The Lowdown on Vitamins and Minerals and Why You Need Them

I don’t know about you but in every magazine, newspaper, and store these days, I can’ t help but see an advertisement or article on a dietary supplement of some kind. It’s like anything you need to be healthy or recover from you can buy in a bottle.

A study done in the UK in 2002 examined the supplement use of supplements in cancer survivors. Researchers studied the patterns of supplement use among 622 colon cancer survivors who were enrolled in a chemoprevention trial. They found that 55 percent of the subjects took at least one supplement. Among supplement users, 66 percent took more than one product, and 13 percent took five or more. The most commonly used products were multivitamins, vitamin E, vitamin C, and calcium. Five percent of the subjects used a fiber supplement, and there was a similar level of use of other botanicals (including garlic, gingko, and ginseng) and of specialty products (including glucosamine, melatonin, and lecithin).

Another study done by the US Armed Forces surveyed more than 2200 men entering training for the U.S. Army special forces. The study revealed found that 64 percent were using dietary supplements at least occasionally, and 35 percent were using supplements on a daily basis. The majority of soldiers reported taking supplements to promote general health or for performance enhancement.

National surveys indicate that about half of Americans use dietary supplements.

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) commissioned a study on whether consumers had made dietary changes to reduce cancer risk. Overall, 39 percent of those surveyed said they had made changes to their diets to reduce cancer risk. Among those who said they had changed their diets, 68 percent also used dietary supplements.

Apart from the research studies we read and the ads we see, health experts are always urging us to get more vitamins and minerals into our diets. The message to get our vitamins and minerals is loud and clear, but there is a problem. The problem is many of us aren’t really sure about which ones we need and why.  Are you one of those people? Read on to get clued-up!

Why They’re Important

Vitamins and minerals play a lot of different roles in your body and being deficient in just one or two can have an impact on your general health. Some of these roles include supporting a healthy immune system, healthy growth and development and cell and organ functioning.

Vitamins

Here are some of the most important vitamins and why they’re so important.

  • Fat-soluble vitamins

These vitamins are stored by your body if they’re not needed straight away so you don’t need to be packing them into your diet on a daily basis. In fact, having too much of these vitamins in your body can be harmful so it’s important not to go overboard with these types:

Vitamin A: It’s needed for building immunity against infections and improving vision in poor light. Good sources of vitamin A include cheese, eggs, oily fish e.g. mackerel, milk, yogurt and liver (unless you’re pregnant, in which case liver is to be avoided). A balanced diet should provide an adequate amount of vitamin A but you don’t need it every day and getting too much can lead you to develop osteoporosis.

Vitamin D: It’s needed for helping to keep your bones and teeth healthy and can go some way towards counteracting the effects of too much vitamin A. A deficiency can lead to rickets (softening and weakening of the bones). Natural sunlight is the best source of vitamin D but it can also be found in oily fish e.g. sardines and salmon, eggs, fortified fat spreads and fortified breakfast cereals. It may be wise to take vitamin D supplements if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, aged 65+, don’t expose your skin to sunlight (e.g. if you cover up for cultural reasons) or are unable to get out of the house much but most people should be able to get enough vitamin D from their diet and by getting some exposure to natural sunlight. Just don’t overdo your sun exposure to the extent that you get sunburnt!

Vitamin E: It helps to protect cell membranes. Good sources include plant oils e.g. soya, corn and olive oil, nuts, seeds and wheat germ. A good diet should provide adequate amounts of vitamin E.

Vitamin K: It’s needed for blood clotting so if you’re deficient, cuts will take longer to stop bleeding. Good sources of vitamin K include leafy green vegetables, broccoli and soybeans.

  • Water-soluble vitamins

Unlike fat-soluble vitamins, your body gets rid of any excess if it’s not needed, which means that you need to be getting these vitamins on a daily basis to make sure that you’re getting an adequate amount. Nutrients can be easily lost in cooking so it’s recommend that you steam or grill foods to make this less of an issue.

Vitamin B1: It works with other B vitamins to release energy from food and keeps nerves and muscle tissue healthy. Good sources of vitamin B1 include pork, milk, cheese, peas, fruit (fresh and dried), eggs, wholegrain bread and fortified breakfast cereals.

Vitamin B2: It helps to keep skin, eyes and the nervous system healthy and in producing red blood cells. Good sources of vitamin B2 include milk, eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, rice, and mushrooms. UV light can destroy vitamin B2 so keep these foods out of direct sunlight where possible.

