From O’S News Serve 2/15    During the NBA’s all-star weekend, the “USA” team of first- and second-year players lost to the “World” team. Basketball fans who once attributed the superiority of Black players to jumping ability, have begun to recognize that Caucasian players from Europe also seem to have a subtle edge. The conventional wisdom credits the European coaches, who instill “the fundamentals.” We think it’s the longterm result of inferior American nutrition.

An informative  op-ed piece in the NY Times today by Catherine Price notes that Americans eat food that fills but doesn’t fully nourish. The piece is called “Vitamins Hide the Low Quality of our Food.” Consumers of hemp products should find it relevant. Price tells us, among other things, that the entourage effect —beneficial compounds working in synergy— applies to vegetables. 

Unfortunately, she has a blame-the-victim political outlook. “Our blindness is largely our own fault,” Price asserts, and “We refuse to change our eating habits…”   But we, the people, did not miseducate ourselves about nutrition and biology. And we, the people, don’t generally have access to and can’t afford organic meat and produce.  Half the American people are living paycheck-to-paycheck. 

Here’s an excerpt from Price’s NYT piece. Take what you need and leave the rest:

Nutritionists are correct when they tell us that most of us don’t need to be taking multivitamins. But that’s only because multiple vitamins have already been added to our food.

Given the poor quality of the typical American diet, this fortification is far from superfluous. In fact, for products like milk and flour, where fortification and enrichment have occurred for so long that they’ve become invisible, it would be almost irresponsible not to add synthetic vitamins. If food companies didn’t do so voluntarily, the government might have to require it, to make sure that we didn’t accidentally eat ourselves into nutritional deficiencies.

Mandatory fortification will never be necessary, however, because synthetic vitamins are as essential to food companies as they are to us. To be successful in today’s market, food manufacturers must create products that can be easily transported over long distances and stored for extended periods.

They also need to be sure that their products offer some nutritional value so that customers don’t have to go elsewhere to meet their vitamin needs. But the very processing that’s necessary to create long shelf lives destroys vitamins, among other important nutrients. It’s nearly impossible to create foods that can sit for months in a supermarket that are also naturally vitamin-rich.

Luckily for manufacturers, the early days of the packaged foods industry coincided with the advent of synthetic vitamins, which made it possible to simply replace any vitamins that processing had destroyed. This fortuitous timing meant that manufacturers never had to publicly admit the nutritional inferiority of their products.

Indeed, 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 adding back vitamins after the fact ignores the issue of synergy: how nutrients work naturally as opposed to when they are isolated. 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. The researchers hypothesized that this might be because the whole broccoli contained other compounds that helped people’s bodies put the anticancer chemicals to use.

And yet we refuse to change our eating habits in the ways that would actually protect us, which would require refocusing our diets on minimally processed foods that are naturally nutrient-rich.