Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Tired blood and Nazi superman vitamin pills

One of the reasons I enjoy going through old pop culture ephemera is the perspective it can give on the way popular thinking has evolved or, in some cases, stayed the same. Check out the topics a popular comic book superhero chose when making conversation in 1945.

Having spent a lot of time recently going through food related ads and instructional films, I've noticed a strong mid-Twentieth Century fascination with the scientific basis of nutrition. Much of this expressed itself as pseudo-science, but it was driven by a string of real breakthroughs. Remember, he very concept of a vitamin was largely a Twentieth Century discovery.

From Wikipedia:

The discovery dates of the vitamins and their sources
Year of discoveryVitaminFood source
1910Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)Rice bran
1913Vitamin A (Retinol)Cod liver oil
1920Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid)Citrus, most fresh foods
1920Vitamin D (Calciferol)Cod liver oil
1920Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)Meatdairy productseggs
1922(Vitamin E) (Tocopherol)Wheat germ oil,
unrefined vegetable oils
1926Vitamin B12 (Cobalamins)Livereggs, animal products
1929Vitamin K1 (Phylloquinone)Leaf vegetables
1931Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)Meatwhole grains,
in many foods
1931Vitamin B7 (Biotin)Meatdairy productseggs
1934Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)Meatdairy products
1936Vitamin B3 (Niacin)Meatgrains
1941Vitamin B9 (Folic acid)Leaf vegetables
It is easy to see how all of this got people thinking about vitamins as an almost mystical cure-all. Even instructional US govt. films included lines like "The Nazis are supposed to have a superman vitamin pill." Of course, the mystique of the vitamin combined with the marketing power of television presented huge profit potential.

After vitamins, food advertisements loved to talk about 'energy.' They were always vague about exactly what they meant by the word but they wanted you to know their products were packed with it.

Companies even promoted dextrose as healthy.

It's easy to mock, but you have to remember how fast nutritional science was advancing. We've had decades to process this information and I'm not sure we're doing that much better.

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