We all know that vitamins are important, but why?
Here’s what you need to know about what’s in your food… or your Flintstones chewables.
What are vitamins & minerals?
Vitamins are organic compounds that are essential in very small amounts for supporting normal physiologic function.
We need vitamins in our diets, because our bodies can’t synthesize them quickly enough to meet our daily needs.
Vitamins have three characteristics:
- They’re natural components of foods; usually present in very small amounts.
- They’re essential for normal physiologic function (e.g., growth, reproduction, etc).
- When absent from the diet, they will cause a specific deficiency.
Vitamins are generally categorized as either fat soluble or water soluble depending on whether they dissolve best in either lipids or water.
Vitamins and their derivatives often serve a variety of roles in the body – one of the most important being their roles as cofactors for enzymes – called coenzymes. (See figure below for an example.)
Most minerals are considered essential and comprise a vast set of micronutrients. There are both macrominerals (required in amounts of 100 mg/day or more) and microminerals (required in amounts less than 15 mg/day).
Why is an adequate vitamin intake so important?
Vitamin deficiencies can create or exacerbate chronic health conditions.
9 water-soluble vitamins
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
Deficiency: Symptoms include burning feet, weakness in extremities, rapid heart rate, swelling, anorexia, nausea, fatigue, and gastrointestinal problems.
Sources: Sunflower seeds, asparagus, lettuce, mushrooms, black beans, navy beans, lentils, spinach, peas, pinto beans, lima beans, eggplant, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, tuna, whole wheat, soybeans
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Deficiency: Symptoms include cracks, fissures and sores at corner of mouth and lips, dermatitis, conjunctivitis, photophobia, glossitis of tongue, anxiety, loss of appetite, and fatigue.
Sources: Almonds, soybeans/tempeh, mushrooms, spinach, whole wheat, yogurt, mackerel, eggs, liver
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Deficiency: Symptoms include dermatitis, diarrhea, dementia, and stomatitis.
Sources: Mushrooms, asparagus, peanuts, brown rice, corn, green leafy vegetables, sweet potato, potato, lentil, barley, carrots, almonds, celery, turnips, peaches, chicken meat, tuna, salmon
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)
Deficiency: Very unlikely. Only in severe malnutrition may one notice tingling of feet.
Sources: Broccoli, lentils, split peas, avocado, whole wheat, mushrooms, sweet potato, sunflower seeds, cauliflower, green leafy vegetables, eggs, squash, strawberries, liver
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
Deficiency: Symptoms include chelosis, glossitis, stomatitis, dermatitis (all similar to vitamin B2 deficiency), nervous system disorders, sleeplessness, confusion, nervousness, depression, irritability, interference with nerves that supply muscles and difficulties in movement of these muscles, and anemia. Prenatal deprivation results in mental retardation and blood disorders for the newborn.
Sources: Whole wheat, brown rice, green leafy vegetables, sunflower seeds, potato, garbanzo beans, banana, trout, spinach, tomatoes, avocado, walnuts, peanut butter, tuna, salmon, lima beans, bell peppers, chicken meat
Vitamin B9 (Folic acid)
Folate is the naturally occurring form found in foods. Folic acid is the synthetic form used in commercially available supplements and fortified foods. Inadequate folate status is associated with neural tube defects and some cancers.
Deficiency: One may notice anemia (macrocytic/megaloblastic), sprue, Leukopenia, thrombocytopenia, weakness, weight loss, cracking and redness of tongue and mouth, and diarrhea. In pregnancy there is a risk of low birth weight and preterm delivery.
Sources: Green leafy vegetables, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, citrus fruits, black eyed peas, spinach, great northern beans, whole grains, baked beans, green peas, avocado, peanuts, lettuce, tomato juice, banana, papaya, organ meats
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
Vitamin B12 must combine with intrinsic factor before it’s absorbed into the bloodstream. We can store a year’s worth of this vitamin – but it should still be consumed regularly. B12 is a product of bacterial fermentation, which is why it’s not present in higher order plant foods.
Deficiency: Symptoms include pernicious anemia, neurological problems and sprue.
Sources: Fortified cereals, liver, trout, salmon, tuna, haddock, egg
Vitamin H (Biotin)
Deficiency: Very rare in humans. Keep in mind that consuming raw egg whites over a long period of time can cause biotin deficiency. Egg whites contain the protein avidin, which binds to biotin and prevents its absorption.
Sources: Green leafy vegetables, most nuts, whole grain breads, avocado, raspberries, cauliflower, carrots, papaya, banana, salmon, eggs
Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid)
Deficiency: Symptoms include bruising, gum infections, lethargy, dental cavities, tissue swelling, dry hair and skin, bleeding gums, dry eyes, hair loss, joint paint, pitting edema, anemia, delayed wound healing, and bone fragility. Long-term deficiency results in scurvy.
Sources: Guava, bell pepper, kiwi, orange, grapefruit, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, papaya, broccoli, sweet potato, pineapple, cauliflower, kale, lemon juice, parsley
4 fat soluble vitamins
Vitamin A (Retinoids)
Carotenoids that can be converted by the body into retinol are referred to as provitamin A carotenoids.
Deficiency: One may notice difficulty seeing in dim light and rough/dry skin.
Sources: Carrots, sweet potato, pumpkin, green leafy vegetables, squash, cantaloupe, bell pepper, Chinese cabbage, beef, eggs, peaches
Vitamin D (Calciferol, 1,25-dihydroxy vitamin D)
Cholecalciferol = vitamin D3 = animal version; ergocalciferol = vitamin D2 = plant version
Deficiency: In children a vitamin D deficiency can result in rickets, deformed bones, retarded growth, and soft teeth. In adults a vitamin D deficiency can result in osteomalacia, softened bones, spontaneous fractures, and tooth decay. Those at risk for deficiency include infants, elderly, dark skinned individuals, those with minimal sun exposure, fat malabsorption syndromes, inflammatory bowel diseases, kidney failure, and seizure disorders.
Vitamin E (tocopherol)
Deficiency: Only noticed in those with severe malnutrition. However, suboptimal intake of vitamin E is relatively common.
Sources: Green leafy vegetables, almonds, sunflower seeds, olives, blueberries, most nuts, most seeds, tomatoes, avocado
Deficiency: Tendency to bleed or hemorrhage and anemia.
Sources: Broccoli, green leafy vegetables, parsley, watercress, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, green beans, green peas, carrots
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