Vitamins and minerals

As more people abandon their minty new resolutions and slip back into old habits, the fervor over the merits of movement increases. Walking is touted as a magic solution to making you happier, saving you money (also a very popular resolution), reducing anxiety, promoting better sleep, and pretty much any positive effect, probably even retroactively giving you that pony you wanted for Christmas as a kid. To add another gold star atop the seasonal hype, walking, when done properly, can also assist you in getting some of the vitamins and minerals you need.

Specifically, vitamin D is one necessary substance the body is able to produce in abundance, if given the opportunity. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, reduces inflammation, regulates cell growth, and supports neuromuscular and immune function. While plenty of it can be procured from foods or supplements, why not make it yourself? It’s fun and foolproof — a little bit of skin exposed to sunlight will do all the work. Even on these hibernal days, that’s not too tough.

It could be worse -- snowpeople, apparently, do not make vitamin D with sunshine.

It could be worse — snowpeople, apparently, do not make vitamin D with sunshine.

After all, what are our alternatives? In Pandora‚Äôs Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal, one of Edible Geography’s top books of 2013, Melanie Warner looks at the food-processing industry and spends a chapter tracing the manufacture of the vitamins that make our meals complete.

The path starts in a strange place. Following the course of a ship leaving Australia, filled with all the raw material goods “you’d expect to be exported out of Australia”, Warner accounts its landing weeks later in the ports of Shanghai. “There isn’t a lot of historical precedent for wool being transported along this route,” she says, but recently China has been importing about 50% more Australian wool than it did at the beginning of the century.

“This is about much more than the manufacture of sweaters. Much of the wool China buys is equally valued for the grease embedded in it as for the wool itself. As ducks secrete oil to make their feathers waterproof, sheep produce a similar fatty substance that helps protect them from harsh weather. Australia’s wool is particularly greasy, and this grease — or various derivatives of it — is useful for making a whole slew of industrial and consumer products. Some portions go to produce lubricants for machinery and waterproofing for boats. Others, like lanolin, become lip gloss, moisturizer, and sunscreens.

And there’s another end point for this grease — something hardly anyone would ever associate with wool. At a factory in Dongyang, a burgeoning industrial center on China’s eastern coast, the grease’s cholesterol component is used to make Vitamin D. Zhejiang Garden Biochemical is the world’s largest maker of this vitamin — one that goes into nearly all the milk Americans consume (including organic varieties), as well as many of our breakfast cereals, breads, bars, margarine, and other dairy products.”

Ironic, then, that the ability to shield ourselves from the sun and to make up what we miss from its light are both derived from the same animal product. Why ship your vitamins across the globe if you can get them just blocks from your home? Isn’t it preferable to ensure enough vitamin D in your body with some simple, outdoor steps? Sunlight, even on a cloudy day, and fresh air (don’t walk by the incinerator) will be more certain help than synthetic compounds of questionable purity and efficacy.

No healthy bones for this snowperson, who has not been eating its vegetables.

No healthy bones for this snowperson, who has not been eating its vegetables.

Miscellaneously, as Warner discusses in an adjacent chapter, the feuding Kellogg brothers, cofounders of the sugary-sweet, vitamin D-fortified cereal empire, both lived to the advanced age of 91. In the late 1890s, John Harvey Kellogg developed a healthy dried-grain breakfast for former patients of his sanitarium in Battle Creek. His younger brother, Will Keith Kellogg, came to work with him. While John was out of town on business, W. K. tweaked the recipe for cornflakes, their breakthrough after various wheat-based concoctions, to include a measure of sugar. Customers were delighted and sales attained unprecedented heights. The only person who wasn’t thrilled was John, who demanded that the sugar be removed. When Will refused to acquiesce, the two split, with John maintaining the sanitarium, becoming increasingly destitute after the Depression, while W. K. Kellogg raked in the fortune.

One can only infer that W. K. most likely indulged in these new and improved cornflakes, though as Seventh-Day Adventists, both brothers kept to a strict vegetarian diet and reportedly avoided other vices. The pinch of sugar doesn’t seem to have impoverished his life any, and sheep-grease supplements were not all the rage then as they apparently are now. The twin spans of their longevity seem as good evidence as any against the verity of health claims put forth by these manufacturers of wholesome products.

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