The fascinating story of vitamins—and how they've revolutionized the way we think about food
Should I take a multivitamin? Does vitamin C really prevent colds? Can I get enough vitamin D from the sun? Are dietary supplements safe? How much of each vitamin do I need?
There’s no question that Americans are fascinated by vitamins and nutrition – we think that vitamins are always good for us, and that the more we can get, the better. But how much about vitamins do we really know? And how might the answer to that question affect the way we eat?
When it comes to vitamins, it turns out that the experts themselves are surprisingly short on answers. Yes, we need the thirteen dietary chemicals known as vitamins; without them, we would die. Yet despite a century of scientific research (the word “vitamin” was coined only in 1911), there is little agreement around even the simplest of questions, whether it’s exactly how much of each vitamin we each require or what these chemicals actually do.
The one thing that experts do agree upon is that the best way to get our nutrients is in the foods that naturally contain them, which have countless dietary chemicals beyond vitamins (think phytochemicals, or antioxidants, or omega-3s) that may be beneficial. But thanks to our love of processed foods and dietary supplements, this is exactly what most of us are not doing. Instead, we allow marketers to use the addition of synthetic vitamins to blind us to what else in food we might be missing, leading us to accept as healthy products that we might and should otherwise reject.
Vitamania reveals the surprising story of how we became so obsessed with vitamins, and what this obsession is doing to our health. In so doing, it demolishes many of our society’s most cherished myths about nutrition and challenges us to reevaluate our own beliefs. And lest that sound too heavy, it also includes poison squads, irradiated sheep grease, and caffeinated meat.
Counterintuitive, thorough, and engaging, Vitamania won’t just change the way you think about vitamins. It will change the way you think about food.
Praise for Vitamania:
"[A] hidden, many-faceted, and urgent story... a commanding, meticulously documented, and riling exposé rich in dramatic and absurd science and advertising history, lively profiles, and intrepid, eyebrow-raising fieldwork"
"This lively investigational work from journalist Price reveals how little we know about vitamins -- both how much we need or how they work -- and how our vitamin obsession is actually making us less healthy."
--Publishers Weekly (STARRED)
"Catherine Price gives us a journalist's entertaining romp through the fascinating history of the discovery of vitamins, and their use and marketing as objects of health obsession. Faith in vitamins, she advises, should be tempered by scientific uncertainty and dietary complexity, and the understanding that foods are better sources than pills."
--Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University and author of What to Eat.
"I get sent a lot of books about food. I usually don't write about them. Upon opening Vitamania I was pleased to find myself wanting to keep reading. It's measured, funny and fascinating. The only thing that Catherine Price is selling here is good reporting, engaging storytelling, and more than you thought you could possibly learn about vitamins. If you need vitamins to survive (you do), you should read this book."
--Scientific American Food Matters
"[E]ntertaining and informative . . . . an excellent addition to collections in public and consumer health libraries."
"[Price’s] investigation, full of scurvy-ridden sailors, questionable nutritional supplements and solid science, is both entertaining and enlightening.”