Nutrition Times : How to Understand Nutrition
Your guide to health and nutrition. by Joseph D. Beasley, M.D.
Table of Contents:Copyright © 2000-2011 -The Mother and Child Corporation , DBA AddictionEnd- All rights reserved
Chapter 1: What is Nutrition?
Food and Nutrients
Table: Know the Essential Nutrients The Symphony of Biochemistry An Emerging Science
Chapter 2: An Introduction to the Nutrients
Chapter 3: The Macronutrients
table: The Essential Amino Acids Carbohydrates
table: Example of Dietary Fats
Fat, Cholesterol, and Heart Disease
A Proper Balance
Chapter 4: The Micronutrients
table: The Essential Minerals
table: The Known Essential vitamins Reference Guide: Major Micronutrients and Their Functions
Chapter 5: Making it Work: Digestion, Absorption,
Digestion and Absorption
Appetite vs. Hunger
What Is Nutrition
In these days of ready-to-eat meals, few of us think about from where our food comes, or what it contains, or what it can do. It's easier to just put something into our stomachs
to stop those pesky hunger pangs (or nagging cravings) than to think about what our bodies are going to do with the food once it's in there.
There is a big difference between being well fed (having enough food to fill your stomach), and being well nourished (having the right food to fill your dietary needs). If you ate
a box of cornstarch you might feel full (and a little nauseated), but you certainly wouldn't be nourished.
Good nutrition encompasses not only the foods we eat, but every aspect of the way we live our lives. It is affected by anything that affects our bodies, including our emotions,
our relationships, and the stresses we encounter in day-to-day life. It depends not only on foods, but on the ability our bodies have to digest, distribute, use, and store the
nutrients contained in those foods. Anything that interferes with this ability is going to interfere with nutrition.
Addictions, eating disorders, emotional stress, food allergies, poor absorption, and many other disorders interfere with almost every aspect of the body's ability to carry out its
nutritional tasks. Add to this fact the harsh reality of what most of us are eating, and it's small wonder that so many diets are nutritional disasters. If something can be done
wrong nutritionally, most of us have been doing it.
Food and Nutrients
According to the Random House College Dictionary food is "any nourishing substance that is taken into the body to sustain life, pro vide energy; promote growth, etc."
Nutrients, on the other hand, are chemicals within foods that our bodies use to conduct the myriad biochemical reactions of life. Given a relatively small number of nutritional
building blocks (around 50 at last count), the body can construct an astonishing array of biochemical compounds and con- duct thousands of complex biochemical processes.
From the killer cells of the immune system to the most delicate reproductive cell, every fiber of our being depends on the presence (and balance) of nutrients within the body.
The degree to which a given food is nourishing depends on the number and proportion of nutrients it contains. Food, like gasoline, can be either high- or low-octane. The
more nutrients a food contains, the better its ability to sustain life, provide energy; and pro mote growth.
Ironically (given their overriding importance in the quality of our lives), the significance of nutrients in food has only recently been recognized. For centuries, humans have
mistaken quantity for quality when dealing with food and have suffered the consequences:
· Millions of sailors died horrible deaths from scurvy (a chronic vita min C deficiency) before the importance of providing fresh fruits (particularly limes) on long voyages was
recognized and acted upon.
· Untold millions in Asia succumbed to beriberi, a thiamin deficiency caused by consuming a diet that consisted primarily of refined white rice.
· In the American South at the turn of the twentieth century; thou sands of individuals were confined to mental hospitals when they were in fact suffering from pellagra, a
chronic niacin deficiency characterized by dementia (madness), diarrhea, dermatitis, and eventually death. These men and women had been living on the prevailing diet of
fatback pork, molasses, and corn bread, which might have been filling, but also was markedly deficient in niacin. when their in-hospital diet was changed to include more
nutritionally rich foods (including liver extract and fresh vegetables), these supposedly mad patients were miraculously healed.
Dramatic cases such as these are what most people think of when they hear the word "malnutrition." But malnutrition has many guises.
The Known Essential Nutrients
water Major Minerals Fat Soluble Vitamins
carbohydrates sodium(Na) A(retinol)
fiber magnesium(Mg) D(calciferol)
protein phosphorus(P) E(tocopherol)
lipids/fats chlorine(Cl) K(phylloquinone)
Amino Acids calcium(Ca) Water Soluble Vitamins
arginine(for children) sulfur (s) B-1(thiamin)
histidine(for children) B-3(niacin)
leucine Trace Minerals B-6(pyridoxine)
isoleucine iron (Fe) folic acid (folacin)
lysine iodine(l) biotin
methionine chromium(Cr) C (ascorbic acid)
phenylalanine fluorine(F) choline
threonine molybdenum(M) B-2(riboflavin)
tryptophan silicon (Si) B-5(riboflavin)
valine cobalt (CO) B-12(cyanocobalamin)
Fatty Acids copper(Cu)
linoleic acid manganese(Mn)
linolenic acid zinc(Zn)
The person who binges and purges constantly, the cocaine addict, the alcoholic, the valium addict-all are malnourished to some degree. Even grossly overweight individuals,
who seem to have too much nutrition, are almost always critically malnourished. Like the pellagra victims of the past, they are consuming the wrong balance of nutrients.
In the body, nutrients function like an orchestra. In order for a symphony to reach its full expression, all the instruments must perform together. Similarly, in the symphony of
human biochemistry nutrients always act in concert.
If you were attending a symphony and the entire string section went on strike, you would certainly notice the difference. If, how ever, only one violinist chose to walk out, you
might not consciously notice the difference in sound, but something would be missing.
Major nutritional diseases such as pellagra are equivalent to the entire string section going out on strike. But even in the case of pellagra, niacin is not the sole culprit. Just as
the string section consists of many different instruments, so the disease of pellagra involves several nutrients. Lack of niacin is the primary deficiency; but niacin requires
other nutrients in order to perform its functions. When niacin alone is used to treat pellagra, many symptoms remain. A full nutritional program that includes intensive niacin
supplementation is needed to fully restore pellagra victims.
