The Sweetest Thing

gene wilder willy wonkaWe need sweetness. Yeah, you heard me (well you hear me in your head). I’m not here to bore you with another article about why sugar is bad for you. We get it. As an information saturated society we know more about nutrition today than any other time in the unabridged history of the human race. Yes, sugar is bad for you BUT we still need to sweeten things from time to time. We have evolved taste buds on our tongues for sweet things. Every culture on the planet, from the bleakest deserts to the darkest rain forests, eats sweets. So when sugar is no longer lead singer on the sweetener stage who do we turn to?

Let’s get artificial! 

The term “Artificial sweetener” has always bothered me for some reason. It just makes it seem as though we are lying to our tastebuds but the only lie is in thinking that sugar is the basis of our perception of sweetness. Sweetness is in the brain. To understand sweetness think about locksmiths. Yes, every lock needs the right key to open it. A chemical doesn’t have to be  table sugar ( C12H22O11 )to have the right molecular structure to unlock our taste buds.

Pictures-of-the-tongue-and-taste-buds

Taste buds, making flavors known for more than 165 million years

A word or two about taste receptors…

The many protruding papillae structures on the surface of our tongue contain receptors that constitute our infamous taste buds. All of these protrusions create a massive amount of surface area around the tongue, providing many points of contact for the foods entering our mouths to make their flavors known. These taste bud receptors have a direct line to the gustatory (feeding related) areas of the brain where we interpret and experience those tastes. Just like sight and smell, taste is largely in the brain. This is why the smell or taste of fresh baked cookies or whatever can conjure up vivid memories of a time and place (rolls from the oven make me think of Grandma’s house).

Humans have big ole brains and those brains are powered by calories. Yes it takes calories to power the brain (roughly 20% of our total intake at rest) just like any other organ in the body. Sweet things tend to have a lot of calories. So it would make a lot of sense that, calorically speaking, sweet things would be so appealing (I see you over there cinnamon roll. How you doing?) What if the pleasure we get from two scoops of ice cream is really a deeply rooted feeling of security that we’ve met our body’s caloric demands?

Saccharin how do you do it?

C7H5NO3S or Miss Jackson if you’re nasty…

When I say “artificial sweetener” do you think of little, bright pink packets? It’s ok, we all do. Saccharin (commercially known as Sweet n Low) has been cluttering breakfast tables like confetti for decades but has been in use for more than a century. Of course saccharin meets and greets the same taste receptors on our tongue as table sugar but it’s 300x sweeter per serving. Where does it get its mutant flavor powers?It’s not fully understood but part of the answer is solubility my friends.

In order for us to taste anything, some portion of that substance needs to dissolve in water so that a sample of it’s molecules can shake hands (on the molecular level) with our taste buds. Saccharin in the form of a salt (sodium saccharin) dissolves in water like a champion and thanks to it’s shape, the molecule has a high affinity for the taste receptors on the tongue. I mean where sugar shakes hands with our taste buds saccharin goes in for the long, awkward hug.

hugs

Yeah…Saccharin is “that guy.”

BUT…. is it safe?

Gandalf-2You just had to ask that question didn’t you? To be honest (always) the topic of saccharin toxicity is a murky one. It has been investigated more than some organized crime bosses. There are definitely concerns about sodium saccharin’s toxicity. In some laboratory trials high doses of saccharin have been linked to bladder cancer in test rats. Now please keep in mind that they were testing lab rats and not humans. We are yet to find definitive proof that saccharin causes cancer in humans. It was for this reason that saccharin was removed from the U.S. National Toxicity Program’s Report on Carcinogens in 2000 where it had been listed since 1981. Also, the rats in those studies received high concentrations of sodium saccharin. They weren’t casually sipping Crystal Light after working in a few laps on the hamster wheel. For the sake of a toxicity study researchers are looking for toxic effects. So they test and test and test until they find some. A researcher measures those effects at different concentrations under a variety of conditions. In contrast, the amount of saccharin in your packet of sweetener was only intended to make that cup of old, burned coffee easier to drink while you wait for your car at the Jiffy Lube.

