It wasn’t vitamin C. Although it was known for centuries that a lack of fresh food would cause scurvy, and that certain foods, especially citrus fruits, cabbage, and sauerkraut, could prevent it, the factor responsible wasn’t identified until a few years after our front-runner.
Nope, the first vitamin identified was thiamin, or vitamin B1. Indeed, the word “vitamine” was coined for this vitamin alone, before it was realized there was a wide assortment of essential chemicals derived from food.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the thiamin deficiency disease known as beriberi was a scourge throughout Asia – anywhere the staple food was polished white rice. Beri-beri comes in two forms: “Dry” beriberi causes wasting, nerve damage, weakness, and paralysis, while “wet,” beriberi causes congestive heart failure and capillary damage. The 19th century was a time of great discoveries about germs and their role in illness, and scientists assumed that beriberi was caused by a germ, too.
Then in the 1880s, Dr. K. Takaki, Director General of the Japanese Naval Medical Services, discovered that substituting meat, vegetables, and fish for much of the rice in sailors diets completely eliminated beriberi. Later a Dutch physician named Christiaan Eijkman, working in what is now Indonesia, noticed that fowl showed symptoms of beriberi when fed white rice, but not when fed brown rice. These were the clues that beriberi was dietary, and resulted in the eventual identification of thiamin as the substance missing from those white rice-heavy diets.
Thiamin is needed for the body to metabolize carbohydrate, you see, so the more carbohydrate you eat, the more thiamin is needed. So replacing rice with protein and vegetables not only supplied more thiamin, it reduced the need as well. The chickens eating white rice not only weren’t getting thiamin, they were increasing their need for it. Deficiency was inevitable.
Why does this matter to you? We don’t hear about beriberi in 21st century America. Health authorities state that beriberi is virtually unknown because of the “enrichment” of refined grains with a few nutrients, including thiamin.
But several things can increase the need for thiamin, especially our vast consumption of vitamin-less carbohydrate in the form of sugar and corn syrup. Birth control pills and heavy alcohol consumption also cause loss of thiamin. Mild thiamin deficiency will cause fatigue, depression, irritability, and poor appetite, hardly an uncommon group of symptoms.
More alarming, a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology this past January found fully one-third of congestive heart failure patients in the US are thiamin deficient. Worse, according to the Canadian Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, at least one diuretic used to treat congestive heart failure can actually cause thiamin deficiency — which can, in turn, cause congestive heart failure.
You need 1.5 milligrams per day of thiamin, yet many foods listed as good sources contain 0.1 mg or less. However, there are many of these foods, letting you get a little from a lot of sources, so long as you don’t eat sugar or other refined carbs, increasing your need. Among the best sources of thiamin are peanuts, pork, peas, asparagus, and salmon. Ironically, charts of foods by thiamin content are heavy on processed baked goods and cereal, not because these are naturally good sources of thiamin, but because it is added. Go with naturally thiamin-rich foods.
Containing both pork and peas, this light and flavorful one-dish meal has 1.2 mgs of thiamin per serving, most of the RDA, which is 1.5 mgs.
Lemon-Thyme Pork Skillet Supper
- 1 pound pork top loin
- 1/2 head cauliflower
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
- 8 scallions, sliced
- 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon concentrate
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 cup cooked wild rice*
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
Run the cauliflower through the shredding blade of your food processor. Put the resulting cauli-rice in a microwaveable casserole with a lid, add a couple of tablespoons of water, cover, and nuke on high for six minutes.
Slice your pork into thin strips across the grain, and cut a strips into 1″ lengths. This is easier if your pork is half-frozen.
Spray your big, heavy skillet with non-stick cooking spray. Put it over medium-high heat, add the oil, and slosh it around to cover the bottom of the pan. When the pan is hot, throw in your pork strips. Stir-fry them until most of the pink is gone. Now add the wine, lemon juice, thyme, and garlic. Turn the burner down to low, throw in the peas, and let the whole thing simmer for 5 minutes or so.
By now your cauli-rice is done. Uncover it right away, to keep it from overcooking. When the liquid in the skillet is reduced to half its original volume, stir in the bouillon. When it’s dissolved, drain the cauli-rice and add it to the skillet. Throw in the wild rice, too. Stir everything up, stir in the pepper, add a little salt if you think it needs it, and serve.
3 Servings: 384 Calories; 20g Fat; 32g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 4g Fiber; 12g usable carbs.
*Note: Feel free to leave the wild rice out of this, if you prefer. You’ll knock 5 grams of carb off of each serving that way.
(Reprinted with permission from The Every Calorie Counts Cookbook, by Dana Carpender, copyright 2006, Fair Winds Press)
© 2010 by Dana Carpender. Used by permission of the author. What do you think? Please send Dana your comments to Dana Carpender.