The body needs a variety of vitamins and minerals in order to reach optimum performance. On the whole most of us get all the nutrients we need simply from eating a balanced and varied diet. As long as we utilise all of the food groups there is no reason to suppose we are lacking in any essential vitamin or mineral and we probably don't need to take supplements. People who may be deficient in an essential nutrient include women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, children aged 6 months to 5 years and older people aged 65 plus.
There are two types of vitamins: fat soluble and water soluble. Fat soluble vitamins are found in fatty foods, such as those containing animal fats, dairy, oily fish and oils and spreads. The body needs a store of fat soluble vitamins so it hoards them. For this reason there is no need to consume more fat soluble vitamins every day.
Water soluble vitamins are found in fruit, vegetables and grains. They are not stored in the body so we do need a daily intake. Bear in mind that food that is boiled will lose most of its nutrients so it is better to grill or steam food, or eat it raw. If we take too much of a water soluble vitamin in, it is passed out through the body's natural excretions, whereas too much of a fat soluble vitamin kept in storage in the body can cause health problems such as fatty liver disease or diabetes.
There are a number of vitamins and minerals essential for a healthy body. Here are 8 of them, starting with fat soluble vitamins:
Vitamin A (also known as retinol) protects the immune system against infection and helps to keep our eyesight in good working order. Retinol is needed in order to keep skin and flesh healthy. Vitamin A can be found in cheese, eggs, yoghurt, liver and low fat spreads. Too much vitamin A can make bones more prone to fracture in later life.
Vitamin D regulates the levels of calcium and phosphate we have in our bodies and keeps bones and teeth strong. A lack of vitamin D causes rickets, something that was until recently thought to have been banished from the UK. A lack of vitamin D also causes osteomalacia in the elderly. Vitamin D is derived from a reaction that the skin has to the sun. Besides sunlight, Vitamin D can also be found in oily fish, eggs, breakfast cereals and powdered milk.
Vitamin E is used by the body to regulate cell structure. It can be found in soya, corn and olive oil, nuts and seeds and in wheat germ.
Vitamin K is vital to ensure blood clotting and strong bones. Vitamin K is found in green vegetables such as broccoli and spinach, in vegetable oil and cereals. Some vitamin K can also be found in meat and dairy.
Among the water soluble family of vitamins are the following:
Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid. It protects the cells and tissues in the body and helps wounds to heal. A lack of vitamin C is responsible for scurvy, and historically was usually found among sailors who didn't eat enough fresh food for months on end. Vitamin C can be found in oranges and orange juice, strawberries, blackcurrants, broccoli, brussel sprouts and peppers. Too much vitamin C can cause abdominal pain and diarrhoea.
The B vitamin family are essential to our daily wellbeing. B vitamins include (among others) thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin, pyridoxine (B6) and folic acid. B12 helps the absorption of folic acid in the body. As a group of vitamins the B family are responsible for producing and releasing energy and keeping the nervous system, and the skin and eyes, healthy and functioning. They can be found in a diverse array of food but especially eggs, fortified cereals, nuts, beans and poultry.
Besides vitamins, the body also needs a good supply of minerals in order to ensure wellbeing. Minerals build strong bones and teeth, and control and regulate body fluids. They also turn the food that we eat into energy. Minerals can be found in meat, cereals, dairy, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. There are two particularly essential minerals, namely calcium and iron.
From an early age we have it drummed into us that Calcium builds strong teeth and bones, but it also regulates the muscle contractions that the body makes, including heartbeat, and ensures that the blood clots normally. Research suggests that calcium can potentially lower high blood pressure and protect against colon and breast cancer. Calcium is obviously found in milk, cheese and dairy products but also in green leafy vegetables, soya, tofu and nuts.
Finally, Iron helps to make red blood cells, and carry oxygen around the body – vital for the on-going work of the organs. A lack of iron can lead to anaemia. Iron can be found in liver, meat, beans, nuts, dried fruit and fortified cereal and dark green vegetables. Bear in mind that high doses of iron can be fatal, so as with all vitamins and minerals, take supplements in moderation and under the direction of your doctor.
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