So no, I’m not here to defend the little pink packets (though I will accept cash or personal checks if they would like me to.) You will simply have to use your own judgement. However, I will leave you with this thought…

Can a substance that contains no calories or nutritional value still be considered food, and if not, why are we putting it in our mouths?

Stay curious, stay classy, and never stop learning my friends 🙂

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Omega 3, Where do I begin?

foxiest-comic-babes

So my super hero metaphor can’t be a total babe? Who’s blog is this anyway 🙂

So this article is going to dive right into omega-3 fatty acids. Oh I know what you’re thinking, but there’s really nothing funny about fatty acids. In fact, I was a little disappointed that after hours of back-breaking research (which I gathered from PubMed, Wikipedia, and a 3 page brochure I found in the parking lot) I was unable to find a single connection of the name “omega-3” to any known marvel comic super hero created by Stan Lee. Stan if you’re reading this, the world is waiting for a hero, buddy.

Once upon a time (called two weeks ago) I touched on saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. Feel free to glean through that article now and sing its praises on facebook and twitter if you haven’t already. I’ll wait. Let’s get to it!

Oh yeah, that's right.

Oh yeah, that’s right.

So let me start by saying that omega 3 is an essential fatty acid that our body needs, and not in that Motown
“oh baby, I need your loving” kind of way, but in that “get these in your diet or else” kind of way. Anytime you see “essential” mentioned in nutrition it’s typically referring to something the body needs but can’t make effectively on its own. Babies who do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids from mom during pregnancy can develop nerve and vision problems.  A deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids can lead to fatigue, a crap memory, skin like the Mojave desert, heart issues, and a bad case of the blues (mood swings, depression).

There are many types of omega 3 but the nutritional heavyweight title goes to DHA (docosohexanoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentanoic acid). These are derived almost exclusively from marine life (fish, fish oil, algae) and eggs.

Omega3Sources

There is another fancy omega 3 called ALA that we get from plant sources like flaxseed, olive oil, and walnuts but we only like it because it can be converted into DHA and EPA. Medical eggheads believe that DHA and EPA hold more nutritional punch, and as far as clinical research goes, they have a little more street credit. With that being said, if you’ve got some mouth-watering sources of ALA in your pantry don’t hesitate to tap that. Moving on…

What’s in a name?

So in reality there are about as many variations of fatty acids out there in the wild as Law & Order episodes. To distinguish between them the cool kids (scientists) describe them by the number of carbons they have and the location of the double bonds.
Remember that it’s the double bonds that make unsaturated fatty acids so kinky. The omega business is referring to the location of the first double bond that happens in the fatty acid chain, starting from the end (or omega) of the chain. So an “omega 3” fatty acid means that the first double bond is 3 carbons from the end of the fatty acid chain.

poly1

just remember to count 3 carbons from the end to the 1st double bond.

That’s it. No, don’t think any harder on that. No, look at me…let it go.

Omega 3 what have you done for me lately?

When a healthy level of omega 3 fatty acids are supplied from your diet they have the jedi ability to help lower our LDL cholesterol levels and help encourage higher, healthier HDL cholesterol levels in our blood stream. Now omega 3 has a more abstract role reducing inflammation throughout the body. Research has shown that DHA and EPA inhibit inflammation by suppressing inflammatory cytokines which are like cellular text messages that trigger cell responses.

What did inflammation ever do to us?

Well Inflammation is our body’s natural healing response when it comes to injury and infection. However, sometimes, not unlike a good friend (you know who you are), it can get a little out of hand. From an immunity stand point inflammation increases the fluid volume in the vessels and make blood vessel walls accessible for white cells to pass through in order to migrate to the source of an infection and kick ass. It also involves increased plasma flow allowing crucial proteins open access. This typically causes swelling, redness, heat, and in many cases, pain and discomfort. Fluid increases around the tissues and those tissues are surrounded by nerves usually. So as your tissues swell it pushes on the nerves and causes pain. This like many natural responses requires checks and balances. There are an [EXPLETIVE] ton of conditions involving chronic inflammation, a classic example being rheumatoid arthritis that tends to involve the small joints of the body.

