We live in a universe — a reality — that is made up of circles within circles; interconnected, interdependent, and whole. Sages have been saying this for thousands of years, and in recent times scientists in an array of disciplines — from physicists to demographers — have come to this same conclusion. You may be wondering what this has to do with nutrition and your health. In one word: Everything.
Our fragmented worldview
If our world is so entwined and interdependent, why is this not readily apparent to most people? We have the distinct misfortune of living according to the Westernized paradigm wherein marketing rules the mind and heart. And the marketers include not only Wall Street ad agencies, but also leaders in the fields of religion, education, politics, medicine, psychology, and even natural healthcare This marketing, relentless and ubiquitous, has shaped the thoughts of people to the point wherein they think in terms of fragmentation instead of holism. Everything has been divided up into smaller groups, specialties, special interests, pieces, and isolated entities that exist out of context.
The conditioned, fragmented worldview has led us to perceive each other as separate “others” rather than seeing each other as the one big interactive family that we actually are. This is true not only socially, but also biologically, mentally, and spiritually. Our modernized societies have put us out of touch with other life forms as well, including the plant and animal kingdoms, as well as the environment and all of its ecological systems that determine the fate of our collective future as human beings.
Ours has often been referred to as a fragile planet. This is because there is a delicate balance that comprises the environment, living organisms, natural resources, and even the climate. When we offset this balance then we offset the whole fabric of life. This applies to the big picture as well as to the foods we eat.
In terms of health and nutrition, rather than regarding whole, natural foods as complete and harmonious, we’ve been misled to accept the fragmented paradigm of pharmacology that promises to heal our ills and keep us well.
The fragmented paradigm of pharmacology.
Pharmacology is based upon the principle that chemicals may be used to elicit a certain response in the physiology, mainly to either suppress or stimulate cellular function. Many natural healthcare practitioners have referred to this as addressing the symptoms but not the cause of the problem. Drugs do not feed the cells; they have no nutrient value. The pharmacological paradigm is at odds with the natural world, so why are we applying it to natural healthcare and the foods that we eat?
What is Nutrition?
Nutrition is the process of providing or obtaining the food necessary for health, immune support, prevention of disease, repair of damaged tissues, cellular function, and growth. Integral to this definition is the fact that “food” does not mean parts of foods nor drugs. Foods come from real plants, while drugs and supplements come from manufacturing plants. If your food is not whole then it is not natural or balanced. This applies not only to your daily diet, but also to the supplements you take.
Many would argue that the modern practice of Nutrition has been pirated and usurped by the purveyors of the fragmented paradigm. It seemed for a short while — from the 1960s through the 1990s — that we were on target to recapture our wholeness visa vis the holistic health movement that seemed to be taking root. Holism taught that we must return to nature, not only by eating real foods in favor of processed and artificial ingredients, but also by understanding that the human body is best served when we regard it as a whole ecosystem that includes every cell of the body as well as the mind, spirit, and emotions. Holistic healthcare became very promising; it was the backlash to a fragmented worldview of healthcare that was not only not working for us, but actually making people worse off. But what went wrong?
Might makes right. Holism was killed, or at least mostly marginalized, by Big Money and Big Marketing. The manufacturers of drugs and of processed foods took over the holistic, natural health industry as an invasive species. They applied their fragmented paradigm and sold it to the consumer and the patient as being better, quicker, easier, more convenient, more potent, and scientifically more powerful than what nature could provide. We have been conditioned to believe that science is smarter, better, quicker, and more powerful than nature. The voices of old timers like Ewell Gibbons, Bernard Jensen, and Jack LaLane were drowned out by marketing messages purveying short cuts and better life through chemistry. The pioneers such as Henry Bieler, MD, who taught that food should be our first medicine, are now silent. In their place are media star physicians touting the latest fad in supplementation, whether it’s zeaxanthin, lutein, coQ10, or whey protein isolate — all fractions of foods without the wholeness or naturally occurring constituents.
To use an overused analogy, we know that if you put all the individualized, unassembled parts of even the best-made automobile into a big box you will not have a working automobile. Chemically speaking, these parts, all included, will have the same chemistry as a functional car. But, alas, the functionality lies not in the chemistry, but in the interconnection of the parts. The same is true of foods. You can consume all your vitamins, minerals, proteins, and flavonoids in their separate forms in something called a “multivitamin,” but these will not function synergistically as they would if they were still assembled as one entity that we call a whole food.
Scientists looking for more natural means of addressing health issues, and those working for pharmaceutical concerns, have conditioned us to believe that parts of foods — such as vitamins, flavonoids, minerals, etc. — are acceptable replacements for nature’s whole foods. A good part of the reason for this is that corporations can make a lot of money selling the fragments, but only grocery stores can make serious money selling the real foods. When we stop to realize that the supplement industry is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise, we start to see where the problem lies.
