July 2000

Vitamins and Space-Age Diets

(c) 2000
Dalibor den Otter
Menno Rubingh (contact me)

Isn't it strange that in our current high-tech, space-age era we still eat very much the same food as our ancestors have always done over the course of the past few centuries or even millennia ?  Our current diets are very similar to what the classical Romans ate, for example.  Have we not progressed somewhat beyond this by now, and finally found some improvement in these ancient diets ? 

Yes, we have.  It is now possible for an individual to enhance his diet in a simple and cheap way with some ``modern'' and ``high-tech'' elements that significantly improve the diet.  And which are not quack, fad or hype things but are rooted very firmly in very respected, well-known and generally accepted scientific discoveries made over the last century. 

Since about the beginning of the 20th century, the things called ``vitamins'' have been discovered.  Most materials that we eat -- water; starch (cereals, beans, potatoes); proteins (meat, cheese, eggs); fat -- are taken in ``bulk'' quantities.  But apart from these, there are some materials that people need to take in relatively small quanties compared with the abovementioned ``bulk'' items, but which are nevertheless indispensible to the body: these materials we call ``vitamins''. 

There is nothing remarkable about these vitamins themselves, they are simply simple chemical substances precisely like all matter we eat consists of chemical substances.  The materials called ``vitamins'' are just as necessary fuels to the body as the ``bulk foods''.  It is only logical to expect that the body doesn't consume or burn up each sort of fuel it needs in similar speeds or quantities-per-time-unit.  So the body needs, e.g., vitamin C as much as it needs proteins, only the quantity (in weight per time unit) needed is different.  There is nothing inherently ``mysterious'' about these vitamins themselves -- only the smaller quantities involved with these ``vitamins'' has made them somewhat more elusive, for which reason it has taken us slow humans a significantly longer time to actually discover and recognize the existence and functionality of these food elements, whereas the bulk quantities in which the other foods elements are consumed make those food elements much more obvious. 

That the body needs those ``vitamins'' in relatively only ``small'' quantities does not mean that these vitamins are unimportant.  Say that a person on average needs XS grams of starch a day and XC grams of vitamin C -- then for a healthy diet it is important to (on average) eat XS grams (or somewhat more) of starch and XC grams (or somewhat more) of vitamin C each day.  The fact that the number XC is smaller than the number XS does not mean that eating a full portion of XC grams a day of vitamin C is less important than eating a full portion of XS grams a day of starch. 

``Traditional'' diets, even today, often do contain magnanimously large enough portions of the ``bulk'' food elements, but only rather frugal amounts of the ``vitamin'' food elements.  The most well-known ``vitamin'' is probably vitamin C; it naturally occurs in oranges and other fresh fruits and vegetables.  It is a fact that to obtain the amount of vitamin C that would be healthy for the body, a person would need to eat about ??? oranges a day.  So since no-one actually eats this much oranges a day, most people indeed only eat only a small portion of the ``healthy'' amount of vitamin C they would need.  The picture concerning the other vitamins is similar: instead of eating a sensible, healthy quantity, we basically eat only about the minimum amount of these vitamins needed to survive at all. 

The fact that humans have so far always survived fairly well on these ``traditional'' diets does not mean that a priori the possibility is ruled out for cheap and simple but significant improvement of human diets.  Some simple improvements in hygiene and diets already have increased the human life span, which used to be about 50 to 60 years up to the beginning of the 20th century, to about 80 years at present.  The fact that before the 20th century humans have survived very well with their life span of about 50 years, plagued throughout people's lives with lots of illnesses and pains, does not mean that the state of the average human body in those times was inherently ``good'' or ``healthy''.  Up to the 20th century, it was normal that every person in society was infested with fleas and lice.  Simply removing those parasites by means of some very simple and very low-tech measures of hygiene, has contributed much to human health, productivity, and life-span.  Eating habits and diets are similar in this.  The fact that humans have always eaten only the ``traditional'' diet consisting mostly of cereals, meat (and sometimes fish) and diary products, does not imply that those diets are therefore optimal. 