So when an infection or injury is resolved you would probably like the inflammation to mellow out. Some researchers believe that part of our body’s ability to keep inflammation in check is largely associated with a balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. By “balance” of course they mean get more Omega 3 into the diet. I personally hate this kind of health debate with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns. Both omega 3 and 6 are essential to our diet and another group of researchers in the same FRIGGIN room will say that having to balance the two is shenanigans (technical term). So my advice is make like the Eskimos (Inuit to be polite) and just eat your oily fish! If you’re on the fence about any of it just stick to eating a diet lower in saturated fat and cholesterol which will help reduce your chances of heart disease no matter which way your omega door swings.

I hope this guides you in the right direction. Stay curious, stay classy, and never stop learning my friends.

inuit2

was going to make a joke about Inuits and fish but…what a beautiful culture. Oh well

Saturated Versus Unsaturated…Fight!!

Ok, it’s time to put on our grownup organic chemistry pants. Yes, I know they’re snug and just a little itchy, but to fully understand saturated and unsaturated fats you gotta get down on the molecular level. Are you ready to get down? That’s the spirit! I like your energy.

dork pants

Don’t tell me you don’t have chemistry pants. You’re 2000 and late!

What is fat besides something you pay a monthly gym membership fee to get rid of?

In order to keep that crazy dance called living going the body needs protein, vitamins, carbohydrates, and lipids. Huh, Lipids…? Let’s chat about molecules for a second. Lipids are a broad category of molecules to include cholesterols, phospholipids, and triglycerides. Your cholesterols can be supplied by your diet and tend to make up things like cell walls and some hormones. Don’t worry, I wrote another article about them. Phospholipids, like all lipids, have the curious property of being hydrophobic, a portion of the molecule refuses to mingle with water (haters are gonna hate) which creates a situation where long chains of phospholipids will form structures that contort and close in on each other to keep the water out. This makes the molecule ideal for forming things like cell membranes and vessicles.

membrane_f1

WARNING this content is rated “Mature”

Now what we call fats are another name for that subgroup of lipids called triglycerides. They look
something like this…

triglyceride (1)

Do you see this madness up there? That’s a triglyceride (fat) molecule….well the atomic formula for one. It has a glycerol unit that connects 3 fatty acids like the handle to a 3 pronged Afro pick. Oh don’t turn your nose up to this diagram. This is where we need to play. You see all those happy little hydrogens? There’s something you need to know about the element carbon. It loves attention, how else do you explain an atom that can bond up to 4 atoms at once. It’s more high maintenance than a bitter, Hollywood Hills divorcée.

trophy wife

Carbon is cruel mistress

Carbon has a deep and real connection with Hydrogen and will give all of her time (bonds) to it but she will also bond with another Carbon if there’s a space left. She’s…um…adventurous. Anyway, when carbon and hydrogen are exclusive they like to form these really long chains that are structurally uniform. They look something like this…

triglyceride

eww gross, I hate chemistry. I can just feel this diagram mocking me.

When carbon has a space free (unsaturated) and or double bonds to another carbon it forms a kink in the chain and that structure changes the way that fat will now behave. Saturated fats contain chains of carbon bound exclusively to every available hydrogen. So they are “saturated” with hydrogens. Unsaturated fatty acid chains are a little friskier, molecularly speaking, and have kinks in the chain as a result of one or more missing hydrogen pairs.

lipid-molecule

now that’s kinky stuff

These structural changes affect the way the molecule behaves and it’s the behavior of molecules that we really care about. So how do they behave?

Well since saturated fats are so DANG uniform, the triglyceride molecules they form can stack on top of each other really well like Lincoln logs…oh wait, were you born after the 80’s? I mean they stack like Jinga blocks. So saturated fats tend to form solids at room temperature like butter, A.K.A the Golden God, or like the bacon fat you watched cool in the frying pan that one time and for a second you thought to yourself “is that what it’s doing in my arteries?” Yes, that’s exactly what it’s doing. You knew what you were doing, but you didn’t stop did you…DID YOU?!

Because unsaturated fats are so kinky (tee hee) they don’t stack as well and thus tend to remain fluid at room temperature. These are the olive, cannola, vegetable oils that are far better for your ticker (heart healthy). When they describe these fats as mono or polyunsaturated they are referring to whether or not there is one (mono) or more (poly) hydrogens missing from the fatty acids.