A food is either whole or it is not.
A food is either whole or it is not. There is no such thing as a vitamin bush or a mineral tree. And, if you add a lot of isolated vitamins into a food, they will not be connected to the food’s inherent, natural nutrients. This would be analogous to tossing a new steering wheel onto the front seat of a car and expecting it to have functionality.
Foods contain interconnected, interdependent, and synergistic parts so that vitamin C in a supplement bottle is not the same as acerola cherry, camu camu, amla berries, or a lemon. Such whole foods contain not only vitamin C, but also an array of other nutrients that exist within a complex, including subfactors of vitamin C. The other ingredients have been called cofactors, or helper nutrients, and they exist in all whole foods grown in nature. What’s even more important is that, despite whether we are consciously aware of this truth, our bodies know the difference.
Wholeness is life
The idea of wholeness is ubiquitous. It explains the nature of reality, whether we are discussing food, human relationships, physics, biology, the human organism, life forms, or nature itself. Candace Pert, PhD, author of Molecules of Emotion, proved this when she showed that cell receptors exist throughout the body and that every bodily system works as one unified system. She was ridiculed for her discovery that even memory is contained in all cells, not just in the brain. Time and experimentation proved that she was correct. Physicist David Bohm, PhD, wrote a book called Wholeness and the Implicate Order in which he discussed how the totality of existence is an unbroken whole. The philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti spoke of how the mind itself is a fragmented entity and the only way to escape from one’s own psychological conditioning is to see the totality rather than the parts. Failure to do this results in a life full of internal and external conflict.
Nicholas A. Christakis, MD, PhD, MPH, is a sociologist and physician who conducts research in the area of biosocial science, investigating the biological predicates and consequences of social phenomena. Speaking about human social networks, he noted, “Our experience of the world depends upon the actual structure of the network in which we are residing and all the kinds of things that ripple through the network. This is because human beings form a kind of super organism that has properties that cannot be studied by just studying the individuals.”
Protein researchers Carl Pfeiffer, MD, and Eric Braverman, MD, noted that amino acids compete for absorption with others in the same group. For example, the aromatic amino acid group (tryptophan, tyrosine and phenylalamine) and can inhibit one another’s passage into the brain. This competition usually occurs among amino acids with similar structures. Amino acids in each group participate in the same or similar actions and perform the same or similar functions, while dissimilar amino acids are absorbed differently and perform different functions. Because amino acids compete, when you consume them in isolation you risk suffering side effects.
In my book Whole Nutrition I showed how nutrients within foods exist within complexes. These complexes formed naturally over millions of years so that they exist as one functional unit. The power and usefulness of a vitamin, therefore, is only as good as the rest of the cofactors that support it in the food complex. A vitamin pill is not a food.
Nutritional supplements are either whole or not
Here is the truth that most practitioners and vitamin sellers do not readily acknowledge: A vitamin is not a food, and there are only a couple of companies that produce whole food supplements. Thus, most supplements (which, by the way, are manufactured by large pharmaceutical corporations regardless of whether the end product is called “natural”) fall into the paradigm of pharmacology as noted at the outset of this article. There are four basic types of supplements on the market today:
1. So-called natural vitamins and multivitamins. Although labeled “natural,” the truth is that a vitamin, mineral or any other nutrient is no longer in its natural state once it has been removed from its original food complex;
2. Synthetic vitamins and multivitamins. These are simply manufactured by scientists in a laboratory; there is nothing natural about them.
3. Whole food-based supplements. The word BASED is crucial in this description, because “based” implies that there is something to the formula besides whole food. As such, most whole food supplements do not consist of whole foods, but rather mixtures of isolated (sometimes synthetic) nutrients along with foods. This, of course, means that the manufacturer does not have complete faith in nature’s whole foods, and finds it necessary to give it a boost by means of enrichment or standardization. There are some very prominent whole food based supplements that are grown in yeast solutions and treated with isolated vitamins in a soup fed to the plants.
4. Truly whole food supplements. These products are foods that are not standardized or infused with isolates, but merely real foods compressed into a tablet.
Read the labels.
By reading supplement labels, you can spot which parts of a supplement is a food and which is a synthetic or isolate. Examples of the latter include ascorbic acid vitamin C, mixed tocopherols, folic acid, vitamin A palmitate, niacinamide, ester C, thiamine, etc.
It’s the way life works.
Nutrition hinges on the interrelationships, balance and complexity inherent in nature’s whole foods. To break this concept down to its most basic argument: The sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Teamwork yields greater results than a group of individuals who do not cooperate. And, fragmentation, whether pertaining to nutrition, atoms, societies, or the human mind, leads to conflict rather than harmony. This is how life works; it is fundamental to every discipline and relationship in the universe.