The same is true for all of the single-nutrient diseases. Although one particular nutrient may be missing most conspicuously ("Oh, the violins are missing!"), it is never the only
one that has gone ("And I don't hear any cellos, either.").
To take it a few steps further, any nutrient deficiency, no matter how small, is going to have a very wide impact. Like a snowball rolling downhill, a seemingly insignificant
nutrient deficiency can grow to enormous significance as its effects spread through the nutritional system.
An Emerging Science
Although we have learned a tremendous amount about nutritional science in the last century or so, it is still a very young field that is growing by leaps and bounds.
Unfortunately, new knowledge still takes a long time to get into mainstream practice. From a recovery perspective, the thing to remember is that the nutrients in food work as a
team, and that it is crucial to your body's health to have all the team members present at all times.
We must look beyond the mere appearance or amount of food and consider its contents. Although food is remarkably hardy (grain can be stored for years, wines and
cheeses have to be aged, and dehydrated foods can be stored for decades), nutrients are fragile and easily lost or destroyed. This is why eating whole, unprocessed foods is
so vitally important in recovery, since any level of processing-be it cooking a raw vegetable or hydrogenating an oil-removes nutrients. Many of the wonders of our modern
food production system are stripping our foods of most of their nutritional value.
An Introduction to the Nutrients
Before we discuss the various individual nutrients, it's important to get a handle on one of the most misunderstood concepts in nutrition: calories.
Strictly speaking, a calorie is not a specific thing at all. It is a measurement of how much energy a given food provides. When we talk about the number of calories in a food,
we are really discussing how much energy the body gets from that food. Calories are not nutrients, and it is possible for a food to provide plenty of calories without providing
Ideally, we want to have an even balance between the number of calories we consume and the amount of energy we expend. But caloric need can vary a great deal among
individuals. If you are a professional figure skater who practices six hours a day and competes ten months out of the year, you burn a lot of energy and need a fair number of
calories to power all that activity and maintain normal bodily processes. If, on the other hand, you are an accountant who does a lot of detail work behind a desk and exercises
only intermittently, your energy needs are a lot less spectacular. If you eat foods that provide more calories (energy) than your body needs at the time, your body will store it
away-in fat cells-for later use.
Calories, then, are only the most basic and simplistic of nutritional measures. A food such as sugar or bourbon may provide energy in the form of calories, but it won't provide
any of the nutrients that the body needs to help run the "furnace" that burns all that energy. The calories-to-nutrients balance in a given food is usually referred to as "nutrient
density." Nutrient-dense foods provide lots of nutrients in relatively few calories, while low-nutrient-density foods have far more calories than nutrients
Most teenagers, many adults, addicts of all kinds, and people with eating disorders tend to consume low-nutrient-density foods in the form of fast foods, junk foods, and so
called convenience foods that contain huge amounts of refined carbohydrates, artificial additives, and unnatural fats. When this poor diet is compounded by alcohol intake,
drug use, or the devastating effects of binging and purging, it provokes an even greater nutritional crisis wherein the already overburdened body must draw on stored
nutrients in order to function.
If we really intend to nourish the body, we must give it not only the nutrients it needs to function right now, but also the nutrients it requires to replenish those lost nutritional
stores. And in order to do that, we need to understand what the various nutrients are and how they are processed within the body.
Not all nutrients are created equal. Some, such as water, must be consumed in large amounts every day. Others, such as arsenic, should only be taken in infinitesimal
amounts. But whether we need them by the pound (macronutrients) or by the fraction of a milligram (micronutrients) all nutrients are important. The body (and mind) will
eventually become just as ill when deprived of a micronutrient like niacin as it does when deprived of a macronutrient like water; just ask all those pellagra victims in the South
during the early 1900s.
The five macronutrients are protein, carbohydrate, fat (containing all the essential fatty acids), water, and fiber. Most of the foods we eat come from these five groups. The
micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and trace elements) are found within the macronutrients.
Protein is a crucial part of all animal bodies, accounting for 10 per cent to 20 percent depending on age and body weight. Most of the rest is water, fat, and the calcium of
bones and teeth. The human body builds and uses more than 50,000 different proteins in its day- to-day functioning.
In order to carry out this amazing feat, the body requires only 22 protein "building blocks"-the amino acids. About half of these are essential nutrients; without them, the body
cannot function. With them, the body can build all the other "nonessential" amino acids and function at peak efficiency.
We get amino acids by eating protein foods, which our bodies then break down into their constituent amino acids. The primary protein foods poultry, fish, soybeans, meat, and
dairy products- contain all the essential amino acids and are called complete proteins. But the secondary sources, which come from the vegetable kingdom, usually contain
only incomplete proteins. Cereals, for example, are low in the amino acid lysine, but high in methionine and tryptophan.
Beans, on the other hand, have reverse amino acid profiles. When foods from the two groups are eaten together, the body gets the full set of necessary amino acids.
THE ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS
arginine (for children) lysine tryptophan
histidine (for children) methionine valine
Many cultures have developed meals centered around comple mentary proteins. In the Middle East, bread and cheese are tradition- ally eaten together; in Mexico, rice and
beans. Various cultures rely heavily on such protein complements, as well as on fish and chicken and other protein sources. If you choose to eschew meat entirely, it is critical
that you eat complementary foods to ensure that you get enough dietary protein. We have seen many vegetarians who believed they were eating healthy, when they were in
fact quite malnourished and protein deficient.
Protein foods are among the first to fall by the wayside in addictions and eating disorders. Primary protein sources (such as meat and fish) are either too expensive or too time-
consuming to prepare for an individual in the throes of addiction, while anorexic and bulimic individuals often avoid them because of the calories they contain. Besides, most
protein foods do not provide the unique emotional and biological satisfaction derived from the next nutrient group:
Carbohydrates are the primary source of calories (fuel) for the body's cells. They burn quickly and easily to produce energy and heat. Carbohydrates are found almost
exclusively in the vegetable kingdom-in fruits, vegetables, and grains.
Carbohydrate foods range from the complex, called starches, to the simple, called sugars. Starches are potatoes, rice, corn and other vegetables, bread, cereal, and pasta.