Trans fats (when fats attack)

Yeah, unsaturated fats are great and all but since they’re a little light on the hydrogens, stray elements like sulfur like to wander in every now and then and make those oils go rancid when left unattended. So they tend not to have a great shelf life and they don’t exactly spread or bake like butter. Trans fats happened because manufacturers partially hydrogenated (added hydrogens) to unsaturated fats. As a result, you can eat honey buns that have been in the vending machine since the Clinton Administration but they’re about as healthy for your heart as crude oil.

I hope that clears a few things up. Stay curious, stay classy, and never stop learning my friends 🙂

Lightly Salted

mmm…salt. Good to the last blood pressure raising drop. No, salt isn’t evil. It’s necessary for maintaining the zen-like balance of our bodies, but perhaps it’s time to give our nutritional knowledge a total makeover.

This is almost as much salt as Paula's recipe called for.

This is almost as much salt as Paula’s recipe called for.

Spend enough time playing high stakes mahjong with health enthusiasts outside of the local smoothie shop and it won’t be long before “salt” is thrown around like a four letter word when things get a little heated (and salt is 4 letters…how perfect is that?). How did salt, the Ying to pepper’s Yang, land itself on America’s most wanted list? I blame its devious ability to raise blood pressure. It is the sodium component of salt that is responsible for influencing the absorption of water by our bodies. Table salt, or sodium chloride (NaCl) is the main source of sodium in our diets. So for many of us, lowering our sodium levels is pretty much synonymous with cutting back on salt.

Aldosterone and Friends

Oh yeah, this is where all the magic happens.

Oh yeah, this is where all the magic happens.

Alright people let’s talk seriously about urine for a second and try not to go “eewww he’s talking about pee”(well you can if you want to). Urine is what you get when blood plasma has been scrupulously filtered by the kidneys so that whatever the body isn’t using right then and there (salts, nitrogenous waste, elf magic) doesn’t get reabsorbed back into the circulation. So urine is actually just ultra filtered plasma…and that’s not so sketchy is it? The chemistry of our bodies is largely regulated by how our kidneys produce urine…salty like the dead sea one day…watered down like cheap beer the next.

Our always handy adrenal cortex produces the hormone aldosterone in response to physiological cues (not voodoo as I previously suspected). Aldosterone’s main magic trick is to increase the overall blood volume. Guess how..by increasing the reabsorption of sodium by the teeny tiny functional units of the kidney (nephrons). Water kind of plays follow the leader with sodium. So if sodium goes out then water comes back in.

So that means….

The body can manipulate the concentration of water in the blood by manipulating the levels of sodium. The kidneys are able to retain sodium which in turn allows water to flow back into circulation. Since water makes up more than 50% of the total volume of blood, sodium’s ability to lead water alters the blood volume through the vessels, and the increase in blood volume increases the amount of pressure that the blood flow exerts on vessel walls. Too much salt in the diet overloads your kidney’s capacity to deal (technical term). The body has a nifty early warning system for when your salt/water mojo is out of whack – thirst. It’s not just for Gatorade commercials.

SHAZAAAM!!!! Ok that’s enough physio for now. You can let the kids back in the room..scary monsters are gone.

There is a hefty percentage of Americans that exceed the maximum daily recommendation of sodium (less than 2400 mg) in the first half of the day. Fast foods and processed foods are largely to blame whereby the products that we consume have already been seasoned, often with a great deal more salt than we would have added ourselves (have you blamed your cheeseburger for anything today? Please take a moment and do that). In fact, canned soups are a notorious source of sodium in most household kitchen cabinets. “Naughty chicken noodle soup! Go in the corner and think about what you’ve done.”

So buy more fresh ingredients. Prepare more of your own meals. Stay hydrated, stay classy, and never stop learning my friends.

Caffeination Nation

Has a cup of coffee ever made you feel “more like yourself?” If you miss your morning cup do you morph into a ravenous troll capable of laying waste to countless villages standing between you and the coffee maker? Let’s unmask the secret sorcery of caffeine.

