Tag Archives: vegetarians

Sylvester Graham – Health pioneer and crackpot


Graham crackers were invented to cure what? Source: Wikipedia

The leadership of the various healthy eating and vegetarian movements over the past few centuries includes a lot of quacks, charlatans, and wackos. However, even some of the wackiest had some helpful ideas. A good, and early example of this type of health pioneer isĀ Sylvester Graham(1794 – 1851). He was an American dietary reformer who advocated vegetarianism and eating only whole-grains rather than refined grains. He was the inventor of the graham cracker, which in its original form was made from whole-grain flour and free of sugar, spices, flavorings and preservatives.

Sounds like a real innovator, right? However, his primary motivation for pushing his strict diet wasn’t due to health concerns but rather due to his religious fanaticism. He may have been ahead of his time, but he believed his diet could cure people of having “impure” thoughts. He was a big believer in sexual abstinence and believed his graham crackers could magically cure the desire to masturbate. Graham similarly believed that meat-eating lead to sin, and so advocated a diet of mostly fresh fruits, vegetables and whole-grains.

He eventually had a large following and in his final years helped found the American Vegetarian Society. Many health reformers in the late 19th century were influenced by him. Next time you see graham crackers at the store, remember that they were originally invented to cure masturbation, although in their current form they have little in common with what Sylvester Graham envisioned.

So what are we to make of such a character? I find it fascinating how Graham was right about the negative health effects of refined grain well before science finally figured it out. On the other hand, his belief that a vegetarian diet could cure alcoholism was laughably wrong.

Of course, there are still many wackos in the vegetarian movement, and of course among meat-eaters. But this says nothing about the virtues of either diet.

There are no longer any “Grahamites”(as his followers were called), but some Christian denominations like the Seventh Day Adventists continue to practice vegetarianism.

Graham may be long gone, but there are health gurus out there still making ridiculous, pseudo-scientific claims, often mixed promiscuously with good health advice. Don’t take anything on faith and do your own research to uncover the facts.

Vitamin D may improve athletic performance

It may not be the cold air or Old Man Winter’s roar that keeps even seasoned athletes indoors during the winter. According to the scientific literature, vitamin D may improve athletic performance, but only in athletes who are deficient in vitamin D.

So who is most likely to be deficient in vitamin D? Since vitamin D is produced in the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight, it shouldn’t worry people who get at least some sun exposure throughout most of the year, unless they live north of 37 degrees latitude during the winter. The sun’s rays are too weak north of 37 degrees, and it’s even worse if your skin is dark, since melanin can block sunlight.

The elderly also have problems making vitamin D, even if they get sufficient sunlight. Vitamin D(a misnomer, it is actually a hormone) is necessary for calcium absorption, which helps build strong bones, and may also boost the immune system, among other things. Scientists have found links between vitamin D deficiency and certain forms of cancer, but a lot more research needs to be done.

Eating a healthy, varied diet can provide just about all the nutrients the average person needs, but hardly any foods contain sufficient quantities of vitamin D to meet new nutritional guidelines. Even multivitamins fall short of the new guidelines. So it looks like eating food fortified with vitamin D(like milk) or vitamin D supplements may be the answer, for those who live north of 37 degrees latitude from autumn to spring.

A rather interesting possible solution which doesn’t involve supplements is to get some mushrooms(button mushrooms, shiitake, and many other mushroom species, but do not pick any wild mushrooms unless you know what you are doing) and place them in the sun for a few hours. When exposed to sunlight, they will manufacture vitamin D, just like humans, in quantities that are as good as or even better than supplements. This is certainly a wild solution!

I take a 5,000 I.U vitamin D supplement about twice a week during the winter since I am in the north-east U.S. I don’t take them at all during the summer, since I get enough sunlight during that time of year. I take it twice a week since vitamin D is fat-soluble, which means it can be stored in the liver and fatty tissue, unlike water soluble nutrients like vitamin C, which are quickly removed from the body which is why you need to get it every day.

So if you’re an athlete or even if you’re not an athlete, and you feel sluggish and you live in the northern U.S, see if you can get your vitamin D levels checked by your doctor. Or, you can just eat more mushrooms that have been sun-bathed as suggested above if you suspect you’re deficient. Like many nutrients, Vitamin D can be toxic in large quantities, so be careful.

For my fellow vegetarians and vegans – vitamin D-3, also called “cholecalciferol” is not vegan since it is derived from animal sources. However, vitamin D-2, also called “ergocalciferol” is vegan since it comes from plant sources. The type of vitamin D that is in mushrooms is D-2/ergocalciferol.