Sugars include table sugar, fruit, syrups, and honey. Actually, starches and sugars are part of a continuum, in which the molecularly complex starches degrade into the more
simple molecules of sugars. We see this process every time a fruit ripens, as the starches of the young fruit gradually break down into the sweet sugars of ripeness.
The individual cells of the body cannot use carbohydrates until they have been reduced to their simplest form: glucose. During digestion, starches are broken down into
complex sugars; complex sugars are broken down into simple sugars; and simple sugars are absorbed into the blood, chiefly as glucose. The bloodstream carries the glucose
(along with Oxygen from the lungs) to all the body's cells, where it fuels all life processes. Glucose that is not needed at the time of digestion is processed and stored as fat.
The body needs a constant supply of energy; in the form of blood glucose, to carry out its myriad functions. As we see in the case of millions of teenagers and adults, not
properly meeting this need results in a host of physical, emotional, and psychological problems.
The form of a specific carbohydrate has a tremendous influence on its effect on our bodies. The more refined the carbohydrate, be it rice, sugar cane, or wheat, the fewer
nutrients it contains and the more abruptly it enters the system as blood sugar. The body's metabolism is designed to convert complex and "natural" sugars into glucose in a
slow, steady process that keeps blood glucose levels stable so that cells are constantly and steadily nourished. When refined sugars are dumped into this system, blood
sugar levels rise to abnormal levels and the body reacts by trying to decrease them. It does this by releasing extra adrenaline and insulin. Over time this biochemical
overcompensation affects the production of critical brain chemicals, causing fatigue, depression, and mood swings.
Although they may be the most dreaded of the macro-nutrients, fats (or, to use the technical term, lipids) are basically good for the body. Dietary fats are essential to the
absorption, transport, and use of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K; and the body's fat cells serve as insulation to help maintain proper body temperature, as storage for
fat-soluble vitamins, and as a source of energy in times of caloric need.
Like proteins, fats occur in all animal foods, from sirloin steak to yogurt. But like carbohydrates, they are also found in the vegetable kingdom. Seeds, nuts, and related foods
such as grains and beans all contain fats; hence we have corn oil, peanut oil, olive oil, and so forth.
Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats all contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Fats, however, have a much higher concentration of carbon and hydrogen, which take longer to
burn than oxygen. As a result, high-fat foods provide more long-term energy (calories) than high-carbohydrate or high-protein foods. Both proteins and carbohydrates provide
about four calories per gram. Fat provides nine. So an ounce of butter or olive oil will give you about 255 calories to burn, while an ounce of carbohydrates or pure protein will
provide 113 calories.
EXAMPLES OF DIETARY FATS (by saturation)
Saturated Monounsaturated Polyunsaturated
Chicken fat Olive oil Safflower oil
Lard Canola oil Corn oil
Beef tallow Peanut oil Soybean oil
Palm oil Sunflower oil Cottonseed oil
Butter Sunflower oi
Cocoa butter Fish oils
The basic structural components of dietary fats are the fatty acids. Nutritional science is still discovering the many roles these substances play in human health. At least two
fatty acids-linoleic acid and linolenic acid- are known to be absolutely necessary to the functioning of the body's cells. These beneficial fats are known collectively as the
essential fatty acids (EFAs). The body also derives EFAs from some of the more complex fatty acids. Essential fatty acid deficiencies have been linked to several biological
and emotional disorders, including alcoholism and depression.
Fatty acids are differentiated on the basis of saturation- that is, the balance of carbon and hydrogen in the molecule. In saturated ~ acids, every carbon bond is occupied by a
hydrogen atom. The molecule is thus "saturated" with hydrogen. Unsaturated fatty acids T missing one (in monounsaturated fatty acids) or more (in polyunsaturated fatty
acids) hydrogen atoms, so the carbon atoms form double bonds to make up for these "missing links."
These seemingly simple molecular variations make a tremendous difference in both the form of the fat and the way it behaves in the body. Saturated fatty acids molecules are
very straight, rigid, and molecularly stable. They stick together and resist chemical and temperature changes, both inside and outside of the body. Dietary fats that contain a
lot of saturated fatty acids remain solid at room temperature and gel together quickly even after being heated. Lard and other animal fats contain primarily saturated fatty
acids, as do cocoa butter, palm kernels (and oils), and coconut products.
In unsaturated fatty acids, the molecule bends at the site of the carbon double bond, making it flexible and sensitive to heat and chemical influences. Since the double bond
also gives the molecule a slightly negative electrical charge, unsaturated fatty acids not only don't stick together, they actually repel each other. Most vegetable oils (with the
exception of palm and coconut) are composed of unsaturated fatty acids, and they remain liquid at room temperature.
And what about cholesterol? Despite cholesterol's bad reputation, it too plays an important part in the body's normal functioning. Cholesterol is a hard, waxy substance that is
a critical component of all cell walls. It is part of the bile acids that digest fats, a major component of brain and nerve tissue, and a forerunner of many hormones, particularly
the sex hormones. As nutrition researcher Dr. Henry Schroeder has noted, without cholesterol "the skin would dry up, the brain would not function, and there would be no vital
hormones of sex and adrenal."
Because cholesterol is crucial to so many of the body's functions, the body makes it all the time. The building blocks of cholesterol are carbon fragments that the body derives
primarily from dietary fats (once the essential fatty acids have been metabolized), carbohydrate (when they have been broken down into simple sugars), and occasionally
proteins. In foods, "ready-made" cholesterol is found only in the saturated fats of animal foods (meats, whole milk products, lard, and so forth). Most vegetable oils are
Fat, Cholesterol, and Heart Disease
The cholesterol controversy stems from the fact that cholesterol is a major component of the plaques that clog arteries and kill millions of people each year. This fact has led
many eminent researchers and health authorities to conclude that we are eating far too much dietary cholesterol, and that this overload is the cause of arterial plaque and
This explanation seems logical, but the situation is a bit more complex than most people realize. The relationship between cholesterol in the diet and cholesterol in the blood is
debatable, at best. There are some human groups-most notably Eskimos still living above the Arctic Circle in traditional fishing and whaling communities-who consume a diet
composed almost entirely of saturated fats and protein. Yet these people have virtually no incidence of atherosclerosis (or many other chronic diseases). However, members
of this same group who live below the Arctic Circle, and who consume a diet similar to ours, do suffer from these conditions. As we shall see, similar patterns hold true in
several other regions. Heart disease, cancer, and other degenerative diseases rise precipitously whenever a natural, wholefoods diet-even one that is high in saturated fat-is
replaced with a modern diet high in refined carbohydrates and processed foods.
