adelle davis


Adelle Davis Revisited:

"Adelle Davis, one of the country's best-known nutritionists, studied at Purdue University, graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, and took postgraduate work at Columbia University and the University of California at Los Angeles before receiving her Master of Science degree in biochemistry from the University of Southern California Medical School.

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"Throughout her career, she worked with physicians, beginning in New York with dietetics training at Bellevue and Fordham hospitals and her first job at the Judson Health Clinic.

"Later, in Oakland, California, and then in Los Angeles, she worked as a consulting nutritionist with physicians at the Alameda County Health Clinic and the William E. Branch Clinic in Hollywood as well as seeing patients referred to her by numerous specialists. After planning individual diets for more than 20,000 people suffering from almost every known disease, she gave up consulting work to devote her time to her family, writing, and lecturing." (Let's Eat Right to Keep Fit)

From Women's Stories

In 1998, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, in a press release setting forth his opposition to lawsuits being brought against people who question the safety of our food supply, stated:

"One of the pioneers of the movement toward healthier eating, Adelle Davis, raised many food safety and health issues based on her own research. Her views were not accepted by the scientific community at the time.

"Now the weight of medical evidence, including former Surgeon General Koops' Report on Nutrition and Health, has vindicated her views."

How to introduce such a person as Adelle Davis? The thousands upon thousands of lives she has improved, yes, saved, through nutritional counselling and through her writings, the awareness that vitamins and minerals added to the diet can alleviate maladies thought to be incurable, even the commonplace appearance of yogurt and wheat germ on our supermarket shelves, are due in largest part to her concentration on the study of nutrition. What can one person say that would even approach the contribution she has made?

Many of us remember that we lost Adelle Davis to "the Big C", as she called Cancer, in 1974. Those people who jump to hasty conclusions commented that this form of death invalidated her work. But just a moment to consider will bring up the facts: she was raised in, and lived in, an age of aggressive and naive experimentation with the deadliest of food additives and chemical pesticides from which one could not escape, and in an age when every public, and many private, rooms were choked with cigarette smoke. Secondly, cancer occurs naturally in every animal species except sharks. Finally, death is not a sign of poor nutrition. Adelle Davis's drive and personal schedule attest to the fact that she had tremendous health and energy throughout her life.

She herself speculated that her bone cancer was brought on by her heavy use of concentrated powdered milk, which is a fine powder, much more condensed than the "instant" variety of evaporated milk most people are familiar with.

My research into her biography is just beginning, so this section will be filled in later. She was born in 1904, and lived an active 70 years. In 1938 she received her Masters degree in Biochemistry from the University of Southern California (a private institution of highest quality in Los Angeles; not to be confused with the Univ. of California, Los Angeles, a totally different, public, institution). From the list of her publications, it seems to me that she was first best known in England (Optimum Health, and You Can Stay Well). Adelle Davis practiced nutritional counselling, while continuing her writing, for more than three decades. I'm sure she would say that the essence of her life was her work, which still speaks loud and clear.

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Adelle Davis's major writings

Her best-known writings (in the US, at any rate) consist of four major works, all in paperback, all now out of print but available online for a few dollars plus shipping (see, and other used book sellers):

Let's Eat Right to Keep Fit (c 1954, 1970 Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, New York) is the most popular. It is a compendium of all the vitamins and mineral elements, one or a few chapters on each one, taken from her years of clinical counselling and intensive research into the scientific experiments in the biochemistry of nutrition.

ALERT (as I'm abbreviating this book since we will refer to it so often, "Adelle's Let's Eat Right To...") explains in detail how these nutrients work in the body, the research that has been done on them, what happens when there is a deficiency in a nutrient, how much of the nutrient is needed in each instance (and why), and what foods and supplements contain that nutrient. One gets a clear understanding of why it is important, in each case, to supplement through the use of healthful foods and occasionally through pills. Further, since she educates you thoroughly in the research behind each nutrient, one learns how to adjust one's diet wisely, using measurement and quantification based on science.

Let's Get Well (c 1965, same publisher), is a follow-up to ALERT, in the sense that it is organized around the major health afflications, while ALERT is arranged by each nutrient and its attributes. LGW is super-abundantly footnoted to a huge bibliography of research, so that each of her statements about health is backed up by solid research. This is science in its purest form: experimental results that are repeatable.