Normal, traditional diets do normally contain quantities of the vitamins large enough to keep the body going for about 70 years and to prevent very serious problems.  This is comparable to driving a car constantly with the dip-stick oil level just barely high enough to prevent an immediate serious crash of the motor.  While it is definitely possible to use a car for a long time in this way and in this way extract a lot of use and fun out of the car, it is not the manner of operation that is most healthy to the car.  The simple and relatively very cheap measure of always ensuring that the oil level is abundantly high enough (the costs of the lubricant oil itself are relatively negligible) will keep the motor in a much better condition, will prevent much unnecessary wear and tear (aging) in the motor, and thus will significantly help making full use of the full potential life-span of the car. 

People's bodies are just machines, and need to be kept up in the same way as machines.  Taking in a full amount of these vitamins is like keeping the dip-stick oil level of the motorcar always at a sufficient level.  The motorcar does consume the lubricant oil (but only in smaller quantities than the ``bulk'' petrol or gas intake) and the lubricant oil is vitally important to the car; -- in the same way, humans do consume vitamins (but only in smaller quantities than the ``bulk'' foodstuffs) -- and vitamins are vitally important to humans. 

Fortunately for people who don't want to spend a lot of time worrying over how to organize the necessary vitamin intake, and who don't relish eating ??? oranges a day, there are a range of ``vitamin pills'' easily and cheaply commercially available.  These vitamin pills are most often called ``food supplements'' -- which is a name that expresses their function better than the term ``vitamin pills''.  Eating some of these ``food supplement'' pills has to be thought of as being the same thing as eating any other foodstuff which is part of a person's regular, every-day, diet.  These ``vitamin pills'' are not primarily intended (or only intended) to be eaten by sick people.  They are best thought of precisely as ``space-age'' diet elements. 

The world of ``food supplement'' pills is often large and bewildering to the ``layman'' who only simply wants to improve his diet and does not want to make ``food supplements'' into his lifetime study.  But it is possible to take just a few (two or thereabouts) of these ``food supplement'' foodstuffs, and to make use of this ``space-age'' diet supplement in as easy a manner as eating and preparing sandwiches.  A simple but good selection of ``food supplements'' is the following:

(No, this webpage is definitely not an Orthica advertisement.  If you can recommend some other good vitamin pills or webpages concerning those, then please inform me -- I'll test them and put them in here, too.) 

Each of the ``food supplement'' pills mentioned above normally comes in large pills of about a weight of 1.0 gram a pill.  If one feels like it, the pills can be broken up into smaller bits and swallowed in small portions like that without any problem.  Vitamin C is destroyed when heated beyond about body temperature, so it is unwise e.g. to pound the vitamin C pills into powder and add this powder to hot meals or drinks -- but this an be done without problem with the non-vitamin C pills.

For each of the two sorts of pills mentioned above, the normal dose is about one or two pills a day.  Of course, also do have a look at what the package you buy states as the normal or maximum amount per day.  As long as one does not exceed this dose by very large amounts (such as exceeding the normal dose 10-fold), these ``food supplements'' are quite safe.  Eating double the normal dose as stated on the package is always safe. 

Don't hesitate to experiment with the amounts and sorts of vitamin pills you eat !  Eating these food supplements should have a noticeable effect on you.  The effect should feel precisely about like eating some food element which one has not eaten for a long time -- e.g., like eating some meat or fish when one has only lived on a protein-less diet for a long time.  It should have at least faintly a kind of ``perking-up'' or ``catalyzing'' effect like a car receiving a better kind of fuel gas, or like the mental catalyzation occurring when one learns the clue of a problem one has been puzzling on for some time.  And of course, it seems sensible to vary the food supplements one eats in a similar way as it is healthy to vary the normal foodstuffs in one's diet.  One could, e.g., alternately eat different kinds or brands of ``all-in'' vitamin pills. 

Eating these vitamin food supplements should also have the effect of making one feel that one is less in need of taking all kinds of drugs and foods that are not healthy and that are only taken for their ``pleasure'' value, such as alcoholic drinks, sweets, and coffee; and possibly also cigarettes and soft drugs.  Personally, my coffee consumption has dropped from more than 5 cups a day to 2 a day after starting eating food supplements, and my alcohol and sweets consumption has dropped to almost zero. 

