Dear Dr. Blonz: My belief is that if we eat whole foods in their natural form, we should get most of the fuel we need. The challenge, as I see it, is that many foods are nutritionally deficient, or full of toxins due to herbicides, etc. Do you agree? If this is the case, isn't it imperative that we all take supplements to make up for the missing nutrients?
Dear S.T.: This question is asked often. Although the premise sounds attractive, it's unfortunately not that simple. Foods aren't full of toxins due to pesticides (including herbicides and fungicides)--nor is their nutritional value affected to any significant degree. I know--this might seem illogical, but the fact is, nutrients are not in plants for our benefit; they are there because they are integral to the plant's metabolic functions. Plants are programmed to require a certain set of nutrients. If they aren't in the soil, the plant won't grow; or it will look sickly (discolored, an aberrant size, etc.), just as we look sickly if we don't give our body what it needs.
The only exceptions are a few nonessential minerals that might be taken up even though they don't play a role in the plants' metabolism. Selenium is an example; there is more selenium in plants that are grown where the soil is rich in it. These are the exception, though, not the rule, and the mineral content can vary from plant to plant and even change during different periods of the growing season.
The key is to convince people that it is in their best interest to eat the healthful foods. A plant-based diet focusing on greens, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, fish, low-fat dairy, meat as a condiment, etc.--I am sure you have heard the list. I have nothing against supplements, but they should not be viewed as a replacement for healthful eating.
Dear Dr. Blonz: Some of us at the fire department are having a nutrition-related debate, and we were hoping you might give us the correct answer. Let's say you were to drink a half-gallon of water at refrigerator temperature--40 degrees Fahrenheit. How many calories would it take to bring that water up to body temperature?
--ALBANY FIRE DEPARTMENT
Dear Firefighters: I wondered what you people did between alarms. Let's see if I can work this out for you. A calorie (also referred to as a kilocalorie) is defined as the amount of heat needed to raise one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. We now have to convert a half-gallon to kilograms, and the temperature change of 58.6 Fahrenheit degrees (the difference from 40 degrees to 98.6 degrees) into Celsius degrees. One half-gallon of water, it turns out, weighs about 1.9 kilograms; and a change of 58.6 Fahrenheit degrees translates to a change of 32.5 Celsius degrees. Putting this together, we have 32.5 times 1.9, which equals 62 calories. Now, who won the water fight?
Dear Dr. Blonz: Last year, a smart-aleck salesclerk cautioned me about vitamin C powder, telling me it would get "lumpy, just like sugar" in time. Well, I have never had a problem with "lumpy sugar," so I dismissed his warning as youthful immaturity. Wouldn't you know, this year when I went for some C-assistance, I had lumpy vitamin C powder. And yes, I did store it the same way I store sugar. Please tell me where I went wrong.
LA MESA, CALIF.
Dear Lumpy: I would blame it on El Nino. Some powders or granules tend to clump when exposed to small amounts of moisture in the air. The higher levels of relative humidity this year probably did the trick; or perhaps the cap on the bottle might not have been snugly tightened. You may have noticed a little packet that comes in bottles of supplements. It is specifically designed to attract and hold moisture, keeping it away from the contents of the bottle. Next time, take special care in sealing the bottle, and consider tossing in a small amount of uncooked white rice or soda crackers. This will probably help keep the powder flowing. The lumpiness, by the way, does not have any appreciable effect on the potency of the vitamin C powder.
Ed Blonz is the author of the "Your Personal Nutritionist" book series (Signet, 1996). Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Newspaper Enterprise Assn., 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016 or e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Personal replies cannot be provided.