Let's Have Healthy Children, as the title says. Focuses on her theories as they pertain to diet during pregnancy, and raising a young family. Hard to find now. Have lost my hardback copy.

Let's Cook It Right (c 1947, same publisher) Adelle Davis believed that food should first and foremost, be delicious. This thick-volume cookbook (573 pages) is full of ways to prepare fresh foods of all kinds in the most minimally-impacted, health-preserving manner. She was a pioneer of steaming vegetables with smallest amounts of water, using vapor-tight lids, slow-cooking over low heat to preserve the protein, boiling the water before adding the vegetables to the pot (instead of raising them from cold to boiling in the pot), to prevent destruction of vitamins by enzymes, and many, many more health-promoting techniques.

There are plenty of ways to prepare meats in this book, with hard-to-find recipes for the organ meats, which are supremely important to health. With what we know today about certain animals used for human food, one might wish to locate an organic source in your area. I intend to add links to sources of organic meats to this website as time allows.

She also includes ingredients that many of us today have already eliminated from our diets. When the book was written, in 1947, one could not simply eliminate, say, bacon, or other high-nitrate foods from a cookbook, and have it still be considered sane. Adjust ingredients per your own health decisions.

The chapter on desserts focuses on ways to prepare fruit desserts without sugar, then goes on to puddings and custards with minimal sugar. Her reading of the scientific research showed that, "when the diet is adequate" (a phrase she often uses, meaning "when one gets enough of all the known nutrients"), cholesterol need not be feared, so she uses eggs and full-cream dairy products in many of her desserts.

Earlier Books

Optimum Health, 1935, Stationers' Hall, London, England, is the earliest work I have so far located. Available at Barnes and Noble "Out of Print" section. Twenty-nine chapters in four parts. Just a smattering of the first chapters lets you see that Adelle was into her subject and motivating style decades before America "discovered" her:

Part I: The Joy of Optimum Health

1. The Joy of Optimum Health ...a keen-minded but puzzled Dutch physician fed polished rice to fowls and watched them become paralyzed, go into convulsions, and die, just as he had watched hundreds of human beings die similar deaths. Thus it was shown for the first time that all diseases were not due to bacteria alone, but that some were due to a lack. This lack, minute in quantity, tremendous in quality, lay in the diet. p. 6.

2. Building Resistance Subtle deficiencies, that is, where almost but not quite enough vitamin A is supplied in the diet, are of tremendous importance to us. These deficiencies, which lead to minor illnesses, are of such common occurrence that few of us escape them. p. 11.

3. Vitamin-A Requirements: People are always asking me, "How long should I take fish-liver oil?" My answer always has been and probably always will be, "Just as long as you are interested in your health."p. 28

4. Our Changing Diet: Our grandparents ate smaller amounts of sweets than we do. The consumption of sugar alone has increased almost one hundred pounds per person per year in the last hundred years. Sweets take away the appetite for the good foods which our bodies need. p. 31.

5. The Need of Healthy Nerves The writer of an article published in a recent Journal of the American Medical Association stated that a large amount of the heart disease seen today in America was undoubtedly due to the widespread lack of vitamin B. p. 48

Sterility, Pregnancy, and Lactation The old belief that a pregnant woman should eat for two is not true with respect to the quantity of food she must eat, for she need not increase the amount of food except during the last two months, and then only slightly. However, she must eat for two with respect to minerals and vitamins. Her daily diet during this time should include:

1 quart of skim milk

16 oz. of orange, grapefuit, or 

tomato juice

1 egg

1/2 cup of wheat germ

2 but preferably 3 fish-liver-oil


1 serving of cottage cheese

3 or more servings of colored


2 or 3 servings of fresh fruit, 

emphasizing citrous fruit

1 serving of meat or fish with

liver once weekly
This shows a full yet reasonably trim diet, with good proportions of protein and fruits and vegetables. Pritikin would bemoan the lack of unrefined carbohydrates, but the wheat germ approximates that need. Surely, people will add the carbohydrates without having to list them in the recommended daily diet. Here we have, in 1935, before her Masters Degree was obtained, the nucleus of Adelle's belief in a truly balanced diet, as she sees it, giving ample amounts of several types of protein, and washing the body's cells with the B vitamins.