Such evidence indicates that more than dietary cholesterol is at work in the development of heart disease. Refined carbohydrates are prime suspects, since dietary excesses
of these simple sugars prompt the body to build more cholesterol. And research has indeed shown that sugar and other refined carbohydrates cause significant increases in
blood cholesterol. Lifestyle factors such as cigarette smoking, lack of exercise, alcoholism, and addiction also are implicated. Some researchers theorize that the arterial walls
themselves have been dam- aged, and that arterial plaques are the body's attempt to "patch" these damaged regions.
The perpetrators of this arterial damage are thought to be free radicals-that is, hyperactive molecules that are destructive by-product of many chemical reactions. Once
released in the body, free radicals damage cell walls, break apart other molecules, and generally create havoc. In addition to heart disease, free radicals are thought to he
involved in many other degenerative diseases, including cancer.
Free radicals are always present in the body but are kept in control by the action of a variety of micronutrients, including vitamins E, C, and A and antioxidant enzymes.
Deficiencies in these nutrients are now suspected as potential factors in the development of heart disease, and promising research is being done on using nutritional
supplementation in the prevention of heart disease.
A Proper Balance
The problem of fat, then, is far from simple. To borrow an old cliche', we can't live with it, and we can't live without it. Since dietary fat comes in many forms, we must
concentrate on quality as well as quantity when making choices about this particular macronutrient. There is no doubt that the vast majority of us consume far too much
saturated fat, in the forms of red meat and dairy products. Cutting back on these forms of dietary fat is a sensible part of any health- conscious program. But we must also be
careful when choosing unsaturated oils.
Although food oil companies (and some scientists) would have us believe that all vegetable oils are perfect, heart-healthy alternatives to saturated fats, there are some very
serious drawbacks to many processed mono- and polyunsaturated oils. The carbon bonds in unsaturated fat are actually weak links that can be attacked by oxygen, turning
the oil rancid and actually producing free radicals. Most polyunsaturated oils on the market today are so highly processed that they bear little resemblance, nutritionally or
molecularly, to the original product. So while polyunsaturated oils may indeed be better for us than saturated oils, the ones we find on our supermarket shelves are often pale
and toxic shadows of their original, nutritionally sound selves.
For anyone concerned about their health, the best sources of dietary fat are natural whole grains and seeds, various fish, and unsaturated oils that are as fresh and
unprocessed as possible. Dairy and meat products should be used sparingly. For those of you who are worrying about calcium, keep in mind that calcium is found in foods
other than milk.
Good nutrition comes down to one simple idea (although it's not so simple to achieve): balance. Too often, in good-hearted attempts at healthy eating, people cut out too
much of one thing and not enough of another. Witness the fat-free and carbohydrate-free diet crazes. Be wary of any radical program that focuses on one nutrient group to
the exclusion of all others. Understand your own personal balance. And yes, like it or not, watch your fat consumption.
In the strictest sense, fiber isn't really a nutrient at all. Instead, it is the part of some foods that our bodies cannot digest-the hard outer shells of seeds and grains and the
peels of certain vegetables and fruits. Bran, one of the most familiar fiber foods, is the outer shell of the wheat grain (or germ). High-fiber foods include oatmeal, whole grains
of any kind and any raw fruit or vegetable.
Fiber is generally found in the plant kingdom where it serves as a form of defense, protecting the more delicate inner tissues of plants and their fruits, seeds and grains. In the
body, these protective shells retain their toughness, so that even after they have been broken up by our teeth and the physical action of the stomach, they still resist being
dissolved by the enzymes and acids of our digestive system.
As a result, these hardy bits of food pass through the digestive tract virtually unchanged. Although they may have been ground down a bit, they retain their basic structure,
giving form to solid wastes and giving the muscles of the intestinal tract something to work on.
This mechanical effect of fiber is the basis of many of its positive health effects. For example, fiber is known to:
· Alleviate diarrhea and constipation by keeping bowel contents moving smoothly.
· Reduce pressure within the intestinal tract that can contribute to the development of diverticular diseases (splits and pouches in the tract), appendicitis, hiatus hernias,
hemorrhoids and varicose veins.
· Prevent cancers of the bowel and intestinal tract by shortening the time potential carcinogens are actually in contact with the cells of the bowel, colon, and intestines.
In addition to its helpful physiological effects, some forms of fiber may also be beneficial biochemically. Research on several forms of fiber has shown that increased fiber
intake can lower blood levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein, sometimes called "bad" cholesterol) cholesterol, often as effectively as the cholesterol-lowering drugs currently in
use. In addition, fiber is thought to bind other toxic sub stances and speed them out of the body, like a biochemical detergent.
Whatever the mechanisms, it's clear that the fibrous parts of our food supply, be they apple peels, cucumber seeds, wheat bran or the hulls of brown rice, are an integral part
of the nutritional spectrum and should not be discarded. The body needs fiber, both for its physiological action and its still-to-be understood chemical properties. For this
reason, you will find that it is important-in as many instances as possible-to use whole fruits and vegetables, peels and all, rather than selected parts. To get the most out of
our foods nutritionally, it is important not to waste any of their life-giving nutrients.
Water is the one nutrient that no living creature can do without. There are bacteria and viruses that can live without air, but no life form (on this planet, at least) can survive
Not only is water a nutrient in and of itself, it also often contains other nutrients, particularly minerals. Ground water absorbs minerals from the rock and soil surrounding it and
passes these absorbed minerals on to us.
