How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food
“[An] absorbing and meticulously researched history of the beginnings and causes of our obsession with vitamins and nutrition.” —The New York Times
Most of us know nothing about vitamins. What’s more, what we think we know is harming both our personal nutrition and our national health. By focusing on vitamins at the expense of everything else, we’ve become blind to the bigger picture: despite our belief that vitamins are an absolute good—and the more of them, the better—vitamins are actually small and surprisingly mysterious pieces of a much larger nutritional puzzle. In Vitamania, award-winning journalist Catherine Price offers a lucid and lively journey through our cherished yet misguided beliefs about vitamins, and reveals a straightforward, blessedly anxiety-free path to enjoyable eating and good health.
When vitamins were discovered a mere century ago, they changed the destiny of the human species by preventing and curing many terrifying diseases. Yet it wasn’t long before vitamins spread from labs of scientists into the realm of food marketers and began to take on a life of their own. The era of “vitamania,” as one 1940s journalist called it, had begun. Though we’ve gained much from our embrace of vitamins, what we’ve lost is a crucial sense of perspective. By buying into a century of hype and advertising, we have accepted the false idea that particular dietary chemicals can be used as shortcuts to health—whether they be antioxidants or omega-3s or, yes, vitamins. And it’s our vitamin-inspired desire for effortless shortcuts that created today’s dietary supplement industry, a veritable Wild West of overpromising “miracle” substances that can be legally sold without any proof that they are effective or safe.
Price’s travels to vitamin manufacturers and food laboratories and military testing kitchens—along with her deep dive into the history of nutritional science— provide a witty and dynamic narrative arc that binds Vitamania together. The result is a page-turning exploration of the history, science, hype, and future of nutrition. And her ultimate message is both inspiring and straightforward: given all that we don’t know about vitamins and nutrition, the best way to decide what to eat is to stop obsessing and simply embrace this uncertainty head-on.
Praise for Vitamania:
“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
Praise For Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food…
“[An] absorbing and meticulously researched history of the beginnings and causes of our obsession with vitamins and nutrition.”
Wall Street Journal
“Behind the bizarre disconnect between rigorous drug regulation and a ‘whatever’ approach to dietary supplements are industry lobbying, Oz-like doctors and politicians on both sides of the aisle whose states benefit from the thousands of jobs provided by the multi-billion-dollar supplement industry. It is not a new story, but Ms. Price gives it a vigorous retelling. She also reminds us that the prophets of vitamania, and their political allies, would all be powerless if it were not for a peculiar kind of deficiency in ourselves that keeps us reaching for ‘a salve against uncertainty.’ Faced with such primal fears, it seems, science is powerless.”
Scientific American "Food Matters"
“[Vitamania] is the surprisingly fascinating story of vitamins—their discovery, their functions in our bodies, and how they’ve been co-opted by an industry that has fostered a cultural infatuation with what we include, or fail to include, in our diets... 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.”
"Catherine Price argues in this persuasive new book, the rise in our use of vitamins to fortify foods has coincided with a reliance on less nutritious foods generally, as well as a magical belief in the power of vitamins. By the 1930s, food and drink manufacturers had learned that vitamins were a big sell — even beer got into the act, briefly, with the 1936 product Schlitz Sunshine Vitamin D Beer... Price argues, our belief in the power of vitamins is quasi-religious. And like a religion, the power we feel they have reveals a lot about us, “about our hopes, about our fears, and about our desperate desire for control.” That human beings have been able to discover these 13 essential chemicals is a scientific triumph for sure, but she cautions against overreach — “we still don’t know how to reverse engineer perfect food. Nature is simply too complex.”
“[Price’s] investigation, full of scurvy-ridden sailors, questionable nutritional supplements and solid science, is both entertaining and enlightening.”
“Catherine Price traces the long history of America’s love affair with vitamins… her chilling research about the barely regulated supplements marketplace will likely have you rethinking your morning multivitamin.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review):
“Price raises important questions about both supplements and vitamins, and if our government isn't asking them, at the very least, consumers must.”
“Entertaining and informative…An excellent addition to collections in public and consumer health libraries.”
Booklist (starred review):
“[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, eyebrowraising fieldwork…. Price’s sharp wit, skillful and vivid translation of science into story, and valiant inquisitiveness (she insists on tasting synthetic vitamins and gets buzzed on the military’s caffeinated meat sticks) make for an electrifying dissection of our vitamin habit in contrast to our irrevocable need for naturally nutrient-rich food.”
MARION NESTLE, Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies,and Public Health at New York University; author of What to Eat
“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.”
MICHELE SIMON, author of Appetite for Profit
“Vitamania is a much-needed critique of the nation’s obsession with nutritional supplements. Price exposes the less-than-scientific roots of what has become a multibillion-dollar industry, along with the inadequate regulatory oversight that drives unsavory marketing practices. The book concludes with this refreshing advice: get your nutrition from eating real food.”
EMILY OSTER, author of Expecting Better
“This is a fascinating look at what we know—and mostly what we don’t —about vitamins. You’ll never look at a bottle of multivitamins the same way again.”
Penguin Books, 9780143108153, 336pp.
Publication Date: April 12, 2016
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