Optimum Health contains much of the skeleton of what was to become Let's Eat Right to Keep Fit: chapter-by-chapter description of the vitamins in near-alphabetical order; each chapter describing the results of the lack of the vitamin, the results of the optimum intake of the vitamin, and then the best natural sources of the vitamin. But this book has something that ALERT does not: a very large proportion of the book is devoted to weight reduction. It begins with, You must learn the truth of this statement: the more you eat, the more you want to eat; the less you eat, the less you care to eat. And she goes on to tell you how to get there.

You Can Stay Well was released in England in 1939, the year after she had received her Master's Degree in Biochemistry at the University of Southern California. In a website now lost, it was described as "Davis' classic on the preservation of health through nutrition and diet. With Table of Food Factors, Index." It is available online at Barnes & Noble, starting at several dollars, up to almost $400 for a quality copy.

It is written almost completely as dialogue, from the first person, with every character telling the others some facts about nutrition. Approaching it as a nutritional instruction, it falls short of her other books. The nutritional information is of interest to the professional, but too scattered to form a complete picture in the mind of the lay reader. But as a window on her life, it is quite rewarding. Especially toward the end of the book, anyone interested in Adelle's life and training will find that she has anticipated your curiosity, and is taking you along with her through numerous encounters with her colleagues:

I remembered Dr. Norris whose office had been next to mine in the Medical Center Building and who always brought me the articles on nutrition in the medical journals, saying, "You read this and tell me what it's about." They had been technical articles one had to study to make heads or tails of, and while he had taught at Harvard Medical and could read such articles more easily than most, he had hundreds of demands on his time. When he did have a moment to read, he naturally wanted to relax rather than to concentrate on a subject which did not especially interest him.... Time and again when I had commented on excellent articles which could have been of great help to the patient, I found the doctors had failed to read them. Of course many physicians did read a great deal on the subject, but such men seemed relatively few. p. 241

The most intriguing of her earlier works, to me, is Vitality Through Planned Nutrition, 1942, MacMillan publishers. It is not available at nor eBay (as of 1 Feb., 2003), but is available at Barnes and Noble in their "Out of Print" section. It was re-released in 1949, and again in the 1950's, as "Revised". Vitality was written four years after she had received her Masters Degree, and was brimming over with confidence in the science, and enthusiasm for the practice, of nutritional counselling.

Her statements are the boldest of those in any of her books, and present some of the most impressive nutritional observations, which seem to have been toned down in Let's Eat Right.... One example: From a practical point of view, it is correct to say that it is impossible to obtain enough vitamin A to be harmful. In an experiment a group of babies were fed 166,666 units of the vitamin daily for five months; not only could no harmful effects be observed but the infants seemed far more healthy than babies receiving smaller amounts. [Note: this would have been the all-natural fish-liver-oil vitamin A, not the synthetic chemical that was developed later.] Rats have been given 500,000 units daily throughout their life span, and no toxicity resulted. When still larger quantities are given animals, illness does sometimes result. Similarly, Arctic explorers have become ill after eating polar-bear liver, found to contain as much as several million units of vitamin A per serving.

Vitality is clearly a re-writing, much improved, much more substantial, of Optimum Health. And just as clearly, Let's Eat Right to Keep Fit is a further re-writing of this core of her effort to motivate people to eat according to the best findings of scientific research. All three books are formed on the same core, the same discussion of the vitamins in roughly alphabetical order, with amazing findings of science, with clear explanations of how the body works, and that sure-fire motivation that makes you want to change your diet right now.

Adelle Davis's Nutritional Philosophy, imho

Adelle lived and wrote in the post-World War II era, which was enthralled with freedom of choice. The motto of the Health Food Movement, if indeed one of the many could be chosen, was "Freedom of Choice in Nutrition". Blind freedom is "not freedom, but license", and Adelle was determined that her clients and readers would not be in the dark about the scientific basis of nutrtional education.

