What are vitamins and minerals? They're those pills we take that are good for our health, right? Many of us take a daily mutli-vitamin for this very reason, but most of us have no idea what the different vitamins and minerals are, what they do, much less which foods have them naturally.
Hippocrates is often credited with saying “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." This is a great sentiment, but first, we must understand food's medicinal properties; which for the most part, come from vitamins and minerals contained within food.
In this installment of our blogs on nutrition, we will be taking a look at vitamins and minerals- what they are, what they do and how they impact our health and wellness, as well as sources to get them in our diet.
What Are Vitamins and Minerals?
The human body uses over 30 different vitamins and minerals for normal functioning. Vitamins and minerals provide no calories and are two of the six groups of essential nutrients that all humans need for daily living and functioning. The other groups being carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and water. These nutrients are considered essential because we cannot produce them in our bodies, we have to get them from our diet.
You might remember from our previous blogs that what largely determines how healthy a food is, is its nutrient density. Nutrient density is essentially, how many vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids and essential fatty acids are in the food. Some people supplement their micronutrients, but these are often not assimilated or digested very well. The best way to get enough of these essential nutrients is to eat a balanced diet.
Vitamins are put into two groups, water soluble and fat soluble.
Water soluble vitamins can be broken down and used by the body in the presence of water alone. Water soluble vitamins enter the bloodstream right away and can be filtered out of the body, so they are much less likely to ever reach toxic levels (not impossible though). The water soluble vitamins are Vitamin C and the eight B Vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12).
Fat soluble vitamins need fat to be present to be broken down and metabolized. This also means that the fat soluble vitamins can be stored in the body and saved for later use, but this can also lead to toxicity if they are over consumed. The fat soluble vitamins are Vitamins A, Vitamin D, Vitamin E and Vitamin K.
Dietary minerals are put into two groups, major minerals and minor minerals. The difference between the two groups isn't a degree of importance, just a difference in the amounts that are stored in the body. We have a greater concentration of the major minerals in our bodies than the minor minerals. The major minerals are Calcium, Chloride. Magnesium, Phosphorous, Potassium, Sodium and Sulfur. The minor minerals are Chromium, Copper, Fluoride, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Selenium and Zinc.
Why Are Vitamins and Minerals Important?
Vitamins and minerals play numerous roles within the body. They are imperative for proper healing, immune functioning, cell growth, tissue development and hormone regulation. The roles of all of the vitamins and minerals are far too numerous for the purpose of this blog, but they can be broken down into generalizations by group:
- Water Soluble Vitamins Roles: The main roles of the water soluble vitamins are to aid in releasing energy from the food we eat, in keeping tissue healthy and the immune system.
- Fat Soluble Vitamins Roles: These vitamins help keep our nervous system, eyes, skin, bones, gastrointestinal tract and lungs in good working order.
- Major Minerals Roles: The major minerals serve two main functions within the body, they help regulate and maintain proper water balance within the body and they are important for healthy bones, skin, hair and nails.
- Minor Minerals Roles: The trace minerals have more diverse roles than the previous three groups. They aid in transporting oxygen within the body, forming enzymes, preventing tooth decay, blocking damage to cells, helping form blood clots, helping keep the immune system strong and even play a role in taste and smell.
Vitamins, Minerals and Health
As you read in the previous section, the micronutrients are vital to many biological functions within the body. Vitamins C and E, as well as the mineral Selenium all have antioxidative properties. This means that they can help fight free radicals within the body. Free radicals are things that can damage both DNA and cells. Free radicals are a natural part of energy metabolism, but they can also be created from things like smoking tobacco, pollution and even sunlight.
There are new studies being done all the time that are finding that what we eat has far reaching impacts on health, including many areas not traditionally associated with food, like Muscular Dystrophy and mental health. A few additional things that vitamins and minerals protect us from are blindness, poor healing, weak bones and diseases like scurvy and rickets. In short, vitamins and minerals are the things that help keep you healthy and strong.
Vitamin and Mineral Sources
Because the human body uses over 30 different vitamins and minerals for normal functioning, the sources of each are beyond the scope of this blog. In general, vitamins and minerals can be found in the following foods:
1. Water Soluble Vitamins Sources:
2. Fat Soluble Vitamins Sources:
- Vegetable Oils
- Fish Oils
- Animal Fats
3. Major and Minor Minerals Sources:
- Animal Products- Meat and Dairy
How Many Vitamins and Minerals Do We Need?
The amount of vitamins and minerals you need varies depending on your age, gender, physical activity level and general state of health. There has always been a lot of differing ideas over the years as to how much of each is needed.
Since vitamins and minerals are both micronutrients, we need a lot less of them than we do the macronutrients (Fats, Proteins and Carbohydrates); because of this, the difference between too much and too little can be a fine line. Too little vitamins and minerals can be just as bad as too much of them, leading to deficiency or toxicity. It is best to look up your personal amount needed of each vitamin and mineral based upon your demographic. Your medical doctor or registered dietitian can also help you out with this.
Vitamins and minerals are measured in 3 types of units; milligrams, micrograms and sometimes, international units. A milligram (mg) is 1 thousandth of a gram. A microgram (μg) is 1 millionth of a gram. International units are used to measure effect rather than amount of a substance. They are used to compare similar forms of substances within pharmacology.
Vitamins and minerals are two of the six essential nutrients for humans (the other being water, fats, proteins and carbohydrates). They play countless roles within the body and they are vital for keeping you healthy and strong. The best way to get all your necessary vitamins and minerals are to eat a balanced diet, with lots of different colors and food groups.
*This blog is created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.