Water purification plants and improved health standards have largely eliminated most bacterial threats to our water supply. But now a range of chemical substances imperil
our water, including lead from old pipes, pesticides and chemicals from agricultural runoff, and toxic substances from landfills and illegal dumping. These threats to our most
"essential" essential nutrient are becoming an increasingly present problem. In general, it is best to assume that most drinking water in the United States is polluted (until
proven otherwise) and rely on bottled, distilled, or filtered water.
The five macronutrients are the most familiar nutrients-the basis for the much-vaunted "four food groups." But one of their primary functions, nutritionally, is to serve as "hosts"
for the micronutrients-that is, vitamins and minerals. When raw fruits, vegetables, fats, grains, or meats are made into prepared jellies, oils, flours or sandwich meats, their
original stores of micro-nutrients are depleted and destroyed. For those in recovery; who are already in the red when it comes to their nutritional balance, it is important to look
beyond the macronutrients when choosing foods, and consider their micro- nutrient content as well.
Vitamins and minerals are a source of confusion to many people. Health food stores and pharmacies are full of various "nutrient formulations" designed to strengthen the
immune system, help you sleep, help you stay awake, make you more virile, make you less anxious, cure menstrual cramps, ease headaches, and so forth, ad infinitum. We've
gone from an era when vitamins and minerals were completely unrecognized to one in which they are viewed as either miracle cures or snake oils. While some scientists (and
food faddists) tout various individual vitamins and minerals as the "cure" for every- thing from acne to cancer, many physicians are telling their patients they don't really need
supplements. What's a person to do?
Far too many people are looking at the micronutrients the same way they look at drugs. (Got a cold? Take two Cs and call me in the morning.") Nutrients-all nutrients-are not
drugs, and vitamins and minerals are not instant cure-alls for any disease or disorder, be it alcoholism, anorexia, or cancer. The micronutrients, like the macronutrients in
which they are found, are players in a much larger nutritional "game." In tandem with the other elements of good nutrition, they help the body maintain its internal healing
processes. Vitamins and minerals won't "make you better," but they will, in the right balance and amounts, help your body make itself better.
The first group of micronutrients, the minerals, is generally divided into two categories: major and trace. The major minerals are we need in grams down to tenths of a gram
per day. The trace minerals are required in only minute amounts, often measured in millionths of a gram.
As a group, the minerals play several fundamental roles in main taming the overall structure and balance of the body. Among other functions, minerals:
* form the basis for our entire skeleton, giving bones rigidity and strength
* activate many enzymatic systems
* control the balance of fluids within and around individual cells
* regulate the pH balance
The pH balance (literally, "power of hydrogen") is the balance of hydrogen in the fluid surrounding the body's cells. Just as the body as a whole needs the correct
concentration of oxygen in the air in order to survive, so individual cells need the right concentration of hydrogen in order to function. When Ph levels drop too far, a condition
known as acidosis, the body's systems become depressed; mental activity slows, consciousness is lost, and the person can progress into a fatal coma. When levels go too far
up (alkalosis), the body becomes hyper-reactive and severe muscular contractions and potentially fatal convulsions can result. Even relatively minor fluctuations in pH balance
can critically influence cellular function.
Poor diet, lack of absorption from the intestinal tract, most ill ness as well as smoking, alcohol abuse, drug addictions, anorexia and bulimia all have profound effects on these
critical minerals and there fore on the body's all-important extracellular environment. All of these disorders may cause severe fluid imbalances, with a corresponding loss of
THE ESSENTIAL MINERALS
Major Minerals Trace Minerals
sodium (Na) iron (Fe) molybdenum (Mo)
magnesium (Mg) copper (Cu) tin (Sn)
phosphorus (P) iodine (I) silicon (Si)
chlorine (Cl) manganese (Mn) vanadium (V)
potassium (K) chromium (Cr) colbalt (Co)
calcium (Ca) zinc (Zn) nickel (Ni)
sulfur (S) fluorine(F) arsenic (As)
Up until the turn of this century; it was generally assumed that a diet containing carbohydrates, protein, fat, minerals, and water was enough to sustain life. Despite the hard
lessons of scurvy; beriberi, and pellagra; medicine, governments, and society at large had not caught on to the difference between the quality of a food supply and its
quantity. This critical difference did not become generally recognized until scientists began nutritional experiments with lab animals.
When researchers tried to raise animals on diets made up of relatively pure nutrients consisting solely of protein, or fat, or carbohydrates-they had amazingly consistent
results. Not only did the animals not thrive on these purified diets, but if they were kept on diets for too long they invariably die and often of diseases that looked remarkably
like the diseases seen in man, such as scurvy; Obviously, calories alone were not enough to sustain life. What was missing?
During the first half of the twentieth century; scores of researchers around the world embarked on a search for the mysterious "missing factors" of nutrition. Within a forty-year
period, all fourteen known essential vitamins were discovered and then chemically synthesized in laboratories.
Vitamins hold a unique position in the nutritional universe. They do not serve as building blocks, sources of energy; or basic elements. Instead, vitamins are co-enzymes in the
body's metabolic processes, fitting like keys into the thousands of chemical "locks" to free the body's enzymes to carry out their tasks.
THE KNOWN ESSENTIAL VITAMINS
A (retinol) B1 (thiamine)
D (calciferol) B2 (riboflavin)
E (tocopherol) B3 (niacin)
K (phylloquinone) B5 (pantothenic acid)
folic acid (folacin)
C (ascorbic acid)
Enymes control every biochemical reaction in the body by bringing together all the necessary ingredients for each individual reaction. They are the all- important catalysts for
the body's most basic and integral functions.
Like a key for which there is no master, no vitamin can substitute for another in a given metabolic system. At the same time, no vita min carries out a basic function all by itself
As with the orchestra referred to earlier, every component of the vitamin-enzyme system must be in place for the symphony of life to proceed in harmony.
Since the body cannot produce vitamins on its own, we have to turn to foods to obtain these vital "missing factors." Although animal tissues-particularly organ meats such as
liver-are rich sources of the B group and other vitamins, our primary source of vitamins exists in the plant kingdom.
