In the debate about supplements, I’m often asked: “You can’t possibly think that we can get all our nutrients from food with our depleted soil?” I’d like to flip that to say: “You can’t possibly think that you can put all of nature’s bounty into a pill!”
Extra Nutrients You (probably) Don’t Know
In nutrition we commonly quantify a food by its specific caloric value, vitamins and minerals. But there are also “paranutrients” – the nutrients not considered. They are the nutrients from the plant’s environment.
These paranutrients are powerful mediators that maintain the homeostatic balance between our inside environment and the outside environment. They nourish our bodies in ways we are still discovering. This natural alchemy is not captured in a pill form.
You Can’t Put an Orange into a Pill
Let’s consider an orange. There are thousands of chemical compounds not talked about – the molecules that give the orange its characteristic taste, colour, texture, etc. An orange has benefits, not only in the fruit itself, but in the rind, peel and pulp.
The orange acquired its extra nutritional value by interacting with its growing environment. The soil and the orange tree allowed trillions of organisms to fortify the orange fruit. The water (aquifer) that fortified the tree passed on its chemicals to the orange, and the neighbouring plants added to the content of the soil.
The roots of a tree can stretch out within the soil to find whatever the tree needs to grow, using a process called “tropism.” They search for nutrients from the rocks breaking down in the soil, not from fertilizer. Helped by the microbes living inside rock and soil.
This is true for all plant-based foods, not just oranges. So coffee is not only caffeine, it’s a food. And a Brazil nut is not just magnesium, it’s thousands of compounds. One component is not all important. No single vitamin or mineral works alone in the body. Compounds work together to produce many metabolic reactions, and then recycle within our bodies and back into the earth.
What We Need is the Whole Food, Not a Supplement
We are not just what we eat – we are what our food eats and what the soil eats. The common view is that the value of the orange comes from its vitamin C content. But the reality is that thousands of chemicals give the plant its unique characteristics and nutritional content, and they can’t be captured in a pill.
We may crave some chemical in the orange – perhaps the bitterness of the peel in marmalade. Without realizing this is something our body needs to heal. Our bodies’ internal environment is communicating with the external environment to create balance. It’s not just a craving. It’s an intuitive message that supports our health.
“The cure is within your body, and natural healing is triggered by the food we eat. When we latch on to anything in the world, we find it attached to everything,” as John Muir the Scottish-American naturalist said at the turn of the 20th century.