While most vitamins and minerals are needed in minute quantities, macro nutrients are things your body needs in large quantities.
Originally published 2001
The typical macro nutrients listed in university nutrition textbooks are protein, carbohydrates, and fats. “Vitamins and minerals”, in those books, are considered micro nutrients — the kind of thing you take in small doses, in supplements. But there is one category of supplements that are actually macro nutrients. And you probably aren’t getting enough of them.
In many parts of the world, people get sufficient quantities of those nutrients from their foods — because they are eating organic, recently-harvested produce from rich soils. But most people in industrialized nations don’t get enough, because the nutrients in this category are so volatile that very little of them survives harvesting, storage, and processing.
At the same time, industrial life significantly increases the number stressors that produce free radicals, which produces a double-whammy — you need more, but you get less.
The Macro Nutrients
Those nutrients are the building blocks that make up the body’s tissues — the skin, bone, tendons, cartilage, and muscle. Needless to say, they’re very important. They are:
- Vitamin C
- Phytochemicals / Polyphenols
Unfortunately, those nutrients are hard to come by in the food supply. They’re in all our fruits and vegetables, but they’re volatile, so they rapidly begin to deteriorate when the foods are picked. Many are lost when during transportation and storage, and many more are lost during processing. And in the case of phytochemicals, most are formed in the final stages of ripening — so foods that are picked green tend to be deficient.
The folks at the Colgan Institute in San Diego had some interesting comments on the quantity of vitamins in the American food supply. Dr. Michael Colgan and his colleagues have been nutritional and fitness consultants for dozens of world-class athletes, so they know more than a little about the subject of nutrition. According to them, the problem is not so so much that our foods have no nutritional value at all, the problem is that the nutritional value is so inconsistent, there is no way we can depend on our foods to meet our nutritional foods. They said the could test one orange from a supermarket and verify that it had it’s full nutritional complement of Vitamin C, while the one right next to it had none at all. After extensive testing of that kind, they decided that they simply could not depend on the food supply for vitamins and minerals. So they supplement everything. (Of course, they’re dealing with world-class athletes, so they have no margin for error. I figure that the foods I eat give me some of what I need, and I supplement for the rest. But the important point is that supplements are necessary.)
One important lesson in all this is that canned and frozen foods are often better for you than the “fresh” foods in the supermarket. Canned and frozen foods tend to ripe when picked, rather than green, because they don’t have to spend several days being carted around in a truck and sitting on a supermarket shelf before they’re sold. They’re then flash frozen and packaged to preserve their nutrients.
Most vitamins are catalysts. They initiate chemical reactions, but don’t participate in them, so they can be reused over and over. Vitamin C is different. Unlike other vitamins, Vitamin C goes into the construction of connective tissue. So, where most vitamins are only needed in minute quantities, large amounts of vitamin C are required.
Vitamin C is also an important part of the immune system. When you’re not getting enough, your immune system suffers. That’s the major reason that strenuous training tends to reduce your resistance to colds — because the vitamin C you need to combat them has been used to rebuild and repair the body’s tissues after training. So it’s important to get the amount you need, especially when you’re training.
Finally, Vitamin C reconstitutes Vitamin E, after Vitamin E has sacrificed itself to keep cholesterol and lipids (fats) from oxidizing — which prevent coronary artery disease. So you can see why we need a lot. Vitamin C plays many important roles!
For the amount, it is best to follow the advice of veterinarians, rather than doctors. Zoo animals are hard to replace and expensive. So they are kept as healthy as possible. The standard rate for a primate is 1.5 GRAMS (not milligrams) of Vitamin C per 100 lbs of body weight, per day.
For a 200 lb guy, that’s 3 gms per day. Even if you assume 1 gm per day in the food supply, which is being charitable, supplementing to the tune of 2 gms per day is a good idea. (Worst side effect of too much would be a case of the runs. In that case, cut back. But it usually takes 10 times the recommended amount before that happens. When you’re ill, you can burn up 100 times the recommended amount before you’ve had enough.)
Like other mammals, primates shed the ability to manufacture our Vitamin C. Horses and cows can, but it takes a lot of metabolic machinery to do so. Getting rid of all that machinery made primates lighter and more mobile. That was good. But it also made us dependent on foods that contain Vitamin C (like fruits, for example). Unlike a horse, we can’t simply eat any vegetation that happens to be handy, and manufacture it ourselves. So we have take it in when we eat.
The problem, of course, is that we can’t count on the American industrial food supply to supply any at all! It undoubtedly supplies some, but the amount we regularly get is undoubtedly far less than the amount we really need. So we must supplement.
Methyl-Sulphonyl-Methane, or some such like that. Naturally occurring form of sulfur. In every plant and animal cell. Needed to produce flexible connective tissue. (Otherwise, stop gap repairs are made with scar tissue, which feels fine when you’re not active, but which tears immediately when stressed.)
No more toxic than water. In other words, you have to drown yourself in it to do any harm. Take 1:1 with Vitamin C.
In addition to the internal supplement, these days it’s available as a cream in the health food section of supermarkets. Horse trainers use it to rub down the legs of their million-dollar racehorses, so you know it has to be both effective and safe.
Phytochemicals / Polyphenols
Antioxidant compounds that plants form to protect themselves against sunlight. (More commonly known as polyphenols, these days.) We know of 2 thousand. We understand about 2 hundred. The potential mathematical combinations of their constituent parts is about 2 million. So there is a heck of a lot we don’t know.
What we do know is that they offload a lot of the antioxidant work that Vitamin C does, leaving Vitamin C free to go into connective tissue. Take 1:1 with Vitamin C.
Many, if not most, phytochemicals are formed in fruits and above-ground vegetables during the late stages of ripening. They give the fruits and vegetables they’re color. Since they deteriorate quickly, the only way to get them from the food supply is to eat foods right off the vine. That’s one reason that a home-grown garden is such a good idea.
Lacking the ability to eat off the vine, the next best thing is supplements made from foods that are preserved immediately after they’re harvested. I like Food For Life, which is essentially ripe vegetables that have been freeze dried and compressed into a pill. I also like Dr. Gundry’s line of “Super Reds”. (I dislike the phone calls and emails that keep wanting to put me on a subscription plan, but at least they’re not one of those outfits who make you get on their plan in order to buy.)
Like MSM and phytochemicals, Vitamin C is needed in large quantities. But none of them are present in foods that have been stored or processed. So unless you’re eating straight off the vine, you’re not getting enough of them. For optimum health, you need 1.5 grams per 100 lbs of body weight.
Next: Mineral Supplements
Related articles at this site:
- Optimal Sports Nutrition: Your Competitive Edge, by Dr. Michael Colgan
The definitive guide to sports nutrition from a trainer of champions in sports as diverse as body-building and marathon running. Very readable. Very scientific.
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