Adelle Davis gives us the kernel of the research in nutrition, based on experiments and scientific writings that she read voluminously and thoroughly. She received her Masters Degree in Biochemistry from the University of Southern California, and practiced professional nutritional counselling for 35 years, applying to thousands of cases, the solid scientific research she had made herself thoroughly responsible for.

The picture that she saw, and which she repeatedly describes, is that the body does best when all of the known nutrients have been available, as well as fresh food sources for obtaining nutrients yet to be discovered by science. She writes so often, "When the diet is made adequate..." The key to this philosophy is knowing the amounts of nutrients that the body requires under given conditions, one can make educated decisions about what substances to include in the diet. This is true freedom of choice in nutrition. Without knowing the research, one cannot judge what amounts are necessary to avoid vitamin deficiencies.

There are many who make hasty claims that her information is erroneous or lacking in completeness, but I have yet to read anyone who has substantiated these claims, nor who has refuted her references to the scientific research, nor who even quotes her with any articulation.

Her usual writing pattern is to lay down the general occurrance of a given malady or group of maladies; describe what is happening biochemically in the body (or psychosomatically, in certain instances); explain how nutrition and supplementation can and have often alleviated this malady; describe the amounts of the nutrients necessary to alleviate it, and how the science has determined these amounts; and finally, describe the food sources for this nutrient. Each chapter of ALERT follows this pattern, focusing on the known nutrients, one chapter for each nutrient.

The crux of her findings boil down to this: deficiencies in vitamins, mineral elements, or other nutrients can cause illness that is reversed when the nutrients are added to the diet in an educated way, and "when the diet is made adequate" in all other respects. I might add that the "all other respects" relies heavily upon obtaining the entire vitamin-B complex through the assiduous use of B-rich foods daily.

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Acid: a substance or chemical that has a high number of electrons in the outer shell, which gives the substance certain reactive properties; capable of combining with a base to produce a salt

ALERT: abbreviation for Adelle's book Let's Eat Right to Keep Fit

Alkaline: also called a base; a substance or chemical that has a low number of electrons in the outer shell, which gives the substance certain reactive properties; it is capable of combining with an acid to produce a salt

Amino Acids: An amphoteric organic amino acid containing the amino group NH2: esp: any of the alpha-amino acids that are the chief components of proteins and are synthesized by living cells or are obtained as essential components of the diet. They are the building blocks of protein. Amino acids contain nitrogen, unlike other foods. There are 22 kinds of amino acids. Thousands of kinds of proteins can be made from these 22 amino acids. (See "Essential Amino Acids" below.)

Atom: the basic unit of matter, generally thought to be composed of three kinds of smaller particles (protons, neutrons, and electrons), the number of the particles in the atom determining the observable properties that that substance has; generally, the nucleus of the atom is made of protons and neutrons, while the much smaller electrons orbit around the nucleus, one electron for each proton, in an arrangement of spherical shells, or so it has been conceived in the past; there are only about 100 different kinds of atoms in the universe, numbering from 1 (which is hydrogen, having one proton and one electron) to Lawrencium (having 103 protons and electrons) (See "Elements" below.)

Beriberi: a disease caused by B-vitamin deficiencies, marked by inflammatory or degenerative changes of the nerves, digestive system, and heart caused largely by a lack of, or inability to assimilate, the B vitamin thiamine, as well as other B vitamins

Bioflavonoids: Ketone derivatives that occur in many parts of primroses and other plants, and which enhance the activity of Vitamin C in humans; sometimes used as dyestuffs

Calorie: 1. One of two recognized units of heat. The large or great calorie is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water 1 degree Centigrade. The small calorie is the amount of heat required to raise one gram of water 1 degree Centigrade. 2. Physiol. The large calorie, a measure of the energy value of foods or the heat output of organisms./ An amount of food having an energy-producing value of one large calorie.

Carbohydrates: Sugars, starches and cellulose; compounds containing carbon combined with hydrogen and oxygen, which break apart to release quick energy

Chemical: a substance derived by chemical processes, or used to create something through chemical processes; a chemical is usually composed of just one kind of molecule, or a specific blend of several kinds of molecules in specific proportions

Complete Protein: A protein food that contains all 8 essential amino acids, and thus is capable of supporting life if no other protein source is consumed.