Like most of the nutrients we have discussed thus far, the vitamins are divided into two distinct groups, based on their ability to dissolve in water. The water-soluble vitamins
(vitamin C and the B vitamins) are absorbed more easily by the body and are not kept in long-term storage in any appreciable amounts. Water-soluble vitamins that are not
needed by the body are "flushed out" in the urine. Because of this, it is virtually impossible to overdose on these vitamins and we need to have a fairly steady and constant
supply of them in the diet.
The fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E and K), on the other hand, can only be absorbed from the intestinal tract in the presence of fat (hence the importance of having some fat in
the diet). Because of their affinity for fat tissue, these vitamins can be stored in the fatty deposits of the body. As a result, it is possible (albeit unlikely) to consume toxic levels
of tile fat-soluble vitamins.
The vitamins and minerals that comprise the micronutrients are the most vulnerable members of the nutritional team. We have never met a recovering alcoholic, bulimic,
anorexic, chronic overeater, or any other addict who was not deficient in vitamins and minerals- as a result of their abysmal diets and because of addiction induced damage to
the organs that process nutrients. Because of this, recovering individuals at first need fairly intensive supplementation just to recoup their losses.
Although there are many good reasons to take vitamin supplements, they are not the way to ensure good nutrition. For one thing, we have yet to identify all the "missing
factors" required for human nutrition.
Supplements based on incomplete knowledge simply cannot provide us with everything we need. For another, supplements are, by definition, designed to augment a good
diet, not replace it. Even in the best of all possible worlds, vitamins are lost during the harvesting, transportation, and preparation of foods; we are living in anything but the
best of all possible worlds.
High-quality, comprehensive nutritional supplementation (as opposed to single vitamins) can offset these losses and help ensure that the body has the necessary balance of
vitamins and minerals to function well. In later discussions we will review with you the scientific information about why one needs to take nutrients and how science
recommends that we use them.
The following table lists the major micronutrients and their bio logical functions, as well as good dietary sources, and some of the effects of deficiency and toxicity Although
several of the nutrients have no specific toxic effects listed, this does not mean that you should take them in massive doses. A complete balance of nutrients is essential to
proper physical functioning. Overdosing on any nutrient can upset that balance and stress the liver and kidneys. In many cases, an overdose will cause acute nausea and
vomiting. Thus, it's important to treat all vitamin and mineral supplements with the respect they deserve.
The fifty essential nutrients their sources, functions and the foods they are contained in are outlined below:
MACRO-NUTRIENTS - Water, Carbohydrates, Fats, Protein and Fiber are classified as macro-nutrients. The essential nutrients are contained in these macro-nutrients.
Water, Calories and Fiber are classified essential nutrients.
PROTEIN: Sources: Fish, chicken, beef, pork, beans, peas, and other vegetables/grains. Functions: To provide essential nutrients and the essential amino acids which are
the building blocks of protein. The essential Amino Acids are:
Arginine(for children),Histidine (for children), Leucine, Isoleucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, Valine. Signs of Deficiency:Muscle wasting,
weight loss malnutrition and disease.
CARBOHYDRATES: Sources: Fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes. Functions: To provide vitamins, minerals, essential nutrients, fiber, and energy. Signs of Deficiency:
Muscle wasting, weight loss, malnutrition and disease.
FATS: Sources: Animal fats, dairy and vegetable oils.
The essential fatty acids are: Linoleic acid, Linolenic acid and Arachidonic acid. The fish oils and the non-hydrogenated vegetable oils are the main sources of the
essential fatty acids. They are contained in the following types of fat:
Saturated fat: Chicken fat, lard, beef tallow, palm oil, butter, cocoa butter, palm kernel/oil coconut meat/oil. Monounsaturated: Olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil.
Polyunsaturated: Safflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, sesame oil, sunflower oil, fish oils. Functions: To provide the essential fatty acids, calories, and energy.
Signs of Deficiency: Same symptoms as those as the fat soluble vitamins listed in the micro-nutrients.
FIBER: Sources: Vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes. Functions: Bulk for proper digestion. Signs of Deficiency: Constipation, indigestion.
THE ESSENTIAL MICRO-NUTRIENTS
Vitamin A: Sources: fish, fish oils, eggs, green and yellow vegetables, dairy products. Functions: maintains health of skin and photoreceptors in the retina. Signs of
Deficiency: night blindness, rough skin, dry eyes, corneal softening and clouding. Signs of Toxicity: headaches, peeling skin, enlarged spleen.
Vitamin B1: Sources: (thiamin) whole grains, meats, nuts, legumes, potatoes. Functions: Carbohydrate metabolism nerve function, heart function. Signs of Deficiency: nerve
damage (Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome).
Vitamin B2: Sources: (pyrodoxine) fish, liver, meats, whole grains, legumes. Functions: energy and protein metabolism, maintains integrity of mucus membranes. Signs of
Deficiency: dryness, scaling and splitting of lips and mouth, corneal changes, dry and inflamed skin.
Vitamin B5: (Pantothenic acid) This nutrient is so widely distributed in the major macronutrients that it is unusual to have recognizable signs of a deficiency.
Vitamin B6: Sources: (pyridoxine) fish, liver, meats, whole grains, legumes. Functions: crucial to metabolism, linoleic acid helps convert tryptophan to niacin, important in
formation of blood cells and blood clotting. Signs of Deficiency: anemias, skin neuropathy convulsions (in infants) Contributes to development of dependency syndromes.
Vitamin B12: Sources: liver, meats, eggs, milk and milk products. Functions: maturation of red blood cells, nerve function, DNA synthesis, Folate and Methionine Metabolism.
Signs of Deficiency: anemias, psychological disorders, loss of visual acuity. Contributes to development of dependency syndromes.
Biotin: Sources: liver, kidney, yeast, egg yolk, cauliflower, nuts, legumes. Functions: amino acid and fatty acid metabolism. Signs of Deficiency: inflammation of the skin and
tongue. Contributes to development of dependency syndromes.
Niacin: Sources: dried yeast, liver, meat, fish, legumes, enriched whole-grain products. Functions: carbohydrate metabolism, oxidation reduction reactions. Signs of
Deficiency: inflamed, peeling skin and tongue, gastrointestinal disorders (including severe diarrhea), central nervous system dysfunction (dementia).
