Real food is the best way to get your daily dose of vi­ta­min C

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - BAR­BARA QUINN

As I pre­pared to teach a les­son on vi­ta­mins and min­er­als for a col­lege nu­tri­tion class, my mind went back to a pet guinea pig I had in high school. He was a happy lit­tle guy with the let­tuce I fed him un­til he got very sick one day. Soon af­ter, I found him very dead.

It was then I learned that guinea pigs, like hu­mans, can­not make vi­ta­min C—a nu­tri­ent that quite lit­er­ally keeps us knit­ted to­gether. If we don’t rou­tinely add this es­sen­tial nu­tri­ent to our bod­ies, ev­ery­thing from our blood ves­sels to our bones even­tu­ally breaks down.

Most vi­ta­mins were dis­cov­ered the same way I learned about guinea pigs ... by ac­ci­dent. In the case of vi­ta­min C, sailors of old who sub­sisted on long voy­ages with­out fresh foods soon suc­cumbed to lost teeth, bro­ken bones and bleed­ing dis­or­ders, a dis­ease called scurvy. Af­ter cen­turies of trial and er­ror, a Bri­tish naval sur­geon found that men pro­vided with lemons and oranges on their sea jour­neys es­caped this ter­ri­ble fate.

And we’re still learn­ing. We now know that vi­ta­min C (ascor­bic acid) is a pow­er­ful an­tiox­i­dant; it pro­tects our eyes from sun dam­age and helps pre­vent dam­age to our cells that can lead to can­cer and heart dis­ease. Re­cent stud­ies now sug­gest that bod­ies re­plete with vi­ta­min C tend to burn f at eas­ier than those with low stores of this vi­ta­min.

And yes, we do need vi­ta­min Crich foods daily, as our body does not store this pre­cious com­pound. Be­sides cit­rus fruits, good sources in­clude straw­ber­ries, toma­toes, kiwi and red pep­pers.

Min­er­als are also a f as­ci­nat­ing study. Our sur­vival de­pends on the vast work­ings of at least 25 dif­fer­ent el­e­ments from the earth. In the small bal­anced amounts we get in a health­ful diet, min­er­als work to pro­duce en­ergy and vi­tal­ity for our bod­ies.

At the same time, these nu­tri­ents for life can be toxic in large doses. Se­le­nium, for ex­am­ple, works with vi­ta­min E to pro­tect our cells from dam­age and ag­ing. But pop­ping doses higher than 400 mi­cro­grams a day can make us very, very sick.

Nu­tri­tion scientists do not al­ways come to the right con­clu­sion about the work­ings of in­di­vid­ual nu­tri­ents in food. What we do know for sure — es­pe­cially in the study of vi­ta­mins and min­er­als — is that real food is the still the best way to get the most bang from our nu­tri­ent buck. More times than not when re­searchers have at­tempted to show the ben­e­fit of one iso­lated nu­tri­ent on health, the re­sults have been dis­ap­point­ing. Yet for decades, a mass of stud­ies have con­clu­sively shown the ben­e­fi­cial health ef­fects of eat­ing vi­ta­min and min­eral-rich foods.

If only I’d known that for my guinea pig ...

Bar­bara Quinn is a reg­is­tered di­eti­tian and cer­ti­fied di­a­betes ed­u­ca­tor. She is the au­thor of “Quinn-Es­sen­tial Nu­tri­tion” (West­bow Press, 2015). Mon­terey County Her­ald


Ki­wis are among many foods that are a good source of vi­ta­min C.

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