Compound: a mixture of chemicals; also called a "chemical compound"

Element: a substance composed of just one kind of atom; look up "element" in your dictionary for a list of them; they can be gaseous, liquid or solid; there are 102 different kinds of elements, at last count.

Emulsified: when a substance has been blended into another substance in an emulsion

Emulsion: a combination of two liquids that normally will not mix, accomplished by breaking up one liquid into extremely tiny particles that remain suspended in the other liquid; most commonly, a combination of an oil or fat in a water-based liquid; oil-based vitamins are often treated this way in hopes they will be better absorbed in the digestive tract

Essential Amino Acids: Of the 22 amino acids, all but 8 can be manufactured in the body. These 8 amino acids must be obtained from foods; thus they are termed "essential." They are tryptophane, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, valine, leucine, and isoleucine. Two more are sometimes essential to children: histidine and arginine. The proteins of beans (legumes) and grains have complementary essential amino acids, and when the two foods are eaten together, the resulting protein provides all 8 essential amino acids.

Essential Fatty Acids ("EFA's"): Fatty acids that the body cannot produce, and which are extremely important for myriad health processes. There are two types of EFA's: Omega-3 and Omega-6. They cannot be interchanged in the body. Omega-3's come largely from the green parts of plants (especially grass eaten by ruminants) but including some seeds, and the sea plankton eaten by fish. Omega-6's come from many seeds of plants and animals that eat them. Today, with most of our food animals being fed corn and other grains, Americans are extremely high in Omega-6's and deficient in Omega-3's, which can cause major health disorders. Many, many nutritionists are recommending supplementing the diet with Omega-3 EFA's as a preventative measure for myriad diseases. This was research that was just beginning to come to the public's attention in the 1980's; before that time, Adelle Davis was seeing the very earliest research when she commented on the linoleic, linolenic, and arachnidonic EFA's.

Fatty Acids: Any of numerous saturated aliphatic monocarboxylic acids, including many that occur naturally, usually in the form of esters in fats, waxes, and essential oils; any of the saturated or unsaturated monocarboxylic acids (as palmitic acid) usually with an even number of carbon atoms that occur naturally in the form of glycerides in fats and fatty oils

Iodide: any of several compounds containing iodine, artifically added to salt to prevent goiter, an enlarging of the thyroid gland of the throat due to deficiency of iodine; Adelle believed strongly in using real sea salt, or iodized salt

Iodine: chemical element number 53, using the symbol "I"; needed by the thyroid glands to produce the hormone thyroxin, which profoundly regulates growth and metabolism; certain soils that were once under the ocean (along the Atlantic Coast, and parts of Kansas, South Dakota, Utah, western Texas and New Mexico) have enough iodine to produce foods of adequate iodine content --- elsewhere, the only reliable sources are sea foods including ocean fish including shellfish, kelp of all kinds, and real sea salt (ALERT p. 181)

Mineral: homogeneous substance composed of molecules made of a combination of several elements, usually in solid and/or rock form, often as crystals, generally found in the ground and sea water (which contains all of the elements on Earth); when nutritionists speak of "minerals" they usually mean elements, such as calcium, iron, magnesium, many others; this website will use the term "mineral elements" for such chemicals

Nutrient: a general term for any substance in foods, or added to foods, that promotes health in describable ways

Organic: Adelle writes, "grown on humus-rich soil without the addition of artificial fertilizers" and in her day, the term "organic" meant food grown to be vibrantly health-promoting, full of life, close to nature, and all the indefineables we all know mean naturally grown on rich soil, managed by good farmers who keep down pests through their expertise and skills; in chemistry, the term "organic" simply means molecules that contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, which all life is largely composed of; today, states and countries define the term differently, but it usually means food that does not have added artificial chemicals of any kind; such a term says little or nothing about the vibrancy of life in the food

Pellagra: a disease caused by a multiple B-vitamin deficiency, marked by dermatitis, gastrointestinal disorders, and central nervous system symptoms, and associated with a diet deficient in niacin, protein and other B vitamins (See "Beriberi" above.)

Protein: Unlike other living molecules, proteins contain nitrogen. They are made from "Amino Acids" (q.v.); there are thousands of kinds of proteins. The body is built largely of proteins. Therefore, meat, fish, milk, cheese, and eggs are excellent sources of protein.