You should've seen the scone that came with this...lots of crumbs left on the breakroom table

You should’ve seen the scone that came with this…lots of crumbs left on the breakroom table

Oh yeah, I know how big this topic is and frankly I’m sick of hiding from it. What is caffeine and how does it work? BAM!! I just went there, and once a question has been asked there is no taking it back. So let’s play a little academic operation and see what’s just beneath the surface. I’m ready to put the tiny scalpels to this curious query and I don’t care if I get shocked touching the sides! (This is only my 3rd cup of coffee in two hours)

Neurons, Adenosine, and Cantankerous Caffeine Seat Stealers…

Meet adenosine, a mild mannered neurotransmitter (transmits chemical signals from one neuron cell to another) that is very good at inhibiting central nervous system activity. When adenosine is let loose in the blood stream to dock with receptors it likes to slow things way . . . way . . . doooowwwn. Levels of Adenosine build up with each hour we are awake, gradually “suppressing arousal” as the cool kids (scientists) eloquently put it. This is of course a vital evolutionary adaption since this action eventually leads to sleep – maybe you’ve heard of it – which we all need to do on a daily basis so that our big ole, multitasking, glucose powered, mammalian brains don’t blow a fuse or something. Adenosine has its very own specialized neural receptors. When some other molecule with a similar molecular structure, like caffeine, sits in adenosine’s chair then a very different reaction can take place.

Oh boy, this always happens when Caffeine comes to town...wild 80's shenanigans!

Oh boy, this always happens when Caffeine comes to town…wild 80’s shenanigans!

That charismatic caffeine is more like a party animal in sheep’s clothing that stimulates neurological activity rather than slowing it down. Caffeine triggers increased neuron firing that the pituitary senses and says “whoa now, do we have a fight or flight situation going on here or what?” You see, some of those receptors activate epineprine and norepinephrine, the chemical Ying and Yang (technical term) of our evolved stress response. That could explain why we sometimes get the nervous jitters if we’ve been hitting the grounds too many times in one morning.

Caffeine’s greatest hits…

  • diuretic – causes the body to lose water and you know I don’t mean by sweating
  • classified as a central nervous system stimulant – (messes wit yo mind) increases the firing of neurons
  • antagonist to adenosine – tosses Adenosine’s jacket on the floor and sits in its chair
  • activation of epinephrine and norepinephrine receptors – triggering the mild to “yikes” physiological manifestations of the stress/fight or flight response but in moderate amounts stimulates brain function, increases alertness
  • affects the release of dopamine – the neurotransmitter affecting movement control, emotional response, and the capacity to experience pain and pleasure..which could explain why we with caffeine withdrawal tend to get the blues when the pitcher of Joe runs dry.

Allow me to quote the cool kids (French researchers) Nehlig, Daval, & Debry at the always charming Universite de Nancy I in France 1992:

“Because caffeine is both water-soluble and lipid-soluble, it readily crosses the blood–brain barrier that separates the bloodstream from the interior of the brain. Once in the brain, the principal mode of action is as a nonselective antagonist of adenosine receptors” Yeah, I think we about covered that.

Ah yes, we can’t forget the Liver…

The liver has a fun enzyme called cytochrome P450 oxidase that metabolizes caffeine into a number of chemical byproducts. One of these chemicals, theobromine, contained in chocolate causes blood vessel dilation and increases urine flow which is why it has been used to treat high blood pressure.

A lot of Docs suggest no more than 200mg per day, or if you have your metric conversion tables out that’s two 5ounce cups of coffee a day, but it varies with sex, body size, and your personal sensitivity to caffeine. So if you’re small, sexy, and sensitive let’s stick to two cups for me ok. Hey, I care.

Yup, it’s still a drug so…

Know the signs.

Know the signs.

Caffeine withdrawal symptoms can include: severe headaches, muscle aches, temporary feelings of depression, and irritability. Know when it’s time to cut back and give tea a chance.

As always stay classy my friends and never stop learning.

Have You Thanked Your Cholesterol Lately?

“Good and Bad” cholesterol…really? In this age of information, high tech toys and fancy schmancy terminology is that the best that we can do? That’s like saying cats go meow or dogs go bow wow. I think we can stomach the truth [unintended pun]. There’s a little more to the story of cholesterol than making burger wrappers soggy or fueling Paula Deen’s “Ya’ll.” Stay tuned..