Folic acid: Sources: fresh green leafy vegetables, fruit, organ meats, liver, dried yeast. Functions: maturation of red blood cells, synthesis of components of DNA. Signs of
Deficiency: anemias, red blood cell abnormalities, neural tube defects (infants of folic acid-deficient mothers).
Vitamin C: Sources: green peppers, citrus fruits, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage. Functions: bone formation, vascular function, tissue respiration and repair. Signs of
Deficiency: inflammation of the gums and mouth, tooth loss, hemorrhaging.
Vitamin D: Sources: sunlight, fish liver oils, egg yolk, liver, fortified dairy products. Functions: absorption and utilization of calcium and phosphoreas bone formation. Signs of
Deficiency: rickets. Signs of Toxicity: anorexia, kidney failure, calcification of soft tissues.
Vitamin E: Sources: vegetable oils, wheat germ, green leafy vegetables, egg yolk, legumes. Functions: stability of cellular membranes, anti-oxidant. Signs of Deficiency: loss
of hemoglobin from red blood cells, muscle damage.
Vitamin K: Sources: Vitamin K is found in cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, and other green leafy vegetables, cereals, soybean, and other vegetables. Vitamin K is also made
by the bacteria lining the gastrointestinal tract. Functions and Signs of Deficiency: Vitamin K is known as the clotting vitamin, because without it blood would not clot. Some
studies indicate that it helps in maintaining strong bones in the elderly.
THE MAJOR MINERALS
Sodium: Sources: most processed foods, naturally in seafood, sea vegetables and cheeses. Functions: fluid balance, nerve transmission, muscle contractility. Signs of
Deficiency: dehydration. Signs of Toxicity: mental confusion, coma.
Potassium: Sources: bananas, prunes, raisins, milk. Functions: nerve transmission, muscle activity, fluid retention. Signs of Deficiency: cardiac disturbances, paralysis. Signs
of Toxicity: same as deficiency.
Calcium: Sources: milk and milk products, meat, fish, eggs, whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables. Functions: bone and tooth formation, blood clotting, cardiac function,
muscle function. Signs of Deficiency: neuromuscular hyperexcitability. Signs of Toxicity: diarrhea, renal failure, psychosis.
Phosphorus: Sources: milk and milk products, meat, poultry, fish, whole grains, nuts, legumes. Functions: bone and tooth formation, part of DNA, energy production. Signs of
Deficiency: irritability, weakness, blood cell disorders, gastrointestinal and renal problems. Signs of Toxicity: kidney failure.
Magnesium: Sources: green leaves, nuts, whole grains, seafoods. Functions: bone and tooth formation, nerve conduction, enzyme activation, muscle contraction. Signs of
Deficiency: neuromuscular irritability, respiratory failure, cardiac disturbances. Signs of Toxicity: low blood pressure.
Iron: Sources: widely distributed in most foods other than dairy products, but less than 20% is absorbed by the body. Functions: blood formation, enzyme function. Signs of
Deficiency: anemia. Signs of Toxicity: liver damage, skin pigment changes, diabetes. May contribute to the development of heart disease.
Iodine: Sources: seafoods, sea vegetables, dairy products. Functions: thyroid function, energy control mechanisms. Signs of Deficiency: goiter, brain damage (in infants).
Signs of Toxicity: skin changes, swollen lips and nose.
Fluorine: Sources: widely distributed. Functions: bone and tooth formation. Signs of Deficiency: tooth decay, osteoporosis. Signs of Toxicity: pitted teeth, spinal spurs.
Zinc: Sources: widely distributed in vegetables, but not well absorbed. Functions: wound healing, growth, enzyme and insulin formation. Signs of Deficiency: growth
retardation, gastrointestinal problems, skin disorders, liver damage.
Copper: Sources: organ meats, oysters, nuts, legumes, whole grains. Functions: component of enzymes. Signs of Deficiency: anemia Menke’s kinky hair syndrome. Signs of
Toxicity: liver damage.
Cobalt: Sources: green leafy vegetables. Functions: part of B12 molecule. Signs of Deficiency: anemia. Signs of Toxicity: cardiomyopathy.
Chromium: Sources: brewer’s yeast, widely distributed in most foods. Functions: glucose metabolism. Signs of Deficiency: impaired glucose tolerance in malnourished children
The other essential nutrients are: Manganese, Tin, Nickel, Silicon, Molybdenum, Selenium, Vanadium, Arsenic and Chlorine. These are so widely distributed and combined
with other minerals that there is rarely a deficiency or sign of deficiency except in overt starvation or bizarre diets.
Making It Work: Digestion, absorption, and Utilization
As previously noted, nutrition depends not only on the food you eat, but on how your body handles that food. The most nutrient-rich food in the world won't do you much good
if the nutrients don't get out of the foods and into the cells of your body. In order for this to occur your body must:
1. extract the nutrients from food (digestion),
2.get the nutrients into the bloodstream so they can reach the body's cells (absorption), and
3. actually put the nutrients to work in biochemical processes (utilization).
Disrupt any part of this process, and malnutrition (to varying degrees) is the result. Nutrition is a remarkably complex process. Lack of adequate nutrition, lack of proper
absorption, many illnesses, as well as alcohol/drug abuse, eating disorders, and other conditions may cause disruptions throughout the systems.
Digestion and Absorption
The work of extracting nutrients from food, breaking them down into usable form and absorbing them into the body, is carried out in the gastrointestinal (or GI) tract-a
convoluted tube that begins at the mouth and continues down through the rectum. As food passes through this tube it is physically and chemically broken down into its
component parts, which are then processed by various organs (particularly the liver and pancreas) for use or storage within the body's cells.
Digestion begins in the mouth, where food is ground up by the teeth and mixed with enzymes in saliva that begin breaking down the molecular structure of the food particles.