Retinol: the original "vitamin A," which is the unadulterated compound found in animal fats, especially liver

Salt: the word itself is cognate to the Greek hals, meaning both "salt" and "sea"; sodium chloride, or "table salt", is just one type of salt, which generally means a residue left over from the evaporation of a large amount of water.

Sea salt: as a food labelling term, this means any kind of salt derived from the sea, even pure sodium chloride; usually this product has added iodide to protect against goiter, and some other chemical to keep it from attracting moisture. The term was popularized during the Health Food Movement when people made real sea salt by evaporating sea water and keeping all the crystals and compounds that were formed; the salts thus obtained are composed of all the numerous mineral elements on Earth, in proportions needed by the body (mineral elements occur in the blood in almost the identical proportions in which they occur in sea water). Ironically, there is more iodine in real sea salt than in the commercial product, and in its natural form. Yet the FDA has decreed that real sea salt must be labelled with the repelling words: "Does not contain iodide, a necessary nutrient." Currently we have not found any way to determine from the label whether anything called "sea salt" contains the numerous elements of the ocean, or only sodium chloride. Real sea salt (we make our own) is gray and stays moist due to its power to attract water from the air. Any salt that does not get wet has an added chemical, not required to be identified on the label.

Synergistic: When compound (or muscle) enhances the effectiveness of another compound (or muscle); compounds that work together in the body, an absence of one can cause inefficiency of the others; an oversupply of one or more synergistic compounds can cause a deficiency in the others; pertains especially to the B vitamins

Vitamin: literally means simply "life-giving"; a man-made chemical or naturally-occurring compound derived from foods, plants, or animals, that is essential to human health

Vitamin A: Fat-soluble vitamin obtained largely from animal sources (IF the animal is allowed to eat green plants, not grains, a rarity in the US today); the absence of vitamin A results in hardening (keratinizing) of the mucous membranes

Vitamin B: Water-soluble vitamin complex found especially in the germs of seeds, in yeasts, liver, and vegetables that have varied metabolic functions and include coenzymes and growth factors; the B vitamins work synergistically, and a deficiency of one or some may bring about deficiencies in others

Vitamin C: Water-soluble vitamin found largely in fruits and leafy vegetables, or made synthetically; absence of vitamin C causes scurvy, a breakdown of the cell walls of the body's cells; vitamin C detoxifies toxins in the body, and is used in food preparation to prevent destruction by oxygen

Vitamin D: Fat-soluble vitamins chemically related to steroids, essential for normal bone and tooth structure, and found esp. in fish-liver oils, egg yolk (from naturally-raised chickens), and milk (from grass-fed cows), or produced by activation (as by ultraviolet irradiation) of sterols: as vitamin D2, an alcohol usually prepared by irradiation of ergosterol and used as a dietary supplement in nutrition and medicinally in the control of rickets and related disorders, called also calciferol, or vitamin D3, an alcohol that is the predominating form of vitamin D in most fish-liver oils and is formed in the skin on exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet rays

Vitamin E: Fat-soluble vitamins that are chemically tocopherols, are essential in vertebrates for fertility, preventing muscle degeneration and vascular abnormalities; found especially in leaves and in seed germ oils; used chiefly in animal feeds and as antioxidants

Vitamin G: Riboflavin, one of the B vitamins

Vitamin H: Biotin, one of the B vitamins

Vitamin K: Two fat-soluble vitamins essential for blood clotting because they promote the production of prothrombin; can be produced in the intestine when yogurt is consumed

Vitamin P: Bioflavonoids; enhance the activity of vitamin C

Water-Miscible: a vitamin or other substance, normally not able to mix with water, that is altered to be able to be mixed into water without separating out; water-miscible vitamin A is ten times more toxic than oil-based vitamin A

Wheat Germ: Every seed has an embryo plant inside it called the "germ." It is the part that grows to become the new plant. This embryo is full of vitamins and protein. Since growing cells need B vitamins, the germ is rich in B vitamins. The germ is ground off and sold separately (sometimes it is given away) when wheat and rice are milled. The rest of the wheat and rice grain is mostly pure starch, without many B vitamins.

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