Your fat is lying to you..

6409413_f260Even in this information age so many of us are still manipulated by what I call (as of 5 minutes ago) “catch phrase science.” We do love our misleading names don’t we. I would go so far as to say that in this country misnaming things is as much of a past time as football tailgate parties, apple pie, or reality television. You know what? We’re better than that my friends.

It seems to me that these days you can’t walk into a burger shack or put knife to margarine spread without some granola eating health nut clearing their throats about good and bad cholesterol. DISCLAIMER – [ I have only the deepest respect and admiration for granola eating health nuts and the overwhelmingly positive influence of their Kashi bar commercials.]

Evil Wizard Saruman inaccurately portrayed here plotting to enslave human race with trans fatssource:http://vegetanivel2.deviantart.com/art/Saruman-Final-213864892

Evil Wizard Saruman inaccurately portrayed here plotting to enslave human race with trans fats
source:http://vegetanivel2.deviantart.com/art/Saruman-Final-213864892

My friends, cholesterol is not a four letter word (literally or figuratively). It’s not the curse of an evil wizard as a means of killing off the hobbits. Cholesterol is a natural substance that our bodies use to construct cell membranes. The cholesterol component of the membrane is what contributes to the fluidity and permeability (allowing substances to pass freely in and out) of the cell. Scientifically speaking, if rhythm & blues had a molecular form it would probably look like cholesterol. We just so happen to have a couple trillion cells that make up our bodies that need to be replaced when they get destroyed or grow old and die like they are supposed to (not that I think everything old needs to die, unless it’s taking up a lot of space). So a small amount of cholesterol is necessary to keep our cells tap dancing and happy. Cholesterol is also one of the principle components of steroid hormones. Hormones work to regulate all manner of bodily function from metabolism to sexual maturity and reproduction which is also…fun.

When Cholesterols Attack….

So what’s with the “Good vs. Bad” cholesterol talk you ask? Excellent question, well done. You see our bodies use cholesterol but only in small amounts. What cholesterol we don’t need right then and there gets transported to the liver and is later broken down with the aid of bile and pancreatic lipase. The catch is that cholesterol doesn’t mix well with water. Blood is mostly water so anything being transported through the blood stream needs to be water soluble, and thus should dissolve in water. The molecular structure of cholesterol “ain’t havin that,” chemically speaking. So to solve this problem our bodies package those feisty cholesterol molecules with protein. What we’ve come to call good and bad cholesterol, HDL (high density lipoprotein) and LDL (low density lipoprotein) are actually protein carriers bound to cholesterol molecules. As long as we aren’t taking in too much cholesterol from our diet it’s all good (physiologically speaking). When we get carried away with our cholesterol intake the body needs to produce more carrier protein to move the fat about. These are the low density variety. They are larger and bulkier than their high density counterpart and have this nasty habit of collecting along the walls of blood vessels. This is where the “Bad cholesterol” thing comes into play. When these are allowed to build up, you get a kind of epic plumbing problem where the blood flow through those vessels gets restricted, increasing blood pressure. If that blood flow is completely blocked from fat build up then that could lead to a heart attack and I’m afraid I don’t have any jokes for those…bah dum bump.

Now your HDL (high density lipoprotein) or as I like to call it “the good stuff” is a whole different story. These carriers are smaller, denser, and actually help to remove cholesterol from the blood. We need both forms to function, but as is so often the case with the body, it’s all about maintaining balance among the two. The American Heart Association actually sets a value for that zen-like balance, recommending that we not let our HDL levels go below 40 mg/dl (routine blood tests will tell you that). Apparently letting our levels get this low in the blood prevents those mad skilled lipoproteins from being all they can be when it comes to protecting our hearts.