If eating the food supplement does not have noticeable effects on you, then it is likely that you are eating a kind of ``food supplement'' that is not very good.  There are quite a few brands and types of food supplement on the market -- often the cheaper kinds -- that are basically rubbish and contain stuff that barely gets absorbed by the body.  The brands and types mentioned above are good (but not the cheapest) ones which are easy to get in Western Europe, but of course these brands and types of course are in flux and there are probably quite some other good brands and types on the market, and maybe locally to you there are some good brands or types available that are not mentioned in this text. 

How much does it all cost ?  One package of 100 pills of either of the two kinds mentioned above costs about HFL 40 = about Euro 20 = about US$ 20.  Not overdoing things and eating a normal diet of one each of these pills a day will therefore cost you about HFL 25 = about Euro 13 = about US$ 13 per month.  Which is approximately about 1/20 to 1/25 of the cost of a basic, normal, ``traditional'' diet per month, not including any restaurant or fast-food-shop expenses.  The costs for these food supplements per month are very much in the same range as the costs of one single fast-food meal or one single bottle of wine -- and eating these food supplements diminishes one's need for these ``unhealty'' foods anyway.  Compared to the amounts of money some people expend in various kinds of unhealthy or luxury foods, the cost of a basic amount of ``food supplements'' in one's diet is hugely affordable -- the basic food supplements fortunately fall into in the same price category as for example bread, which is entirely another class or scale of prices than luxury foods.  For any kind of person living in prosperous Western Europe and North America, including the least well-off ones such as students, in my opinion it cannot be said that a basic amount of food supplements will put a significant strain on the budget. 

In my opinion, a basic amount of ``food supplement'' in one's diet should be and normally is an investment in the proper functioning of one's own body that should earn itself back.  A person who is vigorous and who does not feel in any way undernourished will have an easier time acquiring the money to buy good food. 

Normally, one takes these food supplement pills during meals.  This is because our body is triggered into ``food absorption'' mode when eating normal meals and because the body is used to absorbing combined food packages instead of sometimes only bulk foodstuffs and at separate times only bare vitamins -- the vitamin pills will be absorbed better by the body when taken mixed together with a normal meal.  So just put some small bowls or containers with those ``space age'' meal items on the table when you eat your normal meals, and simply in the course of the meal dig into the food supplement bowl(s) in the same way as one partakes of the potato or salad bowl.  Again, taking these ``vitamin pills'' is not something done by sick people; it is a normal meal ingredient just like bread, potatoes, vegetables, and meat.  In my opinion, it's better to talk about ``eating'' these food supplements instead of talking about ``taking pills'' -- which sounds as if one were ill and were on some kind of exceptional medication regimen. 

Does eating these food supplement pills lessen the need to eat ``healthy'' types of food like vegetables and fruits ?  Yes, in some degree it does.  Eating food supplement pills also increases the body's resistance, and self-repair power against the bad effects of e.g. very fat ``fast food'' and alcoholic drink.  As with everything, the need for proper balancing is probably more important than anything.  It seems possible to pull stunts on the body such as demonstrating that one can increase one's beer consumption without too much ill effects by simultaneously eating some food supplements -- but whether that would be a useful or interesting way to spend one's time and money is of course another matter.  I think it remains true that selecting the normal, non-food-supplement, part of one's diet with a certain (if maybe minimal) care remains sensible.  The need to eat fresh vegetables does decrease when one eats food supplement pills -- this is a fact which can be made use of e.g. when planning rations for emergency supplies or for long hiking expeditions.  But nevertheless, even when taking food supplements, and despite the fact that the traditional diet can definitely be improved in this way, it remains a fact that the body in its make-up formed by a long evolutionary history of eating ``traditional'' foods, is still to a significant degree attuned to a certain intake of vegetables and similar kinds of ``barbaric'', ``traditional'' foodstuffs (like ``fibers'' and so on).  As long as one does not change or re-engineer the intestinal operation of one's body (possibly within reach in a few decades from now?), it remains more healty for the body to keep eating the normal diet with a fair amount of fresh vegetables and ``fibers'' thrown in even when one adds some ``food supplements'' to one's diet. 


Some more info on commercially available vitamin pills:

Some more info on foods, vitamins, and the interaction of the body with these foods:


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