Vitamania: Our Obsessive Quest For Nutritional Perfection

Vitamania: Our Obsessive Quest For Nutritional Perfection

Catherine Price

Language: English

Pages: 336

ISBN: 1594205043

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


"Absorbing and meticulously researched." -- The New York Times

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"[M]easured, funny and fascinating. . . . If you need vitamins to survive (you do), you should read this book." --Scientific American, Food Matters
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"A hidden, many-faceted, and urgent story." --Booklist, *STARRED*
Should I take a multivitamin? Does vitamin C really prevent colds? Can I get enough vitamin D from the sun? Are dietary supplements safe? How much of each vitamin do I need? 

In Vitamania, award-winning journalist Catherine Price takes readers on a lively journey through the past, present and future of the mysterious micronutrients known as human vitamins --  an adventure that includes poison squads and political maneuvering, irradiated sheep grease and smuggled rats. Part history, part science, part personal exploration, Price's witty and engaging book reveals how vitamins have profoundly shaped our attitudes toward eating, and investigates the emerging science of how what we eat might affect our offspring for generations to come.

When vitamins were discovered a mere century ago, they changed the destiny of the human species by preventing and curing many terrifying diseases. Yet it wasn't long before vitamins spread from labs of scientists into the realm of food marketers and began to take on a life of their own. By the end of the Second World War, vitamins were available in forms never before seen in nature--vitamin gum, vitamin doughnuts, even vitamin beer--and their success showed food manufacturers that adding synthetic vitamins to otherwise nutritionally empty products could convince consumers that they were healthy. The era of "vitamania," as one 1940s journalist called it, had begun.

Though we've gained much from our embrace of vitamins, what we've lost is a crucial sense of perspective. Vitamins may be essential to our lives, but they are not the only important substances in food. By buying into a century of hype and advertising, we have accepted the false idea that particular dietary chemicals can be used as shortcuts to health--whether they be antioxidants or omega-3s or, yes, vitamins. And it's our vitamin-inspired desire for effortless shortcuts that created today's dietary supplement industry, a veritable Wild West of overpromising "miracle" substances that can be legally sold without any proof that they are effective or safe.

For the countless individuals seeking to maximize their health and who consider vitamins to be the keys to well-being, Price's Vitamania will be a game-changing look into the roots of America's ongoing nutritional confusion. Her travels to vitamin manufacturers and food laboratories and military testing kitchens--along with her deep dive into the history of nutritional science-- provide a witty and dynamic narrative arc that binds Vitamania together. The result is a page-turning exploration of the history, science, hype, and future of nutrition. And her ultimate message is both inspiring and straightforward: given all that we don't know about vitamins and nutrition, the best way to decide what to eat is to stop obsessing and simply embrace this uncertainty head-on.

By exposing our extraordinary psychological relationship with vitamins and challenging us to question our beliefs, Vitamania won't just change the way we think about vitamins. It will change the way we think about food. 

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"[Price's] investigation, full of scurvy-ridden sailors, questionable nutritional supplements and solid science, is both entertaining and enlightening." 

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criminal case.” BASF also pleaded guilty and agreed to pay $225 million for its role in the same conspiracy; Takeda paid $72 million, and many other smaller producers were involved as well. In 2001, the European Commission fined eight companies, including the ones mentioned above, almost a billion euros. All told, the Wall Street Journal estimates that the price-fixing lawsuits resulted in the bulk vitamin makers agreeing to pay $1 billion in criminal fines and more than $1 billion in civil

currently dominated by two European companies, DSM and BASF, but their main competitors—and indeed, many of their own production facilities—are now in China.3 Most of the world’s supply of vitamins A, B12, and E comes from China, along with about 75 percent of vitamin D and more than 80 percent of vitamin C. According to a 2011 report by Leatherhead Food Research, China exports between 150,000 and 200,000 tons of vitamins per year, up from fewer than 100,000 tons in 2003. China, where several

That Disease. Together with a Critical and Chronological View of What Has Been Published on the Subject. 1st Edition. Edinburgh: Kincaid & Donaldson, 1753: 196. “I do not mean to say that lemon juice”: Lind, James. A Treatise on the Scurvy: Containing an Inquiry into the Nature, Causes, and Cure, of That Disease. Together with a Critical and Chronological View of What Has Been Published on the Subject. 3rd Edition. London: G. Pearch and W. Woodfall, 1772: 526. Scurvy . . . even emerged among

find any increase in oomph (or pep or zest, for that matter) from extra doses, few people turned out to actually be deficient in it, and if Americans during World War II were lacking anything, it certainly wasn’t morale. Today, thiamin is usually lumped along with seven other vitamins into the unexciting-sounding B complex; indeed, now that beriberi is no longer a common problem, not many Americans think about it at all. But though the idea of a thiamin frenzy might at first sound ridiculous,

of three capsules that employers could provide for their workers for three cents a pop. One union included a demand for employer-provided vitamins in its contract negotiations. Even non-war-related employers experimented with supplying their workers with vitamin pills: the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), for example, paid for vitamin supplements for its entire workforce. Despite the specificity of McCollum’s articles, government educational attempts, and food advertisers’ claims, the

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