Well of course there is way more to this gentle art of lowering one’s cholesterol in order to live strong, kick ass, and swing dance another day but hey, you don’t need me to give you all the answers. In this crazy information age let your questions be your guide my fellow wisdom seekers. As for me, it’s bedtime. Until next time…

Mean Ole B

If for some reason you thought that the B complex referred to a psychological fear of Bee stings that make it impossible to cope, then you should probably read this article on vitamin B

the softer side of Vitamin B 

terrifying image of chihuahua moments before deadly fit of rage.
petsjubileebox.blogspot.org

I have to be honest with you. I’ve been avoiding the B vitamins like a rabid chihuahua (terrifying mental image). At first glance they are just a little intimidating, the nutritional deep end of the pool. However, I owe it to you, my fellow information seekers, to bring you the facts, raw and uncut. Today we are crashing this academic adult swim called the vitamin B complex. The shirts are coming off and we’re going full frontal in the name of science (metaphorically of course). Let’s get to it.

Let’s talk about absorption

Life is a day to day struggle. You can break your back just trying to fit in all the essential vitamins and nutrients your body needs in one day only to have to do it all over again the next and why is that? The answer is solubility my friends. Vitamins like C and the members of the B complex dissolve in water (water soluble) like so many spoonfuls of powdered, orange Tang. The advantage to this is that in small amounts they can be readily transported throughout the body. The downside is that like vitamin C, what we can’t use immediately will get excreted as waste rather than stored. So a fresh supply of B vitamins must be sought through our diets and via dietary supplements daily.

There are boat loads of chemically distinct B vitamins but we typically focus on eight. Hey, eight is plenty. Luckily, the B vitamins all play quite well together and are found, naturally in a lot of the same foods, which is why they were originally thought to be a single vitamin and have been grouped together in recent years.

and now a confession…

random assortment of grains and beans that capture the warrior spirit of the B complex

random assortment of grains and beans that capture the warrior spirit of the B complex

Ok here’s the thing, I’m really lazy. There is a small part of me that feels obligated to describe in great detail the amazing super powers of each B vitamin. The problem is that the B complex is all over the place. They maintain muscle control, nerve impulses, cellular metabolism, a healthy immune system, digestion, red and white blood cell production, hormone regulation, the construction of DNA molecules, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they somehow prevented dry, split ends. They have so many different applications that not only do I NOT care to memorize them all, but I doubt that you care to sift through a long, boring list of them. So this is me not listing them. My deepest apologies. Moving on…

All Star Players

vitamin B1 street name: Thiamine

vitamin B2 street name: Riboflavin

vitamin B3 street name: Niacin

vitamin B5 street name: Pantothenic acid

vitamin B6 street name: Pyridoxine

vitamin B7 street name: Biotin

vitamin B9 street name: Folic acid

vitamin B12 street name: Cobalamins

All roads lead to riboflavin

a small furry rodent...not to be confused with quinoa, the South American seed crop

a small furry rodent…not to be confused with quinoa, the South American seed crop

So where can you get your lipsmackin supply of B vitamins? I would be more than happy to break down each individual vitamin and tell you exactly which aile to steer your grocery cart down in the whole foods store, but you really don’t need to hunt down each one. Honestly, all you really need to do is EAT YOUR GRAINS. Yup, the bulk of these vital compounds can be acquired in robust amounts in foods that we love to avoid like oat bran, brown rice, BEANS (which house a ton of nutrients on their own), oatmeal, multigrain pastas, and quinoa, which always makes me think of a small furry rodent for some reason.

I will say that your B7 through B12s are a bit more abstract and not quite as abundant in plants. For these I might recommend looking either to the sea (fish, shellfish and the like) or let a little egg and dairy into your life.

When vitamins attack

6820213_f260Vitamins, not unlike teen celebrities, do not like to be ignored. Leaving out just one or two of your essential vitamins can lead to some pretty nasty consequences. In the case of pellagra, a serious vitamin B3 (niacin) deficiency, those consequences include skin lesions, madness, severe diarrhea, and death, neither of which can make for the best summer ever. Early Mesoamerican cultures like the Aztecs whose diets revolved mainly around corn, developed a method for processing their corn into ground meals with a mixture of wood ash and alkali that chemically unleashed the vital B vitamin. The Spanish conquistadors would later crash their tortilla party and swipe their corn but not their knowledge of processing it. This of course set up the conditions for a great deal of nutritional woe in the form of massive pellagra outbreaks in the years to come, not just for Spain, but all other cultures adopting the unprocessed corn as their staple food source. Hey don’t worry, they figured it out eventually and so did we. I just love happy endings 🙂