.

You can get Vitamin D from sunlight directly and in dietary form from mushrooms (especially white button mushrooms), as well as fish, if you're a pescetarian.

This is probably the mineral most commonly attributed to the stereotype of vegetarians being weak and feeble types, as iron deficiency can lead to anemia and reduced stamina.

There are many non-meat options to provide iron in the diet, such as lentils, quinoa, tofu, pumpkin seeds, blackstrap molasses and the gas-inducing Jerusalem Artichoke. Eating these foods with Vitamin C promotes far better iron absorption.

Happy eating!

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