Vitamin B3: It helps to keep the nervous and digestive systems. Good sources of vitamin B3 include meat, fish, eggs and milk.

Vitamin B6: It encourages your body to use and store energy from proteins and carbohydrates and helps to form haemoglobin, which carries oxygen around the body. Good sources of vitamin B6 include pork, chicken, turkey, cod, bread, oatmeal, rice, eggs, soya beans, milk, potatoes, peanuts and fortified breakfast cereals.

Vitamin B12: It’s needed to make sure that your body is producing enough red blood cells and for maintaining a healthy nervous system. A deficiency can lead to vitamin B12 deficiency anemia. A balanced diet which contains meat, fish and dairy products should provide enough vitamin B12 but vegans may find it difficult to get enough from their diets.

Vitamin C: It helps to protect cells, keep skin and gums healthy and aid iron absorption. Good sources include oranges, kiwis, brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, broccoli and peppers. You should be able to get your recommended daily allowance (RDA) through a balanced diet but if you do take too much (e.g. if you’re also taking supplements), you may experience stomach pain, diarrhea and flatulence.

Folic acid: It works with vitamin B12 to produce healthy red blood cells and helps tp reduce the possibility of central nervous system defects e.g. spina bifida in unborn babies. Good sources of folic acid include broccoli, brussels sprouts, asparagus, peas, chickpeas, brown rice and fortified breakfast cereals. If you’re pregnant or planning to be, you’re advised to take an extra 0.4mg of folic acid until the 12th week of pregnancy to protect your unborn baby.

Minerals

As well as vitamins, there are also various minerals that should form part of a healthy diet, including:

Iron: It is essential for producing red blood cells. Good sources of iron include liver (although not if you’re pregnant as the vitamin A that it also contains can be harmful), meat, beans, nuts, dried apricots, brown rice, fortified breakfast cereals and leafy green vegetables.

Calcium: It’s needed for healthy teeth and bones, and a deficiency can mean that you’re at risk of osteoporosis (Brittle Bone Disease) in later life. It’s also thought that calcium can lower blood pressure and protect against colon and breast cancer, although more evidence is needed to confirm these predictions. Good sources of calcium include milk, yogurt and leafy green vegetables.

Remember this: The best way to make sure that you’re getting a good range of vitamins and minerals from your food is to follow a healthy, balanced diet that is rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. If you eat right, you shouldn’t need to take dietary supplements as a substitute.

So, do you take vitamins and minerals? Which ones do you take and why do you take them?


Comments

The Lowdown on Vitamins and Minerals and Why You Need Them — 33 Comments

  1. Great article, Miss T. Agreed that eating right is the best way to get adequate supplies of vitamins. With supplements, it is said that all you’re doing is making expensive urine.
    Vitamin and minerals need all the phytochemicals present in each food to react and be properly absorbed by the body. Isolating each nutrient in expensively refined supplements may not be the best way.

    • Some supplements do have their place but only in very specific situations. For the general healthy population, supplements aren’t needed, only a healthy diet is. I think the big problem these days is that people think they can eat like crap and take supplements and think that things will just balance out.

  2. IT’s like you can read my mind! I’ve been wondering about taking vitamins because I don’t currently. I didn’t know where to start, but now I do.

  3. We take something called JuicePlus and we’ve been trying to eat REALLY healthy lately (well…healthy to us). Other than our crack brownie recipe the other day we’ve really focused on eating fresh produce and unprocessed foods.

    • Lol. Those brownies are not part of the healthy diet plan- hate to break that to you.

      Try just ramping up your produce and eat a variety of colours. This works pretty good at getting a various amount of vitamins and minerals throughout the day.

  4. The only supplement I take now is Vitamin D. I have dark skin so it’s harder for my body to absorb the vitamin from the sun. I started taking it after a friend spent years pressuring me to take a Vitamin D supplement. I caved in almost a year and a half ago, and I’m convinced it’s helped keep me from getting sick.

    • Glad to hear. I also take a vitamin D supplement. I live in Canada which means I don’t get a lot of time in the sun,especially in our winter months. I too have found I have stronger immune system from it. I do though also work to eat really healthy which I am sure is the main reason I never get sick.

    • Getting vitamins and minerals from their natural source, i.e. food, is the best way to help your body. But sometimes depending on where we live, getting everything we need can be tough. You can compliment a healthy diet with a few vitamins but I would focus on eating as much of what you need instead.

