November 28, 2023

Want to Feel Better? Try Vitamin V

Kalkaska doctor pens nutrition book about the miracle ingredient your diet is missing
By Ross Boissoneau | Jan. 4, 2020

A family practitioner in Kalkaska, Natalie Okerson-Sparks, M.D., regularly treats a variety of ailments and complaints. One thing that’s long bothered her, as it does many physicians in the modern age, is the need to see as many patients as possible in a given day. The rush results in limited time for in-depth conversation about a patient’s overall lifestyle and some healthful living practices that might help treat the conditions with which her patients present.
“As a physician, it [promoting nutrition] is part of our responsibility. But we don’t have the time for education with most people. We have limited time with [office] visits, especially well-child visits.”

So she wrote the book: “Vitamin V: A Guide to Introducing Variety into Your Child's Diet (And Yours, Too!)” 

As the subtitle of her book suggests, the V stands for Variety. Rather than espousing any particular point of view or miracle food, Okerson-Sparks posits that the best diet is one including a variety of foodstuffs. The more, the merrier — and, she believes, the healthier.
It’s a concept she uses in her own family, and one she explores in the book, which leaves few nutritional stones unturned as she dives into hot topics like organic foods and gluten, delivers dozens of recipes, and offers suggestions to suit the eating habits of all sorts of eaters — from those who eat out often to those who make every meal from scratch.
There’s information for vegetarians and vegans, those who go for red meat, those who eat processed foods regularly, and those who grow their own food. There is material from a variety of what she calls “reputable resources,” such as the World Health Organization, the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic, and universities like Oxford and Stanford. “I wanted people to understand the whys and the hows,” Okerson-Sparks said.
To that end, she also addresses risks such as the amount of arsenic commonly found in rice and the mercury in fish, as well as the use of healthful supplements like probiotics. “I try to blend medical aspects and health,” she said. (So soak that rice beforehand, then cook it in more water than required and dispose of the excess.)
Some patients will ask her about nutrition, she said, but the focus is typically less on their health and more often on their appearance: “The goal is almost always weight loss.”
That’s understandable. According to an evaluation by the personal finance website WalletHub, Michigan ranks as the 11thfattest state in the country, right between Ohio and Maine. “Many are unhealthy. Let’s focus more on health than weight. Make decisions to [improve] heart health and prevent cancer. [That] will also take weight off.”
Okerson-Sparks said she didn’t have a grand plan when she decided to write the book, nor did she start with an outline. Instead, she started writing based on what she wasn’t able to do in her limited time with patients.
“I started off as if I was talking to a patient. Then I divided it into chapters,” Okerson-Sparks said.
The material includes not only why certain foods and preparation methods are more nutritious, but the differences in cost and convenience. “Buying bagged lettuce versus a head of lettuce — there’s a higher risk of contamination [with the former],” she said, “and it costs more. There’s a false perception that eating healthy is more expensive. It’s cheaper if you do it yourself.”
She also espouses the benefits of serving nutritious meals to kids as early in their lives as possible. “Lots of children are picky eaters. Introduce [healthy eating] at a young age, and they’ll reap the benefits over their lifetime.”
To do so, she suggests things like making smoothies with a variety of vegetables, or “healthifying” the recipes they already love, like using a variety of different flours and milks in baked goods.

Take pancakes, for example. “If it calls for two cups of flour, use one cup of whole wheat flour and one of oat flour. If it’s two eggs, use one egg and one chia egg.” Wait — chia egg? “Take one tablespoon of chia seeds and three tablespoons of water. Stir and let it sit 10 minutes. It gets gelatinous and serves as one egg in baking.”
The book has impressed other professionals. Jamie Purviance, a New York Times bestselling cookbook author and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, said “Vitamin V” inspires “with the supportive voice of someone who truly understands the realities of parenting, and she supplies us with easy, delicious recipes that move us in the right direction, one meal at a time.”
David Johnson, MD, FACC, an integrative health consultant and preventive cardiologist, praises the book and author, saying, “Health will be greatly benefitted when this book is actively disseminated from every physician’s office.”
“We all want to do what’s best for our children, our families, ourselves, and there is no greater impact than focusing on what we must do every day — eat,” said Okerson-Sparks.

“Vitamin V” is available at local and independent bookstores throughout Michigan. For a list of locations near you, see


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