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Vitamins & Minerals



Vitamins and minerals are organic compounds that our bodies use in very small amounts for a variety of metabolic processes. Basically, they keep us healthy and help our bodies to function.

Vitamins and minerals are a form of nutrient (called micronutrients) that are needed in small amounts. Micronutrients don’t give us energy, yet they are involved in the metabolic processes that enable us to get energy from macronutrients, which are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.


Vitamins

Different vitamins serve different purposes and contribute to different bodily functions. There are 13 vitamins in total and 8 of these come from the B-group of vitamins.


Vitamin A is important because it makes the immune system work effectively so it can fight disease and infection. It keeps our skin healthy, supports reproduction and growth, and helps with vision. The foods that give us Vitamin A include orange and yellow fruit and vegetables, such as carrots, red capsicum, mangoes, sweet potatoes, apricots, pumpkin, cantaloupe, and leafy green vegetables such as spinach, peas, and broccoli.

Animal sources of Vitamin A are liver, eggs, and some fortified milk and milk products.


The B group vitamins help our bodies use macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat, and protein) for fuel. Some B-group vitamins are needed to help cells to multiply by making new DNA. Except for B-12 and folate which are stored by the liver, most B-group vitamins can’t be stored by the body. They must be consumed regularly in a healthy diet that includes a range of wholefoods (such as lean meat, fish, wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, and legumes) and limits the intake of alcohol and processed foods.

The 8 types of vitamin B are:

  • thiamin (B1)

  • riboflavin (B2)

  • niacin (B3)

  • pantothenic acid (B5)

  • pyridoxine (B6)

  • biotin (B7)

  • folate or ‘folic acid’ when included in supplements (B9)

  • cyanocobalamin (B12)


The body cannot make vitamin C so it must come from food & drinks. The body cannot store vitamin C for long so it must be a part of our regular diet. Vitamin C is important for many metabolic processes. First, it helps with collagen formation. Collagen's primary role is to strengthen the skin, blood vessels, and bone. Collagen also helps to heal wounds. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants destroy free radicals in the body. Next, iron absorption is aided by vitamin C. The immune system also requires vitamin C for proper functioning, particularly cells called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that help to fight infection. Lastly, vitamin C is used to produce other substances in the body such as neurotransmitters or brain chemicals. Vitamin C is sensitive to heat, so some of its nutritional benefits can be lost during cooking. Raw foods are more beneficial as dietary sources of vitamin C. These include fruits such as oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits, blackcurrants, mangoes, kiwifruits, rock melon, tomatoes, and strawberries. Vegetables that contain vitamin C are green vegetables (such as cabbage, capsicum, spinach, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, and broccoli), cauliflower, and potatoes.


Vitamin D is important for strong bones, muscles and overall health. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is necessary to produce vitamin D in the skin and is the best natural source of vitamin D. To maintain healthy blood levels of vitamin D, aim to get 10-30 minutes of midday sunlight, several times per week. People with darker skin may need a little more than this. Your exposure time should depend on how sensitive your skin is to sunlight. The body can only absorb small amounts of Vitamin D. Regular physical activity assists with the body's production of vitamin D. Only a small amount (around 5-10%) of Vitamin D comes from out diet. Those foods include fatty fish (such as salmon), eggs, and margarine and some milks have added vitamin D.


Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps protect your body against damage from free radicals, such as exposure to cigarette smoke or radiation. It is also important for our vision, immune system, and skin. Dietary sources include: meat, egg yolks, leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, healthy oils (extra virgin, sunflower, soybean), and unprocessed cereals and wholegrains.


Vitamin K is important for: healthy bones, blood clotting, and wound healing. Newborn babies need vitamin K to prevent a serious bleeding condition called haemorrhagic disease. We get Vitamin K from food and from our gastrointestinal tract. Food sources include leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale, fruits and soybean oil. Vitamin K deficiency is unlikely unless there is a problem with fat absorption or if antibiotics are being taken. Antibiotics can kill the bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.


Minerals

There are hundreds of minerals – they are usually classified as either major or trace minerals. We need more of the major minerals than trace minerals; however, both are equally important for body functions. The major minerals include calcium, iodine, iron, zinc, magnesium, potassium, and sodium.


Calcium is needed to keep our bones healthy and strong. Calcium is also needed to strengthen teeth, regulate muscle and heart function, blood clotting, transmission of nervous system messages, and enzyme function. Our calcium needs vary at different life stages. Calcium is especially important for children and teens, young adults, and women after menopause. Good sources of calcium include dairy foods like milk, yogurt, cheese, and some plant-based foods with added calcium. A deficiency in calcium can lead to osteoporosis or brittle bones.


Iodine is essential to make thyroid hormones. These hormones control your metabolic rate (the rate your body uses energy when it is resting). They also help your brain and body grow and develop. Iodine is found mainly in seafood such as cod, canned tuna, oysters, and shrimp. It is also found in dairy products, seaweed, and table salts labeled “iodized”. You are likely to be getting enough iodine through your diet. Without enough iodine to make thyroid hormone, hypothyroidism may develop. While this is uncommon in the United States, iodine deficiency is a common cause of hypothyroidism worldwide. Too much iodine can be harmful, especially if you have an underlying thyroid disorder.


Iron is an important mineral that is involved in various bodily functions, including the transport of oxygen in the blood. It also vital to help our immune system function effectively to fight infection. Foods that contain iron include red meat, fish, poultry, legumes, eggs, and breakfast cereal with added iron. Iron deficiency is common among adults and children. some groups are more at risk of iron deficiency, such as babies and young children, teenage girls, women with heavy periods, vegans and vegetarians and people with chronic conditions.


Zinc is involved in various bodily functions, growth and development as well as immune function. Zinc also helps to produce the active form of vitamin A and transports it around the body. Dietary sources of zinc include red meat, shellfish, poultry, milk, cheese, whole grains and cereals with added zinc. Zinc deficiency is rare and is seen most commonly in people who do not absorb zinc well due to digestive disorders or who have undergone gastrointestinal surgery.


Magnesium is a mineral that is essential for healthy muscles, nerves, bones and blood sugar levels. If you don't get enough magnesium in your diet over a long time, you may be at a higher risk of health problems such as heart attack, stroke, diabetes or osteoporosis. Foods rich in magnesium include nuts, legumes, dark green vegetables, seafood, whole grains, chocolate and cocoa.


Potassium is important for the nerves, muscles and heart to work properly. It also helps lower blood pressure. Getting too little potassium can increase blood pressure, deplete calcium in bones, and increase the risk of kidney stones. Foods rich in potassium include leafy greens, beans, nuts, milk, yogurt, and starchy vegetables like winter squash such as acorn squash or butternut squash.


Lastly sodium is an important mineral. A small amount of sodium is important for good health as it helps to maintain the correct volume of circulating blood and tissue fluids in the body. Most of us are consuming far more sodium than we need. Too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure also known as hypertension and other health conditions. Many foods such as wholegrains, meat, and dairy products naturally contain small amounts of sodium, while highly processed foods usually contain large amounts.


Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that your body needs in small amounts to work properly. Most people should be able to get all the nutrients they need by eating a varied and balanced diet.

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