From the mouth, food moves through the tube of the esophagus into the muscular bag of the stomach, where powerful digestive enzymes (including hydrochloric acid)
continue to break down the food particles. The delicate lining of the stomach is protected from these corrosive juices by a layer of mucus. Without this protective layer, the
stomach would digest itself
From the stomach, partially digested food empties through the pyloric sphincter into the duodenum and small intestine, the primary site of digestion and absorption of
nutrients. The inner walls of the small intestine are convoluted and covered with millions of fingerlike projections called villi. As the intestinal muscles contract and mix the
partially digested food with digestive enzymes from the pancreas and gallbladder, the villi absorb nutrients and pass them into the blood stream.
Whatever remains after all this breakdown and absorption continues on into the large intestine, where water is removed and solid matter moves slowly through the intestines
and finally out of the body. (Liquid wastes are processed through the kidneys, which filter waste products out of the blood and pass them to the bladder for excretion.)
Digestion and absorption only make nutrients available for use by the body. The actual process of using and storing these nutrients (metabolism) is performed by the liver, the
pancreas, and other organs, which break nutrients down into components that can be absorbed by individual cells.
Nestled alongside the stomach and above the intestines on the right side of the body, the liver is one of the body's most remarkable organs. Nutrient-rich blood from the
digestive tract flows through the liver's microscopic canals and pockets, where nutrients are metabolized and given their "marching orders" for distribution to the body's cells.
The liver is also a storage site (for vitamins and carbohydrates) and a detoxification plant. The cells of the liver break down poisonous (or potentially poisonous) compounds
such as alcohol and drugs into less toxic products that can be eliminated from the body. As a result, the liver bears the brunt of many toxic assaults on the body, and it is
particularly susceptible to the damaging effects of alcohol and drug abuse.
The pancreas is one of the body's most crucial glands, and it is also one of the most susceptible to the ravages of alcoholism and drug abuse. Through its secretions into the
duodenum and the blood stream, the pancreas controls blood glucose levels, helps break down fats and cholesterol, helps break down starch, and maintains pH balance by
The pancreas releases its digestive enzymes, minerals, and hormones (insulin and glucagon) in response to a variety of biological signals including the level of glucose in the
blood, the pH balance, ic acids, the presence of dietary factors such as fatty and aminoacids and nerve impulses from the brain.
The most well-known disorder of the pancreas, diabetes, is characterized by the failure of the pancreas to produce insulin and by the inability of the body's cells to absorb/use
insulin and glucose. Without insulin the body's cells cannot absorb glucose from the bloodstream and are left without fuel even as blood glucose levels rise. Unless con trolled
with proper treatment, diabetes causes extensive biological damage that includes a greatly increased rate of circulatory disorders, atherosclerotic disease, nerve damage, and
a potentially fatal form of acidosis (ketoacidosis) commonly referred to as a diabetic coma.
Addictions (particularly alcoholism) and eating disorders damage the pancreas both by their direct toxic effects and by disrupting many of the biological "cues" on which the
pancreas depends. Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) is one of the most severe manifestations of advanced alcoholism.
Appetite vs. Hunger
Nutrition, even poor nutrition, cannot occur unless we eat something. But the process of deciding to eat, and of choosing particular foods, is really quite complicated.
Why do we eat? The simplest answer is "Because we're hungry." But the process of eating (or of wanting to eat) is not just a matter of full stomach versus empty stomach. If it
were we would never have "just enough room" for dessert after a huge meal, or "not feel like having" a particular food even though we had not eaten in a while.
Although the actual handling of nutrients is done by the organs of the gastrointestinal and digestive tracts, the impulses to start and stop eating come from much higher up:
the brain. And when it comes to eating, the hypothalamus is a command centre that is all too easily confused and circumvented.
Within the body, the hypothalamus is the nutritional equivalent of an air traffic controller, monitoring information coming in from various pathways and giving out orders
accordingly. From its vantage point within the brain, the hypothalamus receives information both from the organs that digest and absorb nutrients and from the con tents of
the bloodstream itself. For example, it is the hypothalamus that signals the pancreas to secrete insulin when blood glucose levels get too high.
Whenever we eat a meal, an intricate communications network is activated within the body. All along the gastrointestinal tract, receptors monitor the contents of the food being
digested. If the brain had to wait for nutrients to be entirely digested and circulating in the blood stream before issuing the "stop eating" signal, our meals would be unending.
But because of its ability to monitor the content of our food as we are consuming it, the brain (through the hypothalamus) can make an "educated guess" about when we have
eaten enough, and tell us to stop. This signal that we have had enough is referred to as satiety.
Different foods can have very different influences on satiety For example, numerous researchers have found that there is a longer period of satiety after a protein-rich meal
than after a carbohydrate- rich meal. Low-nutrient-density foods, on the other hand, may leave us feeling full but still wanting more, since the brain "knows" that we have not
taken in enough nutrients. It is this satiety effect of different foods that may be responsible for the phenomenon of "being hungry an hour later" after certain meals.
Of course, it is always possible to ignore the cues being sent from the hypothalamus. We can continue to eat when we are no longer really hungry or ignore the desire to eat
when we are. We can eat nutrient-poor foods (such as cookies, candy, or booze) when the brain is really signaling for something nutrient-rich (fruit, chicken, or some
vegetables). Every day we are surrounded by social and environmental cues, from television commercials to aggressive hosts, that can override the inherent wisdom of the
body. And if we override it long enough, we can actually change the delicate chemical balance of the brain.
When we look at the whole spectrum of nutrition, it is clear that good nutrition-the kind needed by all people maintaining health and recovering from illness is a lot more than
just getting enough of the four food groups. It's getting the right balance of nutrients, in the right number of calories, eaten at the right times. It's having a healthy, functional
gastrointestinal tract-from the muscles of the tongue to the canaliculi of the liver and it's being in touch with the "wisdom of the body" so that we eat what we need rather than
what we want. Of course, when we are in proper nutritional balance, what we want usually is what we need!
These are general guidelines and principles that can be used as a reference aid for you and your family. The information presented here is intended to be used as a
background for nutritional under- standing. It is important to remember that each of you is unique, with your own biological individuality. Above all, listen to your body.
Remember that certain medical conditions may require special nutritional advice and treatment. Always consult your health care provider before making substantial changes to
your wellness plan.
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