  5. I take adult gummie vitamins because they are yummy. Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of conflicting advice on vitamins, to the point where I can’t figure out who is right. I only started taking them this year though.

    • I have read that too. Depending on the quality of the produce and how it has been grown, the nutrient content can be different. I like to eat as much organic good as I can as the nutrient count is a lot higher than commercially farmed stuff. The point I am making is that we need to eat healthy and make that are number one priority and not assume that we can eat like crap and take vitamins and think we will be fine. Vitamins can be a good compliment but they aren’t meant to replace a healthy diet.

  6. I don’t think that is unreasonable. We also take a vitamin D supplement. Living in Canada we don’t get a lot of sun in the winter to get the required amounts. Fish oil or flax oil is proven to be good for brain health clinically so it’s a good thing you are working to get this in your diet. I am not surprised to hear it is helping with your moods as this has been clinically proven in studies.

  7. We take a multi vitamin with dinner each night that contains everything you listed, plus more. We also take a Probiotic, an Omega 3-Fatty Acid, Vitamin D Drops (lots) and I also take an iron tablet each morning. I can see instant results from the Probiotics and the Vitamin D drops. I use to also take Magnesium which was very helpful for night time charlie horses in my legs, but it just got too expensive.

    • Glad to hear you are feeling better as a result. Some supplements are ok but I want people to know that diet should come first. It sounds like you know that so good for you.

      I take a probiotic as well and I can say as a result I never get sick which is awesome.

  8. P.S. We do eat a healthy diet as well, as my husband is a type 1 diabetic. Because he is, his body doesn’t absorb vitamins easily through food or tablets, so we take the tablets to make sure he gets enough, and I just like the way I feel after taking them too.

    • Like I said, if they compliment that is ok. Just don’t let them replace a good diet. Plus you don’t seem to take any of the scary ones. There are lots of supplements that are sold that really should be regulated because people don’t know how to take them safely. In fact, some of them really aren’t safe.

  9. Great article! I try to eat a healthy diet, but I find that taking the supplements on the side really helps with my energy at time. I recently discovered that I have low iron, and its amazing how much 1 little pill can help.

    • If they compliment than you are ok. It’s when the replace healthy eating that there is a problem. As far as anemia goes, you will definitely notice a difference in energy once you supplement. Just note that iron can be hard on your stomach so if you are noticing issues talk to your doctor about a different kind of iron that you can try.

  10. I take a one a day vitamin. I also increase usage of vitamin C and zinc if I get the feeling that a cold is coming on. With this strategy, I haven’t gotten a full blown cold in over 5 years. KNOCK ON WOOD.

  11. I tried supplements when I was younger, run down, and on a lousy diet(fast food, frozen casseroles, hot pockets, etc). The supplements did nothing for me.
    I don’t take them at all now, tho, since I’m finally on a good diet and doing much better than back in those awful years.
    Once a doctor told me I had low iron and suggested I go buy some iron pills. They didn’t help. What did help was an occasional meal of chicken livers. Now, when I get the urge for livers, I buy them and cook them up and they taste sooooooo right.
    I also eat daylilies (yes, they are edible- all parts of the plant). The unopened pods taste like water. The flowers taste like a lot of nothing, lol. However, they are loaded with iron and fiber and are very pretty.
    About ads for supplements. I think those companies have convinced a lot of people that we’re supposed to be super energetic at all times. But, we’re not. Some days a person is just tired.

    • Well said Maxine. We should be allowed to be tired and not feel bad about it. We aren’t meant to be wired all of the time.

      It is much better to get your nutrients from food sources which it sounds like you are now getting. Quinoa, nuts, and beans are great sources of iron if you want to try them out.

      • Miss T, I have beans daily, love them. Home cooked of course. I’ve noticed that dried beans have twice the amount of fiber than canned beans. I don’t know how that works.

          • Miss T, I just found on the Bean Institute site that pressure cooking and boiling reduces the fiber in beans. I had been wondering if pressure cooking was the culprit, since I can’t see canned bean companies slow cooking their beans (time is money). I learned years ago that beans had to be long soaked and slow cooked to destroy an acid in it. The acid, if not destroyed, will block the body’s intake of iron. Soybeans are an exception- no amount of soaking or slow cooking will destroy the acid. Only fermentation will destroy it (soy sauce). I soak mine for 24 hours and they do start to ferment. Then slow cook them for another 24 hours. They are delicious, wish I could send you a bowl 🙂

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