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The benefits of taking cod liver oil and eating your greens

Posted in Fish, Historical articles, History, Minerals, Plants, Science on Thursday, 19 April 2012

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This edited article about vitamins originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 690 published on 5 April 1975.

Health promotion, picture, image, illustration

A poster from the 1940s promoting healthy food consumption

Doctors were puzzled. In Britain’s smoky industrial cities, children were suffering from a disease which made them very ill and left them with bent bones.

But in the fishing ports, the youngsters seemed miraculously free from this ailment. What was the reason? In time, the doctors found the answer.

The fishermen’s children were eating bread dipped in fish oil, and it was the oil which was keeping them free from the dreadful illness, called rickets, which was spoiling the health of the city children.

Rickets is caused by a lack of calcium which is necessary for the building of strong bones. This cannot be obtained unless there is vitamin D in our food. Fish oil is rich in vitamin D, and that is why the fishermen’s children who ate it were fit and the city children, who were denied it, were sickly.

If we eat a balanced diet, we will get all the things we need to be healthy, including all the substances called vitamins, from the Latin word vita for “life”. They are tiny chemical compounds and were discovered in 1911 by Casimir Funk, a Polish scientist.

They are given the letters of the alphabet as an easy way of labelling them. If you look at the pictures, you will see what these are and in what foods they are found.

Our food also contains proteins. These are the building blocks of life. They are used by the body to make different types of blood cells, muscle fibres, hair, nerve cells and brain cells. They also make up a jelly-like substance called cytoplasm, which every type of living cell must contain.

Other important constituents of our diet are:

Carbohydrates. Sugars and starches which supply energy to help the muscles work.

Fats. These are stored as a supply of energy.

Mineral salts. Traces of these are needed, such as iron to make new red cells for the blood and calcium for the teeth and bones.

Fortunately, when we sit down to a meal, we do not have to think of all the chemicals it contains but of the enjoyment we get from eating it. Neither do we have to think of the factory inside our body which is turning this food into the things our body needs.

Most of this activity takes place in the intestines after the stomach has mixed the chewed food with certain acids and water.

Lining the inside walls of the intestines are millions upon millions of microscopic “fingers” called villi, each one less than a hundredth of an inch in size. They wave back and forth busily absorbing all the chemicals which the body needs.

Waiting behind the villi are many more millions of blood vessels, ready to carry the chemicals to the main bloodstream and from there to every part of the body.

However, we are simply concerned with the energy our food gives us. An average meal of fish, peas and potatoes gives us enough energy to go for a five hour walk, swim for two hours, spend an hour playing football or sit and study for more than eight hours. What more can you ask than that?

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